Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Report: 'Palestinian prisoners regularly ill-treated by Shin Bet, bordering on torture'

The law enforcement authorities in Israel are regularly violating the human rights of detainees in a Shin Bet detention facility in Petah Tikva, according to a report released Tuesday morning by the human rights organisations B'Tselem and Hamoked. The report reveals ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees, claiming that complaints on the matter have never led to criminal investigations. The State explained in response that the interrogations were being supervised, and that the court had rejected similar claims in the past.

The research of B'tselem and Hamoked is based on the testimonies of 121 Palestinians and reveals severe human rights violations. The violations begin from the moment of their arrest and continue until the detainee’s transfer from the facility. According to the report , the violations include cruel detention conditions in sealed cells, in isolation and disgraceful hygienic conditions, continuous cuffing of detainees’ hands in the interrogation room in a way that makes it impossible for them to move, sleep deprivation, and other methods that harm the detainees physically and mentally.

Nine percent of the witnesses related that the interrogators used physical violence against them in the interrogation room. Nine percent of the detainees reported that interrogators used physical violence in the interrogation room. According to the report, "The use of any one of these means, certainly their combined use, constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and in some instances, torture. All are strictly forbidden under international law and Israeli law."

Thirteen of the 121 detainees reported of sleep depravation which lasted more than 24 hours. Thirty-six percent of the detainees said they were humiliated and cursed by their investigators, 56% reported of threats, and 9% said they were treated violently.

Many of the detainees reported that the interrogators used family members as a means of pressure: Thirty-six percent of the witnesses mentioned curses, threats, or acts of extortion regarding family members. In one case, a 63-year-old widow was held in the facility so that members of her family could see her suffering while under detention. Two days later, the woman was released without any charges brought against her.

The testimonies show that each time people were arrested from their homes, they were taken in the late-night hours. In 30 percent of the cases, security forces used physical violence toward the detainee during arrest or en route to the detention facility. The detainees related that they were taken in military vehicles; some reported that they were forced to crouch or lie on the floor rather than sit on the bench seat of the vehicle. They were not allowed to bring articles they would need in detention that are allowed under prison regulations, and articles they wore, such as watches, were taken from them.

From the time detainees arrived at the Petach-Tikva facility, they were kept in interrogation rooms or in cells. Almost all the floor space in these tiny cells is taken up by the thin mattress provided to the inmate, or several mattresses in cells intended for several persons. The ceiling is so low an inmate can touch it. Most of the cells are windowless, therefore night and day are undistinguishable. The ventilation was artificial at all times, and 26 percent reported that the air flowing into the cell was either very cold or very hot. The artificial light was kept on around the clock, causing sore eyes, impaired vision and difficulties falling and staying asleep. The walls of the cells are gray and very rough with bumps, and so it is impossible to lean against them. Seventy-eight percent of the detainees were held in isolation in these cells, without the companionship of another inmate, for at least part of their time in the facility.
Most of the cells are underground, or were perceived thus by the witnesses. The interrogation rooms, by contrast, are aboveground and have windows, enabling the detainee to know if it is day or night.

The witnesses stated that an electric bulb lights the cell 24 hours a day, and the detainee is unable to change its intensity or turn it off. This creates severe distress and causes eye pain, headaches, and vision problems.
The report's authors reveal harsh hygiene conditions: "One-person cells had a squat toilet that reeked; the mattresses and blankets were filthy; the detainees were not given the means to clean the cell, except in isolated cases and following insistent demand; 35% of the detainees were not provided a change of clothes for long periods and, in some cases, even during their entire stay in the facility; 27% of the witnesses were not allowed to shower.

B'Tselem and Hamoked have no doubt that "the handling and treatment of the detainees, as revealed in the report, are consistent with the philosophy of interrogation that seeks to break the detainees by causing shock and fear, detaching the detainees from things to which they are normally accustomed, and by severely depriving them of sensory stimuli, movement, and human contact. Other components of this philosophy are physical weakness by means of sleep deprivation, reduction in food intake, exposure to cold and heat, and pain, the primary source of the pain being forced prolonged sitting in rigid bodily positions.This philosophy is described in CIA interrogation manuals of the 1960s and 1980s, which were used to guide interrogators in tyrannical regimes in Latin America. The result of the use of these methods, as stated in the manuals, is psychological regression and a detainee who becomes putty in the hands of the interrogator."

The organizations claim that the treatment of the Palestinian detainees, as described in the report, receives the backing of the State. Since 2001, Palestinians interrogated by Israel Security Authorities agents have filed 645 complaints to the Ministry of Justice regarding the manner in which they were interrogated, but not one of the complaints led to a criminal investigation against the interrogator.

"The State of Israel attempts to justify the severe infringement of the detainee’s rights by claiming the actions are necessary to thwart serious acts of terrorism. This claim does not warrant violation of the absolute prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," the report states.

The report's authors demand that the State of Israel put an end to the use of the described means. "Toward this objective, action must be taken to achieve three results: Cessation of the breaches of the inmates’ rights, punishment of the offending officials, and payment of compensation to the victims. In addition, it is important to conduct a thorough, independent, and transparent investigation of the ostensible breaches and to publish the findings in full."
The Israeli Justice ministry issued a four-page response. It concludes that "the report makes general assumptions, some very serious, without any foundation apart from general statements, which are presented without any details which could be examined, confirmed or refuted. The ministry also claimed that the [procedures are overseen by judicial authorities. It said to ''regret the fact that the draft report repeats unfounded claims that have already been rejected by the State of Israel's Supreme Court."

Fot the full report (pdf) by B'tselem and Hamoked, click here

On my blog in Dutch I have a story about two boys which were arrested in June by border police, and kept naked in a toiletroom in the settlement Binyamin for two days. During those days they did not get anything to eat or drink, the airconditioning was blowing and from time to time soldiers entered, either to wake them up, or to urinate over their heads and faces. For a full version of the story in English, click here.

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