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Israel: Ticking bombs justify interrogation practices

May 8, 1997

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel today defended its use of force on terrorist suspects, saying the practice was justified for security forces facing bombs about to go off and kidnappings about to take place.

Israel’s interrogation practices were examined Wednesday before a U.N. human rights committee, where members questioned whether shaking prisoners and subjecting them to long periods of loud music, cold air and being tied up amounted to torture.

Moshe Fogel, spokesman for Israel’s government, said today that Israel had foiled 90 planned attacks, including 10 suicide bombings, in a two-year period ending last December.

``These were the result of questioning suspected terrorists during that period of time,″ said Fogel.

Following the March 22 bombing of a Tel Aviv cafe in which three Israelis were killed, Israeli security forces arrested Ayman Kafishah and other members of a militant Palestinian group blamed for the deaths of 11 Israelis, he said.

As a result of questioning Kafishah, 26, and the others, a second bomb was found that was identical to the one used in the cafe bombing, he said.

``This is a specific case in which there was a ticking bomb. If they had not found the bomb, the likelihood of it being used in another bombing was very high.″

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and an allied group called Moked say Kafishah was tortured.

Arrested April 5, he was questioned for 36 hours straight during which interrogators handcuffed him so that circulation to his wrists was cut. He was forced to sit near an air conditioner that blasted cold air and was denied access to a toilet.

B’Tselem said Kafishah was barred from seeing a lawyer for a month.

Yossi Wolfson of Moked said a petition filed April 17 asked an Israeli court to bar the use of ``violent means″ such as shaking, cuffing and sleep deprivation.

``The government told the court, essentially, that it was justified and that they got information,″ said Wolfson, ``But they didn’t say what the information is that they got.″

Wolfson also noted that the Israeli government accused Kafishah of belonging to a cell of the militant Islamic group Hamas that carried out attacks but ``never said which act he was involved in.″

Haim Zadok, a prominent Israeli attorney and former justice minister, said the use of force in interrogation is a criminal offense unless it is deemed an immediate necessity to save lives.

``I have no quarrel with it, provided the restrictions are observed,″ he said.

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

He said the international agreement prohibits ``exceptional circumstances″ as excuses for torture and questioned how Israel could define prolonged interrogation, shaking, sleep deprivation and awkward and painful sitting positions as anything but torture.

Nili Arad, director general of Israel’s justice ministry, said Israel ``categorically deplores and prohibits the practice of torture.″

However, she told the U.N. committee that investigators used unpleasant methods ``which would normally be regarded as unacceptable.″

Israel is one of the countries under periodic review before the panel, which meets twice a year in Geneva to discuss adherence by 102 nations which signed the 1987 Convention against Torture.

Members also 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 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 have died in Israeli prisons since 1987.

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

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