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Rabin Seeks OK for More Force in Grilling Suspects

August 25, 1995|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Israel can wage effective war against Islamic militants only if its security forces get greater leeway to use force during interrogations, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and other senior officials argued Thursday.

"The existing laws are very pretty but are not appropriate for the war against terror and preventing suicide attacks," the newspaper Maariv on Thursday quoted Rabin as telling Cabinet members in a closed session Wednesday. Rabin reportedly failed to persuade a Cabinet-level oversight committee to loosen interrogation restrictions imposed on Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service.

But even his critics concede that there is wide public support for using force to extract information from suspected Islamic militants who might be planning attacks such as the suicide bombings aimed at disrupting the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

"It is a simplistic but comforting idea" to believe that shaking terrorism suspects will stop the attacks, said Avigdor Feldman, a lawyer representing the Public Committee Against Torture. "It is a fantasy that many people have about dealing with these people [suicide bombers], the fantasy of a one-on-one confrontation with the terrorist."

Rabin reportedly advocated that Shin Bet interrogators be permitted to use violent shaking without seeking permission from the security force's director. In the same meeting, Police Minister Moshe Shahal reportedly said he believes the penal code should be amended to protect interrogators from criminal prosecution if an individual dies in custody.

Abdel-Samad Harizat, a suspected member of the militant Islamic movement Hamas, died in April after Israeli interrogators shook him violently several times. Since then, agents have been allowed to use that method only with permission from Shin Bet's chief and only in instances when they believe a suspect is withholding information about an imminent attack.

Some Israeli legal scholars and human rights groups on Thursday said they worry that Shin Bet may soon engage in outright torture of suspects if rules governing its interrogation methods are loosened.

"I think that the current atmosphere and the popular spirit is to allow any method that will prevent terrorist actions," said Dan Yakir, a lawyer with the Assn. for Civil Rights in Israel. "These are difficult times, and it is hard to be rational. But it is illegal, and very dangerous, to give drastic and Draconian powers to the security service."

Yakir said that after Harizat was killed, his group petitioned the Israeli High Court in June to ban the use of shaking in interrogations. The court will hear arguments on the petition Sept. 13.

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Shin Bet, responsible for security in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and spy-catching in Israel, has often been accused by international human rights groups of torturing detainees. "The Shin Bet is brutal enough already," said Hanan Mikhail-Ashrawi, a Palestinian human rights advocate. "To justify further violence would be reprehensible."

Thursday's debate over tougher interrogation methods erupted after Shin Bet's head, who military censors insist must be referred to only as "K," announced Wednesday that the service had uncovered a Hamas military network in the West Bank. Shin Bet blamed the network for Monday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem and a similar attack July 24 in a Tel Aviv suburb.

Both "K" and Rabin said the two suspects who eventually gave Shin Bet information on the ring confessed after "violent shaking," administered only after Monday's attack. Both said they believed Monday's attack might have been averted had the tactic been used earlier.

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"Interrogation is one of the main tools of the Israeli security service in fighting the Islamic terrorist organizations. They should let the right tools be used to try and minimize the quantity and the quality of the terrorist acts," said Yaacov Peri, former head of the General Security Service--Shin Bet's formal name--in an interview with Israel Radio on Wednesday.

Peri said Hamas and other Islamic activists differ from the majority of Palestinian militants because they are "more ideologically motivated, they are stubborn and they understand our limitations."

He said torture is the wrong term to use to describe Shin Bet interrogation methods, which human rights groups say include beatings, sleep deprivation, dousings with cold water and prolonged binding of arms and legs.

"The term moderate physical pressure is much more accurate," Peri said. "The security service has not permission to do any real physical touching in any interrogation." Peri said public debate on the issue is likely to damage Shin Bet's effectiveness because it lays out for suspects the limits imposed on the agency.

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