Israeli Knesset moves toward extending law that exempts GSS from audio/video recording of interrogations with Palestinian 'security suspects'

How does Israel commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26 June)? With this new bill, it gives a green light for torture

Israeli Knesset committees are currently reviewing the government's proposal to extend a temporary law that exempts the General Security Services (GSS, Shin Bet, Shabak) and the Israeli police from audio and/or video recording of interrogations of "security suspects", overwhelmingly Palestinians. The committees' review follows the passage of the proposed new temporary law in its first reading.


Earlier this month, Adalah Attorney Nadeem Shehadeh sent a letter to the Attorney General (AG) and the State Attorney urging them to oppose the extension of the exemption. He argued that, “The exemption seriously violates the rights of detainees, including their right to due process and fair treatment." Adalah also stressed that the extension of the exemption, “clearly impedes any possibility of establishing legal procedures to guide investigations and ensure the reliability of evidence and confessions admitted in court."


The new proposed bill comes after the Knesset passed a temporary law in 2002 requiring security agencies to document all investigations involving charges that mandate prison sentences of 10 years or more. The law contained a clause exempting investigators for six-years from documenting interrogations of detainees held for "security-related" offenses, an exemption that primarily affects Palestinian prisoners.


In 2008, the Knesset again extended the temporary exemption to 2012, and, upon further review, to 2015.  Now, on the eve of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26 June), the Israeli government seeks to extend the exemption for an additional five years before the current exemption expires on 4 July 2015.   


In the letter, Attorney Shehadeh emphasized that audio and video recording of investigations could prevent the torture and/or ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees and the use of illegal tactics that are still employed in Israeli interrogation rooms to elicit confessions. Extending the exemption, "guarantees the continued use of illegal interrogation methods such as severe beatings, tying suspects in stress positions, and threats to the detainee’s family," Adalah argued. Further, even where conventionally prohibited methods of torture are not used, the detainee is still, "vulnerable to giving false confessions on charges he did not commit. The investigation process itself, even without torture, places the accused in a difficult situation, where invasive questions and degrading conditions create serious psychological pressures.”


Adalah contends that the audiovisual recording of investigations is extremely important, particularly as the written documentation of investigations is in Hebrew, which is neither the language spoken by the detainees, nor the language of the investigation. As such, audiovisual recordings of interrogations are crucial to ensuring the accuracy of translated statements made during interrogations, where mistakes could cost detainees long years in prison.


The extension of the exemption is moving forward despite international human rights treaties that call on all State Parties, including Israel, to take all possible measures to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees. Specifically,

in May 2009, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed its sharp criticism of the sweeping exemption granted to the police and the GSS from making audio and video recordings of their interrogations of security suspects in its concluding observations on Israel


The extension of the exemption also contradicts the Turkel Commission’s report, which highlights the need for greater oversight of Israeli interrogations, and recommends the use of audiovisual recording.


In February 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the constitutionality of the exemption brought by Adalah, PCATI, PHR-Israel and Al Mezan, after the Ministry of Justice committed to considering possible alternative procedures.  (See Adalah Press Release / HCJ 9416/10, Adalah et. al. v. Minister of Public Security, et al. (decision delivered 7 February 2013)).  However, as Adalah has pointed out, the proposed law, as it stands, does not include any modifications.