“In recent years, there have not been any substantive arguments against the reports and items we publish on substantive human rights issues.” (PCATI press release, January 11, 2011)
The Public Committee against Torture in Israel’s (PCATI) report, “When the exception becomes the rule” (December 28, 2010), denounces the Israeli General Security Service (GSS – Shin Bet) practice of allegedly denying some suspects contact with their lawyers during interrogations. The publication also accuses Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) of enabling of the GSS’s claimed abuse. The report also obscures that in some cases, contact was denied because of instances where lawyers abused their access to prisoners in order to support terrorist activity.
NGO Monitor’s analysis demonstrates that PCATI uses unreliable sources, levels unverifiable accusations at the GSS and HCJ, relies on questionable statistical data, and removes the context of terrorism. For instance, based on merely 61 interviews, PCATI claims that there is widespread abuse of prisoners. The NGO does not provide the criteria for selecting the 61 testimonies, nor explain how they constitute a statistically representative sample. Similarly, PCATI estimates that 8,379-10,773 detainees have been held without representation by the GSS from 2000 to 2007 (70% to 90% of West Bank Palestinians interrogated by the GSS, according to PCATI) merely based on discussions with eight lawyers and publications from other unreliable NGOs (Yesh Din, B’Tselem, and HaMoked). No hard data or analysis is provided to support these anecdotal claims.
At the report’s official launch (held at the Hebrew University Law School on December 12, 2010), the publication’s author, Maya Rosenfeld, referred to Palestinians arrested under suspicion of terrorism as “political prisoners” and claimed that the denial of access to a lawyer was a form of torture. Rosenfeld rejected the notion that there could be security grounds for detaining suspects without access to a lawyer, stating that the sole rationale behind the GSS actions was maintaining “the Occupation”. In contrast, when warranted, the Israeli Supreme Court has accepted national security as grounds for denying legal counsel, most recently in the January 2011 rejection of a petition by Yesh Din and the Movement for the Freedom of Information. Justice Handel said that the concern that this information would inadvertently assist hostile elements was “not a theoretical concern but a significant and well founded one.”
In response to Rosenfeld, Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan refuted the methodology, accuracy, and conclusions of the report as “baseless” and “unfounded.”
Following is a summary of his main points:
1. Baseless legal claims and accusations against the High Court of Justice (HCJ) and the State Attorney’s Office
2. Omitting the context of terrorism
3. Misrepresenting the security rationale and methods of GSS operations
1. Baseless legal claims and accusations against the High Court of Justice (HCJ) and the State Attorney’s Office:
- The report alleges that of the 80 appeals filed with the HCJ in 2005, half were dismissed and half were rejected. However, PCATI does not mention that the 40 dismissals occurred because a ruling was unnecessary: after the HCJ agreed to hear the petition, the GSS removed the restriction.
- PCATI’s sweeping claim that the HCJ does not interfere with the work of the GSS overlooks two landmark cases: HCJ case #5100/94, Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. the Government of Israel and the General Security Service, which specifically forbids the use of torture in interrogations; and the February 11, 2010 HCJ decision, which struck down a Knesset law enabling the extension of arrests without the suspect being present at the hearings.
- The report claims that “interrogation + incommunicado = confession,” i.e. that GSS practices constitute torture and result in false confessions. In reality, suspects do not always confess in these circumstances. Therefore, Israeli authorities choose to prosecute offenses that are not connected to security concerns, but will result in conviction (ala Al Capone).
- The report makes contradictory claims: On page 30, PCATI writes that 88% of suspects were given a document informing them of their rights – including the right to remain silent; but on page 31, PCATI claims that 57.9% were not informed of the right to remain silent.
2. Omitting the context of terrorism:
- PCATI largely ignores the systematic Palestinian terror campaign, in which more than 1200 Israelis were killed, during the period of the study. The GSS arrested and interrogated a large number of suspected terrorists in this period. These arrests prevented a large number of terrorist attacks.
- Rosenfeld ignores that in some cases, suspects’ lawyers obstructed justice and aided terror organizations. In several instances, ignored by PCATI, lawyers abused their access to prisoners to transfer funds from Hamas and Islamic Jihad headquarters in Gaza, and incidents in which lawyers smuggled messages, cellular phones, and weapons into jail.
3. Misrepresenting the security rationale and methods of GSS operations:
- In contrast to PCATI’s allegations of widespread abuse, this measure is used limited circumstances.
- Simiarly, allegations of ill treatment and torture of suspects are also unfounded. There are only a small number of cases filed with the HCJ accusing the GSS of torture.
- The author of the report claims that the sole rationale behind the GSS’ actions is its intent to prolong the Occupation. This is a political assertion.