‘850 Shin Bet torture complaints yield no investigations’

Physicians for Human Rights says number of annual petitions against intelligence agency has grown fourfold since 2012

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a prisoner in leg cuffs (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a prisoner in leg cuffs (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said that of 850 complaints of torture at the hands of Shin Bet interrogators over the past several years, not a single complaint has been investigated.

A document submitted by the state to the High Court of Justice this week showed that the number of torture complaints lodged against Israel’s domestic intelligence agency has grown fourfold since 2012. The document was filed as part of a response to a petition by a Palestinian prisoner who claimed to have been tortured by Shin Bet investigators.

The petitioner, a Palestinian man from the West Bank, claimed he had sustained serious physical and psychological injury during a two-month period of detention, including painful handcuffing for long hours, sleep deprivation, forced body shaking, loud noises, poor nutrition and threats against him and his family.

His identity was kept confidential due to his injuries.

The detainee is accused of murder and attempted murder, and is a member of a Hamas cell that planned and carried out a terror attack in Israel.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture filed the petition on behalf of the detainee two years ago to the Ministry of Justice. The petition demanded the detainee’s claims be investigated to determine if criminal charges should be filed against his interrogators.

The two organizations turned to the High Court of Justice after a year-and-a-half elapsed during which they did not receive a response from the Justice Ministry.

The state responded to the petition this week.

In the response, it emerged that twice as many detainees complained of torture in 2014 than in 2013, which saw twice as many complaints than 2012. It state pointed to the major security operations that took place in 2014, including a major operation against Hamas in the West Bank in the wake of the abduction of three Israeli teens and the ensuing war in Gaza, which resulted in a higher number of Palestinian detainees.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said that there is no mechanism in place to lodge effective complaints against Israeli security forces.

Attorney Adi Lustigman, who is representing the petitioner, said that even the preliminary stages of looking into torture claims drag on for years, and rarely result in legal action. As a result, interrogators are de facto immune to the law, Lustigman said, according to a report in the news site Ynet on Wednesday.

The Shin Bet said that the agency only acts within the framework of the law, and is subject to internal reviews and investigations by external bodies including the state comptroller, the State Attorney’s Office, the attorney general, the Knesset and the courts.

“Shin Bet detainees receive all the rights they are entitled to under humanitarian law,” the agency said, according to the report. “This includes medical treatment, meeting with legal counsel and visits by the Red Cross.”

In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that the Shin Bet did not have the authority to physically injure detainees in order to extract information. However, numerous human rights organizations claim that extracting information using psychological pressure amounts to torture under international conventions.

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