United Nations human rights experts questioned Israeli officials on Tuesday about hundreds of allegations of torture of Palestinian detainees by security forces, which they said had not been investigated in recent years. The United Nations Committee against Torture, composed of 10 independent experts, also challenged an Israeli delegation about the alleged existence of a secret detention and interrogation facility known as “Facility 1391”.
Israel defended its record at the session, which continues on Wednesday afternoon, but did not address the issue of a secret center. Israel is among seven countries in the dock at a three-week session being held through May 15. “Every complaint alleging inappropriate treatment towards prisoners and detainees is investigated and seriously considered by the competent authorities, and if there is legal basis, criminal or disciplinary procedures are taken,” said Shai Nitzan, deputy state attorney for special affairs at Israel’s justice ministry.
Four cases examined by an independent inspector had resulted in disciplinary measures, and several had resulted in “general remarks to ISA (Israel Security Agency) interrogators”, he said. Fernando Marino Menendez, a committee member from Spain, noted that the Convention against Torture, ratified by Israel, specifically stipulates that there is no justification for carrying out acts of torture, even in times of war or emergency.
He also voiced concern that there was still no crime of torture defined in domestic Israeli law that reflected all the provisions set out in the pact which entered into force in 1987. Some 600 complaints of alleged ill-treatment or torture were brought between 2001 and 2006, but none had been followed up, he said, citing information from activists and media.
Felice Gaer, an American expert on the committee, asked why interrogations by the Israel Security Agency were not recorded either on audiotapes or on video. She suggested that a reason complaints were decreasing was that there had not been a single criminal investigation into any such cases. Other committee members raised the alleged existence of the secret detention and interrogation facility and cited a ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court which had upheld that no investigations could be conducted against activities there. The committee, which last scrutinized Israel’s record in November 2001, cited “numerous allegations” at the time that Israeli police and security officials tortured or mistreated Palestinian detainees, and urged it to prevent abuses.
More on Facility 1391 ‘Israel’s Gitmo’ below the fold, the techniques will seem very familiar
Facility 1391 has been airbrushed from Israeli aerial photographs and purged from modern maps. Where once a police station was marked there is now a blank space. Sometimes even the road leading to it has been erased. But Israel’s secret prison, inside an army intelligence base close to the main road between Hadera and Afula in northern Israel, is real enough.
Camp 1391 is an Israel Defense Forces facility. Agents of the Shin Bet security service and other security branches visit the site and since the start of the intifada have apparently made greater use of it than in the past, but the facility belongs to the IDF. One of the reasons for the wall of secrecy that surrounds it is the fact that it is located in the center of a military base that belongs to one of the secret units of the Intelligence Corps – Unit 504 (according to foreign sources the unit’s name has recently been changed). Unit 504 gathers intelligence by means of the human factor – “humint.” Most of its work is done by using agents outside Israel
Hamoked is to present an expert opinion from Dr Yehuakim Stein, a Jerusalem psychiatrist, on the effects of detention in such conditions. Dr Stein says that the treatment of Jadallah and the other Palestinians who provided affidavits is mental torture that creates what he calls “DDD syndrome”: dread, dependency and debility. Lack of food, sleep, movement and mental stimulation, as well as exclusion from human contact–whether lawyers, family members, other prisoners or guards–is designed to lower resistance to questioning and force inmates to be entirely dependent on interrogators. Combined with the pain of torture, with threats of torture, with the fear of being killed and the sense of being forgotten, inmates are likely to be consumed by what Dr Stein calls psychologically damaging dread.
George, who is now 43 and lives in a small community in the center of the country, is dark with cropped hair, brown eyes and a solid body. He is considered one of the unit’s toughest interrogators. The relationship that developed between George and Dirani was the stuff of quite a few newspaper headlines. It will continue to engage the courts during the years to come.
Still pending in Tel Aviv District Court is a suit filed by Dirani against the State of Israel and Major George concerning two incidents in which Dirani says he was subjected to sexual abuse. In the first case George called in four of the soldiers who were doing guard duty in the facility and one of them allegedly raped Dirani at George’s orders. In another case, Dirani says in the suit, George himself inserted a wooden stick into his rectum.
The court will have to decide whether these events occurred. A perusal of the affidavits that have been submitted to the court, testimonies of officers and soldiers who served in the facility and evidence given by other detainees who were there paints a picture of a horrific routine in the interrogation rooms of Camp 1391. Within the framework of that routine the interrogators of Unit 504 have no compunctions about making use of extreme measures in order to extract information – information that in a large percentage of the cases was not in their possession.
“I know that it was customary to threaten to insert a stick,” says T.N., an interrogator at the facility, in testimony he gave to Military Police investigators. “The intention was that the stick would be inserted if the subject did not talk … I remember one case when something in that style was done … George was interrogating one of the prisoners … He called in S. and me. We came into the room and S. dropped his pants and remained in his underwear or he made clicking noises with his belt as though he was opening it … S. did this during the interrogation, when George told [the prisoner] that he would be raped in the ass … I remember for certain that the situation was threat of rape …
“I want to add about that prisoner that he arrived in the room naked, handcuffed and with his head covered. S. and I were in the room and one of us led him around the room and the other held the stick next to his rear end, with provocation and threat, that because he had been caught lying the stick would be shoved up his ass. When I say the stick was moved around next to his rear end, the idea was to touch his bottom with the stick and maybe even to shove it next to the rectum so he would think we were really going to stick it in.”