Conviction rate for Israeli interrogators who use torture: 0%

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Israeli actor demonstrates the "shabach" position for the human rights group B'tselem. (Photo: AP)
Israeli actor demonstrates the “shabach” position for the human rights group B’tselem. (Photo: AP)

In Israel torturing Palestinian prisoners is against the law, but since 2001 there has not been a single conviction—even when the state admits its use. Over the past 13 years Palestinian detainees have filed over 800 petitions to criminally prosecute and in 15 percent of those trials, the state admitted to the abuse.  That’s right, zero.

The issue of criminally prosecuting interrogators will be discussed in the High Court later this month. From the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel:

The State admits that ISA interrogators tortured Mr. Abu Ghosh and the medical reports support his testimony.  Some of his injuries affect him for the rest of his life. The Ministry of Justice is well aware of the details of this case yet still refuses to open a criminal investigation into this case while refraining from giving legal grounds for its refusal. More than 800 complaints against ISA torture were submitted since 2001 and in 15% of them the Sate actually acknowledges that the torture described took place. Despite this the number of criminal investigations ISA interrogators remains at ZERO. [Emphasis in original]

The Palestinian prisoner legal rights group Addameer described some of the most common types of torture:

Physical torture also includes the denial of food and starving the prisoners, which is a phenomenon we have seen as well. They also use isolation as a form of torture. Beatings, as well as slapping, kicking, shabach and shackling in different ways which cause pain in different places in the body, as well as holding the prisoners in dark, small areas such as cabinets or between narrow walls of concrete.

The “shabach” position mentioned above is when a prisoner is shackled to a chair, handcuffed, bagged and left for hours, It was discussed in a 1999 Israeli High Court decision, which deemed torture illegal and allowed for criminal prosecution against officers. The ruling allowed for one exemption, the “ticking time bomb” scenario, where upon approval from a high-ranking official some forms of physical duress are allowed. Still officers who use abuse are not immune to criminal charges. Here’s a description from the judges of the “shabach” position:

He is seated on a small and low chair, whose seat is tilted forward, towards the ground. One hand is tied behind the suspect, and placed inside the gap between the chair’s seat and back support. His second hand is tied behind the chair, against its back support. The suspect’s head is covered by an opaque sack, falling down to his shoulders. Powerfully loud music is played in the room.

Last year the Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat died in Israeli prison after suffering from a heart attacked that was caused from “extreme torture” during interrogation. The Palestinian Prisoners Club also reports 95% of prisoners experience physical and psychological torture. Yet until today, officers who use torture continue to do so with impunity.


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Quite a feather in the Israeli cap. Not many programs are 100% effective but they’re able to torture at will without crossing that legal fine line it seems.

Allison, Thank you for this. I feel we are confronting another well-pool of evil. I was 8 years old when I watched Pathe News images from the opening up of Dachau and Buchenwald. Here I am now with, give or take a few, the same number of years left before before I’m drawn back whence I came, and I find myself facing the same numbing sense of shocked disbelief; all the myriad things that have… Read more »

Does anyone know how decisions are made concerning the circumstances under which torture is to be used? Presumably there are internal guidelines of some sort, perhaps disseminated only by word of mouth but approved by relevant officials and ministers, including the prime minister. I mean guidelines different from the High Court ruling of 1999, as torture is obviously not used solely in “ticking bomb” cases, but then under Netanyahu the executive has not recognized judicial… Read more »

Sounds like we learned our special tactics at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and all those other black sites from our very bestest friends in Israel.

Maybe that’s why we cherish that oh, so special friendship while the rest of the world looks upon us and them with disgust.

Such beacons of democracy and morality!/NOT. We follow and lead one another down a path of inhumanity and barbarism.