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Israel defends its interrogation practices before U.N. panel

May 8, 1997

GENEVA (AP) _ Israel vigorously defended its interrogation practices before a U.N. human rights committee Wednesday, arguing that the country’s questioning methods had helped prevent about 90 terrorist attacks in the past two years.

Nili Arad, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Justice, justified what he called Israel’s ``exceptional interrogation methods″ before independent experts of the U.N. Committee Against Torture, who questioned whether such practices amounted to torture.

Israel is one of the countries under periodic review before the panel, which meets twice a year in Geneva to discuss adherence by nations that have signed the Convention against Torture.

Members brushed aside results of an Israeli investigation that acquitted of criminal wrongdoing those who questioned 29-year-old Palestinian prisoner Abdel Samad Harizat in 1995. Harizat died in custody.

Bent Sorensen of Denmark, a member of the committee, said that evidence from the autopsy on Harizat supported the conclusion that he died of violent shaking during investigation by Israeli security officials.

More than 20 Palestinians, most recently Harizat, have died in Israeli prisons since 1987.

In November, Israel’s Supreme Court lifted an injunction against the use of force in the interrogation of Palestinian detainees in certain cases. Since then, critics have accused the Jewish state of approving torture during investigations.

``The state of Israel categorically deplores and prohibits the practice of torture,″ Arad said, adding that under ``extreme and exceptional circumstances,″ investigators used unpleasant methods ``which would be normally regarded as unacceptable.″

She said Israel was trying to ensure the safety of its citizens against militant terrorist attacks while maintaining basic principles of justice.

Peter Thomas Burns, the U.N. committee member specializing in Israel, said Israel seemed to think that standards for treatment of detainees could be modified depending on circumstances, while the standards of the Convention Against Torture were absolute.

Burns questioned how Israel did not define as ill-treatment or torture prolonged interrogation, shaking, sleep deprivation and awkward and painful sitting positions.

He also noted that the Convention Against Torture prohibits ``exceptional circumstances″ as excuses for torture.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem cited as an example of such torture the case of Palestinian Ayman Kafishah, arrested by Israeli security forces on April 5.

The group said Kafishah had been interrogated for 36 consecutive hours, shaken violently and threatened with the torture of his family. He also was denied the right to see his lawyer for a full month, the group charged.

The United Nations’ investigator on Israel, Hannu Halinen of Israel, reported to the U.N. Human Rights Commission earlier this year that serious human rights violations continued in the occupied territories last year.

The head of Israel’s government press office, Moshe Fogel, said then that the report was biased and failed to take into account ``the fact that Israel lives in constant and real threat of terrorism.″

Fogel said Israel had a responsibility to protect the lives of both Jews and Arabs at the hands of terrorists.

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