Mohammed Mar’i, Arab News
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) yesterday accused the Shin Bet, Israeli internal intelligence service, of exerting severe pressure on the family members of Palestinian detainees in an attempt to extract confession from the suspects.
“Israel uses psychological torture against some Palestinian detainees by faking the arrest of close relatives or taking family members into custody on questionable charges,” PCATI said.
Documenting six cases, the report said the aim of the practice was to force confessions from Palestinians suspected of security offenses.
Israel’s attorney-general, responding to a complaint by the PCATI in 2007, advised that it was “prohibited to present the detainee with a scenario according to which it appears his relative is in detention,” said the PCATI report, released yesterday. Nonetheless, the organization said, such methods continue.
The Shin Bet Security Service issued a statement denying it carried out fake arrests or jailed detainees’ relatives without justification.
In the report, the PCATI said the “illegal exploitation” of family members, who in most cases were not suspects themselves, caused “severe psychological suffering.”
“In more extreme cases, this method takes the form of psychological torture of a detainee.”
According to the PCATI report, international human rights law prevents states from using family members to pressure suspects. “The interrogator tramples on the most sensitive nerves of the detainee, that is, the deep concern for his closest family members and his readiness to sacrifice a great deal for them, sometimes even his life. The fear that his family might suffer as a result of his behavior can create as deep distress as that caused by painful handcuffing, sleep deprivation or harsh physical violence.
“The state and its representatives exploit this deep emotional bond among family members to destroy the will of the individual and his family. The cruel choice between confession, truth and self-interest on the one hand, and damage to the family on the other, is exploited in the most severe way, in total contradiction to the basic values of the Israeli and international legal systems, which are committed to the protection of the family unit,” PCATI said.
The report states that “an interrogation using such harsh and unlawful measures renders the confessions and information it has yielded questionable.”
Describing one incident, the report said interrogators tried to fool Mahmoud Suweiti, detained in the West Bank city of Hebron on suspicion of membership in a Palestinian militant group, into thinking his wife and father had been arrested.
Ordered to report to the facility where Suweiti was being held, his spouse and father were escorted into its courtyard, flanked by security personnel.
Guards allowed Suweiti a brief glimpse of his relatives through a second-floor window. His father was wearing a prisoner’s coat, an attempt by the authorities to make Suweiti believe the two were under arrest, the report said.
As a result, Suweiti became suicidal. An interrogator’s notes included in the report said he tried to harm himself by banging his head on a table and a wall and apparently attempting to hang himself with his jacket.
In another incident, the PCATI said detainee Said Diab was beaten repeatedly by Shin Bet interrogators after his arrest in Hebron in February 2007.
Pressuring him to say he plotted to carry out an attack in Israel, the Shin Bet arrested his mother — making sure he saw the shackled woman through an open cell door, the report said.
Diab was told his mother was suspected of involvement in his alleged activities on behalf of the Hamas group.
In yet another case, Jaser Abu-Omar and his wife Hulah Zeitawi, were kept in extended detention without letting them know the fate of their two daughters, aged two and six months. According to Zeitawi, “They said my daughters were now orphans, without a father or a mother. They showed me a picture of me with my little daughter in my arms and they said I should pity her. The picture killed me. I wept until I could no longer stand it. They said that I would not see her again until she was a teenager and she would not recognize me. That was the picture that broke me,” Zeitawi said.
In a report last May, the Israeli rights groups B’Tselem and HaMoked found Israeli security interrogators routinely mistreat and sometimes physically torture Palestinian detainees.
Israel’s Justice Ministry said those findings were “fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies.”
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