JERUSALEM — Three investigators of Israel's domestic security agency have been suspended for lying to a judicial inquiry commission about the fate of a young West Bank Arab who died mysteriously after a 48-hour interrogation last July, it was disclosed Wednesday.
Israeli sources confirmed a report published by the Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Aharonot that the three General Security Service investigators had given a false written account of the case to an inquiry commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau.
The Landau commission reported late last month, after nearly five months of investigating, that the General Security Service, known by its Hebrew initials as Shin Bet, had for 16 years routinely used "physical pressure" against suspected terrorists and then lied in court about its methods.
The panel said that an era of deception had ended last June 10 when the head of the Shin Bet investigations unit told his agents they were not permitted to lie in court.
However, the new disclosure indicates that more than six weeks later, at least three investigators fabricated a story before the inquiry commission about the death of 23-year-old Awad Hamdan.
Hamdan was arrested on July 19 and taken to Janin prison on the Israeli-occupied West bank for interrogation as a suspected member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Two days later he collapsed and died.
According to the Shin Bet report, Hamdan's death was the result of a heart attack. But Hamdan's parents maintained that he was in perfect health before his arrest and that they found suspicious swelling and bruises on his body when it was released to them for burial.
In September, the family asked the Israeli Supreme Court to order an inquiry into the death. The court is expected to decide next week.
According to Yediot Aharonot, an internal inquiry by the Shin Bet showed that the Palestinian died of pneumonia, possibly caused by the methods of his interrogation. The head of the security agency, whose identity is an official secret, then suspended the three interrogators and reported the incident to Landau, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Atty. Gen. Yosef Harish.
The Shin Bet is considered the country's primary weapon against terrorism and illegal Palestinian nationalist activity. It is responsible for eliciting the confessions that are the main evidence against the majority of the hundreds of Arabs convicted every year of anti-state activity.
Two Major Scandals
The agency's methods first came under question as a result of two major scandals. The first involved a 1984 incident in which two prisoners captured in an attempted bus hijacking were beaten to death by Shin Bet agents. The affair came to light only after agency officials lied to two previous inquiry commissions in an attempt to shift blame to an Israeli army officer.
In the second incident, the Supreme Court ruled last May that Shin Bet agents had perjured themselves in the case of a Muslim officer in the Israeli army wrongfully imprisoned for treason. The officer, a member of Israel's tiny non-Arab Circassian minority, had already served seven years in prison after agents used physical and psychological pressure to force his confession and then lied about their methods in court.
The Landau commission, in its final report, faulted Shin Bet agents only for perjuring themselves. The panel said that the use of moderate physical pressure against suspected terrorists was legally and morally justified.