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Amnesty International Charges Abuse at Prison Camp in Southern Lebanon

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Amnesty International has charged that human rights violations have occurred regularly in the South Lebanon Army’s Khiam prison camp in the Israeli-controlled security zone in Southern Lebanon.

In a 53-page report released Monday, Amnesty recounted detailed claims of torture made by former prisoners at the camp, which was set up in early 1985 by the SLA with Israel’s assistance and supervision.

Amnesty also condemned the camp for failing to allow inmates, who are generally held without charge or trial, to communicate with relatives or humanitarian agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

According to Amnesty, Israeli officers were directly involved in interrogating prisoners through 1988. Since then, says Amnesty, the Israeli role has been more limited.

Responding to the report, Israel disclaimed responsibility for the detention camp, which currently holds about 200 people.

“No Israeli personnel is stationed at this facility,” said a statement released by the Defense Ministry, which added that inquiries should be addressed “to those responsible for its operation.”

According to the Amnesty report, inquiries made to the SLA were not answered.

The report documents various forms of torture, including beatings, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, poor hygiene and deprivation of food and sleep.

One detainee reported that after several sessions of torture, “I was taken to the yard and was suspended from a pole by my shackles … First they put a stone under my feet when they suspended me, but after two hours of standing like that they pulled the stone from underneath me and I hung for another 12 hours, standing only on my toes. My hands were hurting enormously.”

The report also charged that prison officers tortured relatives of detainees who would not confess under direct torture.

One prisoner who had been repeatedly tortured said he was told by his interrogator, “I brought your mother here.”

“And sure enough, she was in the next room,” the detainee told Amnesty International after his release. “I heard her scream. She is 50 years old. They kept her for three months, I found out later, and they tortured her to put pressure on me. Eventually, when I heard her scream, I confessed to being a member” of a group, the name of which was omitted by Amnesty.

“We are not saying these are prisoners of conscience,” said Amnesty spokesman Joshua Rubinstein. “Many of these people may be guilty of violent activity and if Israel brings them to trial, there may be legitimate grounds to hold them. If they are prisoners of war, or criminals, then bring them to trial and you won’t hear from Amnesty International.”

The report pointed out, however, that Israel and the SLA have said that release of the detainees is conditional on receiving information regarding missing Israeli and SLA soldiers.

“If they are held exclusively in order to compel others to release detainees or provide information about missing persons, they are to be regarded as hostages, and as such should be released immediately and unconditionally,” the report stated.

Amnesty itself has sought information from Syria and Amal militia concerning Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, three Israeli soldiers missing since 1982, and Ron Arad, an air force navigator shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

But the organization said the situation of the missing Israel Defense Force and SLA servicemen “can in no way justify the abuse of the human rights of the detainees held in Khiam.”

Israel stated in its response that “to the best of our understanding,” those detained “are not innocent persons who have been arbitrarily arrested.”

Israel said that on the basis of its good relations with the SLA, it has “over the years been endeavouring to encourage, on an ongoing basis, the establishment of adequate conditions and humanitarian standards for the detainees at (the facility).

“Israel is, however, not in a position to dictate to the SLA how to deal with threats and anger prevailing in this turbulent region of Lebanon.”

Israel further claimed Israel claimed that prison camp’s conditions were “at least as good as, or better than, those prevailing in other Lebanese detention facilities.”

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