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Monday, September 6, 1999 Published at 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK

World: Middle East

Israeli 'torture' methods illegal

An actor demonstrating one interrogation technique known as the "Banana"

Israel's Supreme Court has barred the internal security service Shin Bet from violent interrogation methods used on Palestinian prisoners.

Middle East
The ruling has been hailed as a landmark by human rights groups which lodged petitions with the court arguing that Shin Bet practices constituted legalised torture.

The court ruled that there was no legal basis for violent shaking of prisoners, depriving them of sleep and forcing them into painful positions for long periods.

Richard Miron reports on the landmark Supreme Court ruling
Interrogations also routinely include threats against prisoners, and so-called Shabach - hooding them with urine-soaked sacks and blasting them with loud music.

Veteran Israeli human rights lawyer Leah Tsemel said outside the court: "It took 30 years of human rights abuse to get to this. It will stop torture and make Israel abide by international law."

[ image:  ]
Despite international condemnation, the authorities have defended what they termed "moderate physical pressure" on prisoners to obtain information about planned anti-Israeli attacks.

Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh said the Supreme Court decision would have a detrimental effect on Israeli security.

"Limiting the Shin Bet's capabilities does not help protect Israel's citizens in the reality in which we live," Israel radio quoted Mr Sneh as saying.

Inhuman and degrading

In its 27-page ruling, the court said Shin Bet's methods should not be different from those used by the police.

Shabach was described as "harming the suspect and his (human) image. It degrades him. It causes him to lose sight of time and place. It suffocates him".

[ image: Shabach
Shabach "degrades and suffocates prisoners" the court said
"The state declared that it will make an effort to find a 'ventilated' sack," the ruling continued. "This is not sufficient."

Apart from the long-term physical and mental damage to prisoners subjected to "moderate pressure", human rights groups say 10 Palestinians have died during interrogation.

One of the victims was Abdul Samad Harizat, who died in 1995 after being shaken by Shin Bet interrogators.


The court ruling comes a day after two explosions, thought to be car bombs manufactured by Palestinian militants, went off in the northern towns of Haifa and Tiberias, killing three suspected bombers.

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said the threat of terrorism presented Israel with a real dilemma but he was proud of the decision.

"I hope that the solution will be such that we will be able to deal with emergency cases and keep the democratic values," Mr Beilin said.

The court has until now refrained from ruling on the legality of Shin Bet's interrogation techniques.

The ruling in effect overrules the controversial judgement in 1987 by the Landau Commission that gave Shin Bet permission to use "moderate physical pressure" to prevent attacks.

UN condemnation

Israel ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture but successive administrations argued that Shin Bet's practices were permissible under the circumstances and, furthermore, did not amount to torture.

Human rights groups point out that the Convention allows "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever as a justification of torture".

The UN Committee against Torture has in the past found Israel's authorisation of "moderate physical pressure" to be "completely unacceptable", expressing concern at the "large number of heavily-documented cases of ill-treatment" of prisoners.

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Isreali Judicial Authority


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