Israel defends its interrogation methods

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, (Reuter) - Israel Tuesday defended its methods of interrogating suspected Palestinian guerrillas, dismissing concerns by the U.N. Committee against Torture that it seemed to sanction police use of physical force on detainees. In a report to the committee Israel said investigators had foiled 90 terrorist attacks in the last two years and a High Court ruling on interrogation was justified by the information a detainee probably knew about an imminent terrorist attack.

It defended its interrogation methods as lawful although a special U.N. rapporteur has accused it of institutionalizing torture in questioning detainees, including the combined use of sleep deprivation, hooding and violent shaking. In November the committee issued an urgent appeal to Israel, expressing concern that the Court ruling appeared to sanction police use of physical force. The committee feared the ruling, which overturned an interim order forbidding the Shin Bet secret police from using ``physical forces'' on a Palestinian detainee, might violate the 1987 Convention against Torture, which Israel has ratified. Israel said it probed every allegation of maltreatment and despite terrorism tried to uphold the rights of all people under its jurisdiction. Detainees had ``personal and political motives'' for fabricating claims, the report said.

The committee's 10 experts, who open their semi-annual meeting in Geneva next week to monitor states' compliance with the convention, are to debate the report May 7. ``Since this decision was the subject of much controversy and was given an utterly mistaken interpretation in the world media, we found it necessary to submit this paper in order to clarify Israel's interrogation policies and practices and in particular the above-mentioned decision of the Supreme Court,'' the 10-page Israeli report said. ``We would like to emphasize that Israeli law strictly forbids all forms of torture or maltreatment,'' it added. Palestinian detainee Muhammad Hamdan in 1992, ``admitted that he belonged to and was active in the Islamic Jihad cells,'' it said. He was deported to Lebanon, then upon return to Israel, sentenced to three months jail ending in February 1994.

In October 1996, the Shin Bet received information which raised suspicions that Hamdan knew vital information, ``the disclosure of which would help save human lives and prevent serious terrorist attacks,'' it added. ``The conclusion was therefore reached that there was a vital need to immediately continue with the interrogation.'' The report said: ``...as a result of (Shin Bet) investigations of terrorist organizations' activities during the last two years, some 90 planned terrorist attacks have been foiled.'' These included 10 suicide bombings, seven car-bombings, 15 kidnappings of soldiers and civilians as well as some 60 attacks including shootings, bus hijackings, stabbings and murder of Israelis, and placing of explosives, it said. Nigel Rodley, U.N. special rapporteur on torture, last month likened Israel to South Africa under apartheid. He told a news briefing in Geneva that Israel had institutionalized the use of torture in questioning detainees. Rodley said sleep deprivation, hooding and violent shaking were often used in combination. Used together, the methods amounted to inhumane treatment, according to the British lawyer.