Court slams Shin Bet for interrogation tactics used on Jewish terror suspects

Judge orders security agency to allow suspects 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep before questioning, but this is later overturned on appeal

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Illustrative: Right-wing activists clash with police outside a court hearing in Rishon Lezion, on the matter of the Jewish youth suspects in a major security probe whose details are under gag order on December 31, 2018. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Right-wing activists clash with police outside a court hearing in Rishon Lezion, on the matter of the Jewish youth suspects in a major security probe whose details are under gag order on December 31, 2018. (Flash90)

An Israeli judge slammed the conduct of the Shin Bet security service over tactics it used to interrogate two suspects in a Jewish terror case, including sleep deprivation and midnight interrogations.

“A situation in which a suspect is being prevented from continuous hours of sleep and is being dragged from his cell for interrogation in the middle of the night is invalid, and I have found no justification for this abusive interrogation,” Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court Judge Ophir Katavi-Rivlin wrote, according to court minutes released on Thursday.

She went on to accuse the investigators of “breaching [the suspects’ rights] in the most fundamental way” and ordered the Shin Bet to allow the suspects to sleep at least eight consecutive hours on days they are being interrogated.

The protocol details how investigators interrogated Yaakov Donat and Ariel Dahari, both 18, for long hours in the middle of the night, only providing them with short intermittent breaks. With Donat, interrogators on one day questioned him for hours during the day and then continued to do so from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., only giving him a 20-minute break before continuing the probe until 3:30 a.m. A similar pattern was maintained for three days for both suspects.

Donat was arrested last Thursday along with a minor whose name has not been released. Dahari was nabbed the next day, and he along with Donat had been barred until Wednesday from meeting with an attorney — a tactic sometimes employed by police while probing what it says are urgent security cases. The three are suspected of conspiring to commit a crime, membership in a terror organization, conspiring to carry out a terror attack along with other racially motivated crimes.

Illustrative: A right-wing Jewish activist holds a sign reading ‘Do not torture me’ outside the Duma terror attack trial in Petah Tikva on December 28, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A fourth Israeli suspect was arrested last Sunday in what was initially thought to have been part of the same Jewish terror case, but law enforcement has been probing him separately.

A widespread gag order had been placed on the case, but the Haaretz daily and Walla news site filed a request to have details on arrests released to the public. Katavi-Rivlin granted the request earlier this week, but the state appealed the move along with the court’s directive to require that the suspects receive at least eight hours of sleep.

On Thursday, Lod District Court Judge Varda Maroz partially overturned Katavi-Rivlin’s ruling, saying that there was no legal basis to require investigators to give a certain number of hours of sleep to those they are interrogating.

However, Maroz clarified that “investigators must adhere to an investigation that is under the law and respects the rights of the suspects in their custody.” Moreover, she okayed the partial release of Katavi-Rivlin’s ruling, though barred the publication of the exact details of the alleged crimes and only allowed them to be described as “terror related.”

Responding to the court’s latest decision, one of the suspect’s attorneys, Amir Bracha, predicted that the case against his client would shortly be closed. He claimed that the Shin Bet is under “an immense amount of pressure, which caused them to employ such extreme behavior.”

Right-wing Jewish activists protest in central Jerusalem against the torture of Jewish suspects held by the Shin Bet security service in connection with the firebomb attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank town of Duma, December 27, 2015. (Flash90)

In a statement of its own, the Shin Bet said that “the detainees are receiving their full rights as they are entitled under the law. The claims being made by special-interest parties, saying that the suspects’ rights are being violated, are completely unfounded and their sole purpose is to create a false impression to the media and delegitimize the Shin Bet’s work.”

“Shin Bet interrogations are carried out according to the law, and are closely supervised by the State Prosecutor’s Office as well as the courts, including the High Court of Justice,” the security agency concluded.

This was not the first time in the past year that the Shin Bet has come under fire for its interrogation tactics.

In March, state prosecutors dropped their case against two Jewish far-right activists they had indicted on a series of terror-related crimes after a court threw out the suspects’ confessions that were found to have been given under extreme duress.

Last October, the Justice Ministry launched an investigation into the tactics used by the Shin Bet to interrogate Palestinian terror suspect Samer Mina Salim Arbid, who is suspected of having headed the cell that was behind the murder of 17-year-old Israeli Rina Schnerb.

Right-wing activists protest alleged Shin Bet torture of Jewish terror suspects, staging mock torture scenes in Tel Aviv, December 25, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A short time after his September arrest, Arbid was taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in critical condition with severe internal injures, including broken ribs and kidney failure following his interrogation. He regained consciousness roughly a month later, but remains hospitalized due to this injuries.

According to security sources, the Shin Bet was given permission to employ “extraordinary measures” during the interrogation that led to his hospitalization. Such measures can include beatings, forcing prisoners into uncomfortable positions, sleep deprivation, shackling and subjecting prisoners to extreme temperatures.

This is typically allowed in “ticking time bomb” cases where there is concern the suspect could provide security forces with information that could prevent an imminent attack.

Last month, a security official told The Times of Israel that the current situation in the West Bank — in which Israeli extremists are more boldly carrying out attacks against Palestinians — is reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2015 firebombing of the Dawabsha family home in the village of Duma, a terror attack that killed a couple and their baby.

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