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Rights group: Israel covers up torture

Dec. 29, 2009 9:57 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 31, 2009 8:41 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israel systematically prevents accountability over allegations of torture against its Shit Bet security force, a new report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) charges.

The group said the 98-page report “exposes an intolerable reality.”

“Officials at the highest levels of Israel's justice system directly and indirectly thwart the opening of criminal investigations against torture suspects,” the committee said in a statement.

The main finding of the report, titled "Accountability Denied: The Absence of Investigation and Punishment of Torture in Israel" is that Israel has no real mechanism for looking into complaints of torture.

“This results in absolute criminal immunity for interrogators who commit grave crimes,” the committee added. Of hundreds of complaints of torture submitted over the years, PCATI says not one result in a criminal investigation.

The report says that complaints of torture are checked by a General Security Service (GSS) (Shin Bet) agent. “His recommendations [are] not to open a criminal investigation are universally accepted by the high ranking attorney in charge in the Ministry of Justice and by the Attorney General.”

“In practice, this means that the Attorney General and his assistants provide sweeping approval to use torture in Israel,” according to PCATI.

But the report says this internal checking process is not the only means of preventing accountability. Layers of bureaucracy and legal loopholes also shield potential tortures from investigation.

“GSS employees are protected by layers of concealment, the withholding of information, and immunity shielding them like the layers of an onion,” the report states.

According to the report, Shin Bet agents do not identify themselves by name and often use pseudonyms. They are also exempt from a law requiring that interrogations be documented using audio or videotape.

During interrogation sessions, the report’s authors state, detainees are denied contact with the "outside world," including lawyers or others who could testify in a potential investigation of a complaint of torture.

The report states: “GSS staff place the detainee in a legal situation that denies the opportunity to meet with any other human during the course of the interrogations, and prevent any access to attorneys or any other visitor who is not a GSS employee.”

PCATI also reports that Shin Bet agents routinely remove medical records related to interrogation from a detainee’s file.

A final “layer of protection” stems from a 2002 law that ensures that a GSS agent will not, in the language of the law, “bear criminal or civil liability for any act or omission committed in good faith and in a reasonable manner in the framework of his function and for the purpose of filling the said function.”

In practice the clause serves as another means of granting impunity to security officers, PCATI argues.
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