In an unprecedented public statement, the Shin Bet on Thursday acknowledged the use of the so-called “ticking bomb” protocol in the interrogation of Jewish extremists, enabling the security service to “manhandle” detainees suspected of planning imminent attacks.
Still, the Shin Bet vehemently denied the accusations of detainees, who say they were subjected to sexual assault, electrocution and beatings. According to attorneys for some half-dozen detainees held for the past three weeks on suspicion that they were involved in the killing of a Palestinian family in July, Shin Bet investigators tortured the suspects through beatings, sleep deprivation and other measures.
Under rules set in 1999 by the High Court of Justice, the Shin Bet is forbidden from torturing, but is allowed to “manhandle” terror suspects in cases where there is reason to believe there they constitute a “ticking bomb” that places lives in danger. Such “moderate physical pressure,” in the High Court’s terminology, is overseen by the head of the Shin Bet and the attorney general, can be appealed to the High Court, and is reported to a special cabinet committee that deals with the Shin Bet.
The Jewish detainees are suspected in the July 31 firebombing of the home of the Dawabsha family in the northern West Bank village of Duma, killing 18-month-old Ali Saad on site. Parents Saad and Riham died of their wounds in the hospital. Only five-year-old Ahmed, now in rehab, survived the blaze.
In a rare statement from the taciturn organization, whose motto roughly translates as “unseen shield,” the security service said Thursday that “the purpose of the investigation underway at this time is to uncover an [underground] organization and disrupt future terror attacks. Therefore, and in coordination with the judicial system, the [suspected terror] organization is being investigated according to professional and legal standards that are appropriate to the disruption of organizations that may carry out severe terror attacks in the future. During the interrogations [of the Jewish terror suspects], measures were taken that fit this end.”
The statement went on to deny the claims by right-wing extremists, including attorneys for the suspects, that they were electrocuted, sexually assaulted and beaten while in custody.
The statement rejected claims that the suspects “were struck in intimate organs, that a ‘Sodom bed’ [a deliberately uncomfortable bed that prevents sleep] was used, that they were kicked, spat at or electrocuted, or that one of those interrogated tried to harm himself. These claims are false and have no connection to reality,” it said.
The agency added that the accusations were intended to “prevent the Shin Bet from doing its job” in preventing terror attacks by Jewish extremists.
According to rights groups that have launched court appeals against alleged torture of Palestinian terror suspects in the past, the “ticking bomb” rules include sleep deprivation, leaving suspects in darkness for extended periods, playing deafening music and “manhandling.”
The Shin Bet statement concluded by saying that the extremist group being investigated “advances the view that the State of Israel has no right to exist. Their primary goal is to topple of the Israeli state through violence, up to and including the murder of Palestinians, the launching of a rebellion in order to anoint a king, undermining relations between Israel and other states, the expulsion of non-Jews and attacks against minorities.”
According to a senior Shin Bet source cited by the NRG news site, the agency received approval to use “physical pressure” against the suspects 10 days ago — after the agency received intelligence indicating that other members of the group, who are not in detention, planned to carry out new terror attacks in the coming days.
The 10-member security cabinet voted in the wake of the Duma firebombing to extend special anti-terror rules, including detention without trial and other measures, to Israeli citizens believed to be violent extremists.
The Duma suspects appealed their detention, and the conditions of their interrogations, to the High Court of Justice last week. The court upheld the Shin Bet’s measures, but required that the suspects be allowed to meet with their legal counsel — for some detainees, after two weeks of detention without access to a lawyer.