You try your best to avoid being violent,’ the Palestinian security man tells me. ‘But in cases where the data is strong, and the prisoner is not co-operating, and when there might be harm done to others – then you must be.(h/t Uzi)
'I’m not going to lie to you. Torture is used. We have to protect our people.'
‘If you are not sure of the case, I assure you, torture is not going to be used. But if you feel you’re not getting what you want – well, then the decision will depend on the investigator’s patience and the importance of the information he needs.
‘In the Nineties, we used to torture them badly. We beat them hard and we made them like a car that doesn’t function. But we were defending our home, the region and the rest of the world. I am happy it was justified.’
Nowadays, he adds, the preferred method is termed ‘shabeh’ – the hooding and tying of the prisoner in a variety of agonising positions for up to eight hours. He does not elaborate on the details, but claims: ‘It works with 95 per cent of the subjects.’ It also takes considerable skill: ‘You have to deal with it as if you were playing a guitar. Each case has its own speciality.’
This extraordinary interview is the first admission by a former perpetrator of the widespread torture of Palestinians – not by Israel, but by the Palestinian Authority (PA) which governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
It was given to me last week in a dusty Palestinian city. Across the table was a well-dressed, middle-aged family man with an infectious smile – a former PA official.
He spoke only on the strictest condition of anonymity as he feared becoming a torture victim himself should his identity become public. But he wanted to speak out because he was sure that the ends – a Palestinian state and the defeat of extremism – justify the means.
But perhaps the most shocking revelation is that torture sessions still being perpetrated by his former colleagues are financed with Britain’s help. Our taxpayers give £33 million direct to the PA, while £53 million is donated by Britain for various aid projects – more UK aid per head than we give any other nation.
Then again, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, which has officers based in Jerusalem, works closely with the Palestinian agencies that carry out the torture, seeing them as sources of valuable intelligence.
The UK also provides and pays for the training of middle and senior ranking officers from every PA security agency, including the General Intelligence Service or Mukhabarat, the Preventive Security Organisation, Military Intelligence and the ordinary police force. Ironically, the training includes courses on the need to respect human rights and the rule of law.
‘Yes, the British are very interested in human rights,’ adds the Palestinian security man.
‘They say, “We can’t convince British taxpayers [to continue to fund the PA] if you violate them.” So we do our best. But it happens.’
Just what ‘it’ means was described by a very recent victim, a professional man in his 40s who was freed without charge two weeks ago after more than a month in Mukhabarat detention.
‘For most of the time I was held, they gave me shabeh every day,’ he says. ‘Always I was hooded, and sometimes they tied my arms in front of me and attached me to the wall, leaving me like that for long, long hours, on tiptoes. You have pain in the arms, in the legs and in the body, and swelling in your muscles. Often I could also hear screaming from the prisoners.
‘But it was worse when they suspended me with my arms tied behind me. Your body is curved, like a banana. Most of the time they do not let your feet touch the ground.’ He showed me his arms and hands – they were still puffy and swollen. ‘During the shabeh, they looked much worse,’ he added.
In another variant, the suspect was hog-tied – laid on his back on top of a chair with his wrists and ankles lashed together beneath the seat. Usually the torture happened at night: ‘When you’re exhausted, they take you back to your cell.’
He was arrested because someone claimed he had an illegal weapon. ‘But I’ve never had a weapon and I am opposed to Islamic extremists. I’ve criticised the PA at social gatherings – maybe that’s why someone denounced me. That was the worst thing of all – that I was in jail at the hands of my own Authority.’
According to the Palestinians’ own official monitor, the Independent Commission on Human Rights (ICHR), the number of victims in corroborated and documented cases of torture has surged from 112 in 2011 to 160 last year. And ICHR director Randa Siniora says the increase is continuing.
A few days after meeting the security man, I travelled to the courthouse in Jericho – supposedly a showcase for UK-funded PA justice.
Sitting on a bench in the crowded hall was Khalil Fanouneh, 61, from Hebron, a city in the West Bank. Khalil said his son, Maher, 38, a paint salesman, had been arrested by the Mukhabarat on February 24.
Today, the hearing was brief because another lawyer failed to show up. The case was adjourned until April 7 – leaving Maher in custody. But before he was led away, he started shouting: ‘I have not slept for more than a week! The law forbids torture, so please be fair to us, we shouldn’t have to go through torture, we shouldn’t be subjected to shabeh. Please, judges, put a stop to it.’
Ahmad Toubasi, the court’s chief judge – aware the room was filled with clean-shaven Mukhabarat agents in dark, shiny suits – looked scared and horrified. ‘You tell your lawyer about the torture,’ he said, motioning to the guards to remove the prisoner.
Then Khalil stood up from his seat on the public benches: ‘I am his father! Please, do something!’ The judge told him to be silent. The Mukhabarat men followed me back to the hall. There Samir Abu Arrah, their staff legal adviser, accosted me. ‘Maher probably just said this to get the sympathy of the judge,’ he said dismissively. ‘I can assure you no torture has taken place.’
Mohammed Jamil, head of the UK-based Arab Organisation for Human Rights, which has published several reports on PA abuse, said such visits were futile. ‘They have been going for years, but nothing has changed. Britain has the power to stop the torture, but it will require much tougher action,’ he said.
The ICHR’s Ms Siniora added: ‘There is no doubt things are getting worse. Last year, we inspected one prison where there was clear evidence of shabeh – we saw the hooks on the walls. But as our 2012 report will say when it is published, not one of the cases of torture that came to light has been properly investigated.
‘There is no accountability. There is a culture of impunity – there has not been a single case of an official involved in torture being prosecuted.’
On Wednesday, she added, she was visited by a senior British official from Jerusalem. ‘I told him, “You are supporting the security agencies and you are training them. You have a very big responsibility for ensuring that your taxpayers’ money is not spent on torture.” ’
But PA torture does not often make UK headlines. And liaisons are close between MI6 and the Mukhabarat, the very agency responsible for the worst abuse.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
- Sunday, March 31, 2013
- Elder of Ziyon
From a lengthy article in The Daily Mail: