Frequently Asked Questions

If the security forces don’t torture people – how will we prevent terror attacks?

Torture doesn’t actually help stop terror attacks – this is the official stance of Israel and the U.S. In late 2014 the U.S. Senate released a comprehensive report on CIA interrogation methods since September 11, 2001. It concluded that the interrogation methods employed by the agency in its secret detention centers outside the U.S. were not effective. While the CIA claimed that by using enhanced interrogation methods and torture it was able to extract information from interrogees which was critical to tracking down terrorists, the Senate examined dozens of such cases and failed to find even a single one where this would have been true. Within half a year, the Senate approved a law outlawing torture by a resounding majority.

There is also evidence from Israel that torture does not facilitate the extraction of confessions and may even hamper investigations. When three Israeli youths were kidnapped in summer 2014, for example, West Bank Hamas operative Riad Nasser was placed under administrative detention; Nasser was tortured, but did not provide his interrogators with information leading to the kidnapped youths or their bodies. In the case of Izzat Nafsu as well – a case which prompted the first official criticism of the ISA’s illegal interrogation methods – the Landau Commission appointed with the investigation of the incident found that Nafsu admitted to an act he had not committed purely because he had been interrogated under torture.

Your approach may be fine in theory, but what happens in the case of a “ticking bomb” planning to carry out a terror attack in Tel Aviv in an hour?

Such a case of a “ticking bomb” is effectively the only situation in which the High Court of Justice permits torture: such use is protected under what is known as the “necessity of defense.” Yet according to the ISA’s own arguments, such cases of imminent and concrete danger known as “ticking bombs” are exceedingly rare. For the most part, torture carried out in interrogations is not and has not sought to foil eminent terror attacks. In the vast majority of instances, torture is implemented under circumstances which do not follow this definition; torture is institutionalized and systematically employed upon many interrogees, including even a significant number who are never subsequently accused of any crime.

Simply being categorized as one “suspected of committing security violations” make one far more easily subjected to torture. Moreover, this category includes such offenses as would – for Jews – not be considered security offenses at all, but criminal ones: stealing a car, for example. Furthermore, under international law and the UNCAT, there is no such scenario as “ticking bomb”. The UNCAT states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

If we don’t torture, how will we extract information from people?

There are effective interrogation methods which do not involve torture. Interrogation is a profession, and experts have determined that there are ways to conduct and to exhaust the potential of an interrogation without using torture. Jack Cloonan, for example, a former senior FBI official in the unit entrusted with locating Osama Bin Laden, told Foreign Policy Magazine in 2008 that one must seem “humane, empathic and sympathetic” in order to gain the confidence of an interrogee, who is seen as an individual whose cooperation the interrogator hopes to enlist.

Who decided that torture is forbidden?

The State of Israel signed the Convention Against Torture (1987) and ratified it. The State of Israel has also signed and ratified additional international conventions which include the prohibitions against torture (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women). These oblige the State to operate in accordance with international law. The Israeli Penal Code prohibits assault, abuse of dependent persons and explicitly prohibits the use of force or threats against interrogees by public officials. However, there is no explicit law criminalizing torture in Israel. The creation of such a law, with broad-based public support, is one of PCATI’s primary goals.

The Turkel Commission recommended passage of such a law. Until the High Court of Justice’s ruling in September 1999, the Israeli security forces tortured thousands of Palestinian detainees every year. PCATI estimates that almost all detainees had been subjected to at least one form of torture during their interrogations. The ISA’s interrogation actions were not regulated in law, but were instead governed by the Landau Commission’s recommendations. Only a portion of the Landau Report was made public, however, and the portion detailing which interrogation methods are permissible remains confidential. In September 1999 the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in favor of most of the claims made in the petition filed by PCATI and other human rights organizations. The High Court ruling explicitly forbade the use of a number of interrogation methods, ruled that the ISA has no authority to employ violent interrogation methods, and determined that the ISA has interrogatory authority identical to that of the Israel Police.

Who does the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel represent?

PCATI represents all victims – regardless of religion, race, gender or nationality – who have suffered torture at the hands of the Israeli security forces: the ISA, the Israel Police and Border Police, the Israel Prison Services and the Israel Defense Forces. Moreover, PCATI also represents cases of foreign torture victims – most of whom are asylum seekers tortured in their home countries or en route to Israel.

What do you do to prevent torture in Israel?

PCATI is active on a number of fronts so as to change the discourse and the reality of torture in Israel: we provide legal representation to torture survivors; raise awareness of the public and professionals about the different types of torture and the populations exposed to it in Israel; we organize conferences and training courses for those whose profession may bring them into contact with the victims – physicians, mental health and legal professionals who can help document and identify torture – as well as to activists and human rights advocates. We also run a human rights education project which fosters knowledge and awareness of human rights in educators and students.

Why should we act to end torture in Israel when neighboring countries employ torture unrestrictedly?

First of all, Israel claims the title of a democratic state that respects human rights and the rule of law. Western nations outlawed torture, feeling that it was something not to be countenanced in a democracy and wanting to mark off a new world from the old, destructive and cruel one of last century’s world wars.

So discussion of the prohibition against torture is also one about the character of the state Israel wants to be; the gap between the discursive claim that torture doesn’t occur and recurrent evidence of torture’s persistence, fosters an organizational culture of impunity (exposed for example in the Bus 300 case), of failure to take responsibility and of working outside the regulations.

The UN conducts oversight of all the States Parties to the Convention Against Torture. PCATI is its partner in the efforts to spread the norm of prohibiting torture and enforcing this prohibition.

Finally, as a public committee, PCATI’s explicit goal is inducing social change by Israeli society and from within it.

Likewise, it is not the case that torture goes on unchallenged in neighboring countries. PCATI holds professional training courses which include representatives from Turkey and the Palestinian Authority. The Istanbul Protocol – which advises physicians, mental health and legal professionals on how to document and investigate torture–is implemented in Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen.

What is considered torture? What types of torture does Israel use?

Contrary to popular belief, torture is not carried out solely in dark dungeons by unidentified interrogators; neither is it only doled out by the Israel Security Agency. The violence of the Israel Police and Border Police, the ISA, Special Patrol Units (Yasam) or the Israel Prison Service can all amount to torture under certain circumstances

ISA:

Prior to the High Court’s 1999 ruling, the ISA’s characteristic interrogation and torture methods included:

Shackling interrogees in painful stress positions for hours and days at a time with a wet, foul-smelling bag covering their heads. Isolation in solitary confinement. Beatings. Violent shaking (when an ISA interrogator grabs the interrogee’s shoulders or shirt lapels and shakes his body and head violently back and forth). Sleep and food deprivation. Exposure to extreme heat or cold. Shackling to a small, slanted chair. Cursing and psychological degradation. Exposure to loud music. Threats to the detainee or his/her family. Deprivation of basic sanitary conditions and changes of clothing. Isolation from the outside world (including attorney and relatives), often for months at a time.

These methods caused often irreversible psychological damage and bodily injury, and in some cases even death. Despite the High Court’s prohibition, cases taken on by PCATI over the years clearly indicate that a large number of these interrogation methods remain in use.

Reports published by PCATI in the years since the High Court ruling reveal the following: a large number of Palestinians interrogated by the ISA continue to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The abuse of Palestinian detainees begins with the deprivation of their right to contact the outside world – primarily their attorney and relatives, often for extended periods of time. This torture and ill-treatment routinely involves methods such as sleep deprivation, shackling to a chair in painful stress positions, beatings, slapping and kicking, threats, curses and humiliation.

There are also “special techniques” such as the bending of the body in painful stress positions such as the “banana,” prolonged cuffing of the hands behind the back, intentional tightening of handcuffs, stepping on handcuffs, application of force to various organs, forced assumption of the “frog” squat (or “kambaz”) position, choking, violent shaking, and other techniques of violence and humiliation (pulling of hair, spitting and more).

Other common torture methods include isolation in solitary confinement, exposure to extreme heat and cold, constant exposure to artificial light, detention under sub-human conditions contravening the basic standards outlined by the UN (prison cells with cockroaches and mice, abhorrent sanitary conditions, rations too close to the hole in the ground which serves as toilet, failure to provide warm water or a change of clothes, weak artificial lighting all day and so on).

The ISA also employs psychological torture in interrogations, threatening interrogees and creating false scenarios to pressure them which often involve the use of their relatives.

Police brutality:

Police brutality can also be considered torture under certain conditions. For example, if police officers hit you, electrocute you with a Tazer, or threaten you when you are in handcuffs or otherwise unable to defend yourself, their violence may amount to an act of torture. Such violence does not have to take place in custody, but can also occur in the street or at a protest.

Israel Prison Service:

All unnecessary violence committed by prison authorities – certainly including threats, humiliation, unauthorized punishment, violence or ill-treatment – is torture. Being held in detention under subhuman conditions can constitute torture, for example in cases of Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli detention centers subjected to denied medication and basic hygienic products.

What happens to those who torture? Are they punished?

In short, not enough. In the case of the ISA, more than 1,000 (!) complaints were filed with the Israeli Attorney General by torture victims between 2001 and 2015. Zero criminal investigations were launched in response. The exemption from documenting ISA interrogations, together with the limited access to legal and heath professionals who could help document torture, grants complete impunity to the perpetrators: this lack of documentation means that the State can file whatever evidence it sees fit, but the torture victim is left with only his word to prove harm.

As for the Police, the possibility of documentation is simpler – outside of detention itself. Still, in 2014 only 90 cases of police brutality resulted in convictions, none for torture.

shadow