U.S.: Israel tortured detainees

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discusses the State Department's 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on March 6.  (Micahel Gross)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discusses the State Department’s 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on March 6.  (Micahel Gross)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Credible. Reputable. Serious. The adjectives tell the story in the U.S. State Department’s human rights report on Israel and its allegation that the Jewish state has been torturing Palestinian detainees. It’s not as easy as it was just three years ago to immediately identify the State Department’s own assessments in its rights reports. The department has dropped its old ratings, according to spokesmen, because of a preference for the descriptive as opposed to the judgmental. But for all the “just the facts, ma’am” tone of the new reports, carefully chosen descriptives underscore what the State Department officials who write the world human rights report, released Tuesday, believe is worth special attention. “During the year reputable NGOs filed numerous complaints with the government alleging that security forces tortured and abused Palestinian detainees,” the report says, one of several times it boosts a nongovernmental organization with a laudatory descriptive. More often it does not. For instance, in its report on “unlawful deprivation of life,” the report recorded one incident as “disputed,” and in another said that Mossawa, an Israeli Arab NGO that alleges Israeli forces shot a man in the back, “claimed” to have evidence — well short of endorsing the finding. By contrast, the report presents its account of torture as unequivocal. “The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens,” the reports says in its introduction to the Israel section. “However, there were problems in some areas, including serious abuses by some members of the security forces against Palestinian detainees.”
Israeli officials said they were reviewing the report. A lengthy rebuttal from
NGO Monitor, an Israeli group that claims much NGO work is politicized, said the
State Department relied on “NGOs that display anti-Israel bias, publish claims
that lack credibility, and ignore the complexities of human rights requirements
in the context of conflicts involving terrorism and warfare.” However, the NGO Monitor rebuttal hardly addresses the torture
allegations and does not claim that the principal group making the allegations,
the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, is biased. It notes that the
State Department does not provide the criteria establishing the group’s
criteria; this is true of the entire world report, which runs thousands of
pages.In an appendix, the State Department says it takes into account the
tendency by opposition groups to exaggerate abuses as well as governments’ tendencies to obscure them.In one case, the report says a detainee from the West Bank for 25 days was “subjected to illegal means of interrogation, including simulated choking, painful positioning, sleep deprivation, beatings, and threats to arrest his family or destroy his home.” There is no “allegedly” or “claimed to be” in the report to qualify the claims. Israel’s Supreme Court banned such techniques in 1999, except in “ticking bomb” situations where interrogators believe detainees know about impending attacks. The Israeli government offered that explanation in one of the cases cited by the report. State Department spokesmen have suggested that the ratings system of previous years was inappropriate and that a reportorial tone better suited documents issued by diplomats. However, the switch also comes as the Bush administration is itself subject to allegations of torture and is rendering terrorism suspects to nations that receive low scores in its human-rights reports. In other areas, too, the report is tough on Israel. Prison conditions for Palestinian detainees are described as “overcrowded” and “austere.” A “reputable” NGO, it said, received information “that doctors examined prisoners to determine whether the prisoners could withstand further interrogation.” The report notes the “detailed restrictions on speech and movement” assigned to Mordechai Vanunu after his release in 2004 from an 18-year prison sentence for revealing Israel’s nuclear secrets. It also points out Arab-American complaints of restrictions on Palestinian nationals returning to their hometowns for business or family visits, saying “there were numerous credible reports of foreign nationals arbitrarily denied entry into the country or the occupied territories and subjected to harsh and abusive treatment. Most, but not all, were foreign nationals of Palestinian heritage, who sought to visit family or pursue business interests in the West Bank; such visits had occurred freely on tourist visas.” The report does not spare Israel’s enemies. Unlike many other reports, for instance, it notes the use of cluster bombs by Hezbollah during last summer’s war with Israel and “repeated” rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel. It also deems “credible” reports that Palestinian Authority “security forces and judicial officials colluded with gang members to extort property from Christians. During the year several attacks against Christians in Bethlehem remained unaddressed by the PA, but authorities investigated attacks against Muslims in the same area.”

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