Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Sunday, 13 April 2008 15:07 UK

Israel 'using psychological torture'

Martin Asser
BBC News, Jerusalem

Gheith Nasr - 13 April 08
Gheith Nasr's parents were taken to the police station a day after his arrest

Gheith Nasr, 18, of the Burj Luqluq neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, has not had the ideal preparation for his high-school graduation exams in a few weeks time.

Since January, he says, he has been arrested four times by the Israeli security services, accused of stone-throwing and vandalising security cameras in the Old City.

He says he has been detained each time for a few days in one of Jerusalem's interrogation centres, and then sent home under orders not to leave the house for another few days.

The muscular, but shy and inarticulate teenager says he regularly suffered violent treatment as interrogators tried to get him to own up to crimes he says he didn't commit - but one of his arrests stands out from the others.

"When I saw my mother being brought into the cell with handcuffs, I tell you, I would have told them anything just to save her, anything," he said.

It happened a day after Gheith was taken off to Qishlik police station. Plainclothes officers and troops returned to the house and searched through the family's belongings.

I was only in the room for a few seconds; we looked at each other but we were both too shocked to say anything
Um Gheith, mother of prisoner

Already in possession of their ID cards, one of the officers told the parents they must now go down to the police station where they would see their son.

'Too shocked'

The parents were taken into separate rooms at Qishlik station. Um Gheith - the mother - takes up the story.

"There were two men in the room. I sat down and one stood behind me while the other started shouting in my face in a most aggressive and intimidating way.

"I was shocked, it was the first time I had even set foot in a police station and this man was saying horrible things about what they were going to do to Gheith.

"Then the one behind said: 'Cuff her hands for the night' and they put handcuffs on me and then took me along to another room, where I was surprised to see Gheith sitting.

"I was only in the room for a few seconds; we looked at each other but we were both too shocked to say anything. Then they took me out and took off the handcuffs."

After an hour Mrs Nasr was brought back into the cell for another short and wordless encounter. Then she and her husband were given back their IDs and released.

In the meantime, Mr Nasr had also been taken in to see Gheith, minus handcuffs and an initial "softening up", but with instructions from a secret service man to encourage the boy to confess.

"I did nothing of the kind," the genial hospital goods supplier told me. "I sat together with my son for about 10 minutes, asking him how he was and how they were treating him, and saying a few things to keep his morale up.

"Then the officer came back and Gheith was then taken away. The officer asked whether my son was going to own up. I said: 'He has done nothing' and the officer replied: 'You are a liar!'

Suicide attempts

In a statement, Israel's domestic security agency, the GSS or Shin Bet, said it never detains suspects' relatives or gives false information to detainees to obtain confessions.

"Terrorist investigations are conducted by the Shin Bet according to the [1999] Supreme Court ruling [limiting interrogation methods], under the restrictions of the law and the tight supervision of the Justice Ministry and the courts," the statement said.

Human rights group the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) says a pattern has emerged recently of the security forces using such tactics with Palestinian interrogees.

It has published detailed evidence of six sample cases from the last year by the GSS.

The parliamentary constitutional and legal committee has taken the unusual step of scheduling a hearing hours after publication.

Manipulating innocent family members is morally reprehensible whatever the danger
Eliahu Abram, PCATI

The cases are all far more serious than that of Gheith Nasr in security terms, involving terrorism charges, but the interrogation tactics appear exactly the same.

When Mahmoud Sweiti, accused of belonging to the Hamas military wing in Hebron, was shown his wife and father, who was dressed in a prison coat, he twice attempted suicide, the report says.

In another testimony, the mother and brother of another prisoner - Said Diab - say they were both detained and that he was forced to secretly watch them being violently interrogated, as he claimed to have been himself.

"Presenting close family members as suspects or under interrogation puts the real suspect under incredible psychological pressure, which can be as bad - if not worse - than physical torture," says PCATI legal consultant Eliahu Abram.

"The General Security Service may think that between beating a prisoner and showing him his mother crying in detention, the latter is the more non-abusive way, but it is not," he told the BBC.

Violent techniques

Blindfolded Palestinian youth being detained by Israeli soldier
Israel says it adheres to regulations concerning the treatment of detainees

"The prisoner feels a sense of powerlessness and responsibility for what is happening to their loved-one - there is no telling whether information obtained in this way is reliable," Mr Abram said.

He agrees the domestic intelligence service has to do all it can to investigate the terrorism threat which Israel faces from resourceful and determined foes.

"But that is no justification; manipulating innocent family members is morally reprehensible whatever the danger."

The use of violent interrogation techniques is prohibited under Israeli and international anti-torture laws, but Mr Abram says the Supreme Court has allowed the use of "trickery" to obtain information.

PCATI believes the domestic intelligence agency is breaking the rules on physical abuse and is acting in an atmosphere of impunity because it says the legal authorities do not investigate accusations made by human rights groups.

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