On the 28th of November 2018 PCATI organised a large conference on the “Rights of Interrogees in Israel”, in collaboration with the Begin Heritage Centre and the Institute for Zionist Strategy. The conference brought together stakeholders from diverse positions in the political, public, and legal fields and highlighted the absolute nature of the right of freedom from torture, regardless of considerations such as political affiliations, ethnic, sexual or religious identity.
Speakers and panelists from across the spectrum of interpreting the principles of national and international law, including (Ret.) Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, Dr. Yoaz Hendel, Adv. Zion Amir, Adv. Khalil Zaher, Tami Molad Hayo and Adv. Moria Shlomot, had a vivid discussion about how international standards for the protection against torture should be understood and implemented nationally.
One of the panels, for example, welcomed Deputy State Attorney Nurit Litman and Deputy National Defense Attorney Hagit Lernaw in a discussion around confessions, audio-visual documentation and the importance of evidence in legal processes and criminal investigations. Deputy Litman pointed to the transfer of the IIC (Inspector of Interrogee Complaints) from the ISA (Israeli Security Agency) to the Ministry of Justice, in an attempt to enhance its independence, as per PCATI’s long-standing demands. Nevertheless, five years after the move – Adv. Shlomot emphasized – delays averaging 35 months for the preliminary investigations into official complaints of torture by the ISA and the shocking statistic of no criminal indictment in response to over 1,200 official complaints demand a re-evaluation of the efficiency of the unit.
In another panel, Adv. Zion Amir and Adv. Khalil Zaher of PCATI criticized the use of torture and cruel methods in ISA investigations, each drawing from their experience as defense lawyers. Adv. Amir focused on the use of illegal methods in the investigation of Israeli citizens, particularly citing the case of the minor involved in the Duma case, who’s confession was found inadmissible due to the use of “special methods” in his investigation. Adv. Zaher highlighted the universal nature of the prohibition against torture and the protection that should be afforded to all interogees as a result, regardless of their identity and the nature of suspicions against them.
It was also discussed that confessions extracted through torture are inaccurate and often reflect the exact vocabulary of interrogators. This essentially leads security officials on an erroneous path, wasting time and resources and potentially endangering the very civilian lives that they are trying to protect, such as in the case of Khalil Nimri. As a veteran field interrogator underlined “In any event, there is no reason for a good interrogator to reach a situation where he needs to use violence. That’s one of the things that happens to a poor interrogator”. The 1999 High Court of Justice decision in PCATI’s principled petition clearly states, in the words of Justice Aharon Barak “a reasonable investigation is necessarily one free of torture, free of cruel, inhuman treatment of the subjects and free of any degrading handling… The prohibitions are ‘absolute’. There are no exceptions to them and there is no room for balancing”.
The contributions of non-traditional allies in this conference proved the need and opportunity for a collective push in defending the non-derogable right to freedom from torture. There was agreement across the board that the rights of detainees in Israel are being violated and that there is a consequent need to struggle together in order to remedy these offenses. We see this event as a significant step in the process of making torture a universal, mainstream issue and therefore a meaningful achievement for the entire human rights ecosystem in Israel.