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Three Shin Bet Agents Suspended for Covering Up Arab Suspect’s Death

The head of the Shin Bet has suspended three of the security service’s investigators for lying to a government panel about the death of a young Arab suspect during the suspect’s interrogation last summer, Yediot Achronot reported Wednesday.

According to the report, the Shin Bet chief whose identity is never revealed publicly learned of the case 10 days ago and acted immediately. He reported the matter to Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Attorney General Yosef Harish and former Supreme Court President Moshe Landau, who headed a government-appointed commission that recently completed an investigation into the conduct of the Shin Bet.

In a report submitted to Shamir Oct. 28, the Landau Commission found that Shin Bet operatives systematically resorted to physical coercion to obtain confessions during the past 16 years and committed perjury before courts and military tribunals in order to conceal their methods and ensure convictions. The report, only parts of which were made public, recommended, however, that no one be prosecuted.

MINISTERIAL PANEL NAMED

On Sunday, Israel’s Cabinet endorsed the commission report and, acceding to one of its key recommendations, appointed an ad-hoc committee of four ministers to oversee the operations of the internal security service. Its members are Shamir, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Justice Minister Avraham Sharir.

The commission’s recommendations were also used as guidelines in the handling of the case involving the Arab suspect’s death. After learning of the case, Attorney General Harish held consultations at his office Tuesday and announced during an Israel Defense Force radio interview Wednesday evening that he would personally head an investigation into the Arab’s death.

The case in question began last July 19, when Awad Hamdan, 19, who had just returned to Ramon village in the West Bank after a long stay in Jordan, was arrested on suspicion of membership in a hostile organization. Two days after his arrest, he collapsed and died during interrogation. A forensic examination found he died of a heart attack.

His family claimed his body showed signs of violence that indicated he might have been tortured to death. The Shin Bet conducted an internal investigation at the time. It emerged only 10 days ago that the operatives who questioned the suspect gave a false version of his death at that investigation.

The same, false version was submitted to the Landau Commission in the course of its probe of the Shin Bet’s behavior and therefore constituted false testimony. A new post mortem examination revealed that the suspect died of pneumonia that could have been brought on by the kind of treatment he received at the hands of his interrogators.

Meanwhile, Hamdan’s family has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to order a police investigation into the cause of death. The court is expected to respond next week.

In a related development, Haaretz reported Wednesday that an Israel Bar Association committee is considering lodging a complaint with the court against Shin Bet attorneys involved in alleged doctoring of evidence.

The committee will meet with Harish to learn of the extent of the irregularities spelled out in the Landau Commission’s report. Harish is expected to propose that no disciplinary action be taken, in compliance with the commission’s recommendations.

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