McCain, Israel and Torture

Senator John McCain, a former naval aviator who was tortured during his six-year captivity by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), is, to his great credit, inserting an anti-torture clause into a senate bill, to the consternation of the Bushies. The following piece ran in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Nov.7:

McCain: Israelis don’t torture
Sen. John McCain cited Israel as an example of a nation that successfully combats terrorism without resorting to torture.

A bill by McCain (R-Ariz.) restricting all U.S. government employees to interrogation techniques in the army manual passed 90-9 last month, but is meeting fierce resistance from the White House, which wants to exempt CIA agents.

In recent TV appearances, McCain said he consulted with Israelis about his initiative. “The people in this world that suffer more threats from terrorist attacks and get them every day are the Israelis,” McCain said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show. “The Israeli Supreme Court outlawed torture, outlawed cruel and inhumane treatment. And I have talked to Israeli officials, and they say they do very fine without it.”

McCain made a similar argument on “Fox News Sunday.” (JTA, Nov. 7)

But is this borne out by the facts? Not so, according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), which notes that despite improvements following the 1999 decision by the Israeli High Court of Justice to ban torture, because of a clause allowing for so-called “moderate physical pressure” in the case of “ticking bombs,” it’s still a problem in Israel:

PCATI’s report published in April 2003 revealed the following: [1]

Based on official data, GSS agents interrogated thousands of Palestinians per year during the Intifada, and over 200 at any given moment. In July 2002, the GSS related to the press that 90 Palestinians were defined as ‘ticking bombs’ and were tortured (that is, were exposed to ‘physical pressure’). Research by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel shows that the number tortured is actually much greater; and that GSS agents who interrogate Palestinian detainees torture them, degrade them, and otherwise ill-treat them routinely, in blatant violation of the provisions of international law, mainly in the following manners:

1 Violence: Beating, slapping, kicking, stepping on shackles; Bending the interrogee and placing him in other painful positions; Intentionally tightening the shackles by which he is bound; Violent shaking.

2 Sleep Deprivation.

3 Additional ‘Interrogation Methods’: Prolonged shackling behind the back; Cursing, threats, humiliations; Depriving the detainee of essential needs; Exposure to extreme heat or cold.

4 Secondary Methods: Isolation and secrecy; Imprisonment under inhuman conditions.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel estimates that a considerable portion of all interrogees, if not most, had been exposed to interrogation methods which include “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental.” In other words these methods, as applied, cause, at least in their combination and accumulation over time, the level of gravity and cruelty that constitute torture as defined in international law.

In contrast with the years 2000-2001, the years 2002-2003 saw a deterioration in the treatment of Palestinian detainees by the GSS:

* Each month, hundreds of Palestinians were subjected to one degree or another of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (ill-treatment), at the hands of the GSS and bodies working on its behalf. By way of comparison – in September 2001 we estimated that the total number of detainees being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment reached ‘only’ dozens. The numbers have thus increased dramatically.

* Each month, the ill-treatment reaching the level of torture as defined in international law was inflicted in dozens of cases, and possibly more. In other words – torture in Israel had once more become routine.
Information obtained by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel shows that official sources admitted using many torture methods, including slapping, ‘bending,’ shaking, sleep deprivation, and prolonged shackling.
‘Rubber Stamps’ for the GSS: The HCJ, The Attorney General, and The State Prosecutor’s Office

The bodies which are supposed to keep the GSS under scrutiny and ensure that interrogations are conducted lawfully acted , instead, as rubberstamps for decisions made by the GSS.

* The High Court of Justice did not accept even one of the 124 petitions submitted by the Public Committee Against Torture against prohibiting detainees under interrogation from meeting their attorneys during the years 2002-2003.

* The State Prosecutor’s Office routinely transfers the complaints made by interrogees to a GSS agent for investigation, and it is little wonder that he did not find in even a single case that GSS agents tortured a Palestinian ‘unnecessarily’.

* The Attorney General grants – wholesale, and with no exception – the ‘necessity defense’ approval for every single case of torture.

The result is a total, hermetic, impenetrable and unconditional protection that envelops the GSS system of torture, and enables it to continue undisturbed, with no supervision of scrutiny to speak of. The achievements of the HCJ ruling of 1999, which was to have put an end to large-scale torture and ill-treatment, limiting it to lone cases of ‘ticking bombs,’ have worn thin. The ‘defense of necessity’ has also become no more than a veneer. From the research undertaken by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, it is clear that torture is carried out in an orderly and institutional fashion. We know that cases termed ‘ticking bombs,’ do not involve a lone interrogator improvising “in the face of an unforeseen event,” as the High Court stipulated. Interrogators appeal to their superiors in an orderly fashion, receive approval in advance, and employ certain methods repeatedly, at least some of which (including the ‘bending’ method) require cooperation between a number of interrogators.

The 1999 HCJ ruling constituted a significant and bold step in the right direction, but the HCJ failed in not prohibiting torture and ill-treatment absolutely, and leaving intact the legal – and moral – concept, according to which a GSS interrogator is authorized to consider, albeit in extreme situations ‘only’, torture as a legal and legitimate ant legal option. The achievements of the ruling are wearing down due to those failures, due to the GSS’ policy of torture, and due to the fact that the HCJ, the State Prosecutor’s Office, and the Attorney General have, regarding this matter, transformed themselves from guardians and protectors of the law into sentries at the gates of GSS torture chambers.


DAVID BLOOM writes for WW4 Report.

[1] http://www.stoptorture.org.il/eng/background.asp?menu=3&submenu=3
[2] http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/mccain_no_veto?
[3] http://mccain.senate.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=Contact.Home
[4] http://www.ww4report.com/92.html#palestine7
[5] http://www.ww4report.com/node/1252




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