Report finds Israel still torturing Palestinians

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has accused the Israeli security forces of deliberately shackling Palestinian prisoners in a painful and dangerous manner, amounting to a form of torture.

The report, “Shackling as a Form of Torture and Abuse,” based on the evidence of over 500 prisoners, was released in advance of the UN International Day in Support of Torture Victims Friday, 26 June.

It follows a report published in May by the UN Committee Against Torture that had criticized the continued mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners by Israel.

The UN report also condemned Israel’s refusal to allow access to a secret detention centre known only as Facility 1391.

The report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) states that Israel’s various security agencies, chiefly the Israeli army and the General Security Services (GSS), also known as the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), shackle Palestinian prisoners against accepted international standards.

The shackling is not done for restraining purposes or for preventing a detainee from escaping or endangering themselves, says PCATI.

“The shackling is done for invalid and irrelevant reasons, which include causing pain and suffering, punishment, intimidation, and illegally eliciting information and confessions, in violation of domestic law, High Court of Justice rulings and international law,” says the report.

Some of those shackled have suffered permanent damage to their limbs — and human rights groups say shackling is only one of the routine forms of torture meted out to Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli rights group B’tselem in its 2007 report “Absolute Prohibition, The Torture and Ill-Treatment of Palestinian Detainees” asked, “Does the State of Israel respect the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment? The answer to this question would seem to be no.”

“In recent years, Israel has officially admitted several times that in ‘ticking- bomb’ cases, the interrogators of the ISA employ ‘exceptional’ methods of questioning, including ‘physical pressure.’”

Together with other rights groups, PCATI successfully petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice in 1999 asking that certain forms of physical abuse be outlawed. These included abusive shackling, severe beatings and shaking, covering prisoners’ heads with hoods coated with excreta, extreme changes of temperature, and painful binding to chairs, amongst others methods.

An exception was made in the case of “ticking-bombs” such as potential suicide bombers. “The problem, however, is that the interrogators are given a lot of leeway as to their interpretation of what constitutes a ticking-bomb,” said PCATI’s Yohav Loef.

“The courts tend to accept the interpretation of the interrogators, and their application of the exception to the rule of when force can be used, over that of Palestinian detainees,” Loef told IPS.

Wassam Ahmed from the Al-Haq human rights organization agrees with Loef. “Torture and abuse of Palestinians by both the arresting Israeli soldiers and the interrogating officers is rife.”

“Actually the Israeli courts have rubber-stamped the abuse of these detainees by leaving such a wide margin for interpretation of the ‘ticking-bomb’ rule. It is the regular exception swallowing the rule,” Ahmed told IPS.

“Any investigations into alleged abuse of the prisoners is carried out by the security services themselves, hardly an independent inquiry,” added Ahmed.

Prior to PCATI’s 1999 court petition, the 1987 Landau Commission was appointed to examine ISA interrogation methods. A two-part report was released several months later, but only the first part was made public. “They obviously had something to hide. The bottom line was that various methods of ‘physical pressure’ were permitted,” Loef told IPS.

Meanwhile, in early May the UN Committee Against Torture held hearings in Geneva to review Israel’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Ten independent experts from the committee said they found credible submissions from Israeli groups that Palestinian detainees are systematically tortured despite the banning of such practices by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999.

The committee also criticized Israel’s refusal to allow the Red Cross access to the secret Facility 1391, dubbed Israel’s “secret Guantanamo Bay.”

Facility 1391, a largely underground bunker reportedly some 100 km north of Jerusalem, is used to interrogate non-Palestinian Muslims and Arab prisoners from neighboring countries.

Top Hizballah officials, who were kidnapped during the eighties from Lebanon by the Israeli military, were held in this facility for years, as were Lebanese prisoners from the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon.

The interrogation methods carried out by the Israeli army in 1391 are allegedly far harsher than those carried out by the ISA in Palestinian detention centers.

The facility was accidentally discovered in 2002 by Israeli rights group Hamoked as it attempted to trace two missing Palestinian detainees from the West Bank after their families had reported them missing. Due to overcrowding at facilities where Palestinians are normally held, the two had been sent to Facility 1391.

It had remained a secret up until 2002 because the families of Arabs from surrounding countries are not able to trace family members to the same degree that Palestinians can use the Red Cross to find family members in other facilities.

Israel has refused to identify the exact location of 1391, and denied to the UN committee that any prisoners are currently being held there.

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