JERUSALEM (Sep. 6)
Human rights groups are hailing an end to Israel’s use of interrogation methods they say are tantamount to torture.
Israel’s High Court of Justice on Monday barred the Shin Bet domestic security service from using physical force when questioning prisoners.
In its decision, the panel of nine justices unanimously ruled that the Shin Bet had no right to use the interrogation methods, which had been applied over the years to thousands of Palestinian detainees suspected of terrorist activity against Israel.
The decision, written by Chief Justice Aharon Barak, said these methods included violent shaking, sleep depravation and placing detainees in uncomfortable positions for prolonged periods.
The court, in accepting the seven petitions filed by human rights groups, rejected the conclusions of a government-appointed commission eight years ago, which gave the General Security Service authority to exert “moderate physical force” in certain situations.
In its decision, the court said it recognized the special security concerns of the country, but concluded that in a democracy such as Israel, humiliating and painful interrogation methods are unacceptable. The court left room for the Knesset to legislate on the matter.
Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who submitted one of the petitions, welcomed the ruling.
“For many years we have waged our battle,” he told reporters. “We lost many times, but for once we have won.”
Political reaction to the ruling was mixed. Supporters of the decision hailed it as a beacon for democratic rule in Israel. Critics expressed concern that the tough measures used by the security service were intended for “ticking bombs,” the term used for detainees suspected of having information that could prevent an imminent terrorist attack.
“I am very proud of the decision,” Justice Minister Yossi Beilin told reporters.
He said he hopes the decision “will allow in the future for the security services to deal with special and extraordinary situations to prevent a situation of a `ticking bomb,’ but will not allow a pre-existing legitimization of this.”
Center Party Knesset member Dan Meridor, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a former Likud justice minister, also welcomed the ruling.
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh expressed concern that it could damage state security.
Likud Knesset member Gideon Ezra, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, said that in the wake of the ruling, he was sure the security service was already trying to come up with other ways to obtain the information it required. Ezra denied that Shin Bet officials had used the methods liberally, or that they caused undue discomfort.
Monday’s ruling comes amid heightened security in Israel in preparation for possible terrorist attacks before the High Holidays.
Islamic militant groups have threatened to carry out terrorist attacks to undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords. Police this week were investigating two car bomb attacks in Tiberias and Haifa on Sunday, in which an Israeli woman was wounded and the three perpetrators killed.