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Activists Decry Israel's OK of Force by Interrogators

Mideast: Ruling applies to a Palestinian prisoner believed to have information about terrorist attacks.

November 16, 1996|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Human rights activists on Friday decried a Supreme Court ruling that lets Israel's secret police use "physical force" against a Palestinian man believed to have information about planned terrorist attacks.

The decision in the case of Mohammed Abdel Aziz Hamdan, a university student described by police as a member of the militant Islamic Jihad organization, lifted an earlier order that barred investigators from using such tactics in interrogating the suspect.

Andre Rosenthal, Hamdan's attorney, condemned the ruling as sanctioning the use of torture.

"Such methods are wrong under any circumstances," he said.

In the decision issued late Thursday, the three-judge panel of the high court found evidence that Hamdan possessed vital information about attacks planned against Israeli targets. The court ruled that extracting the information could "prevent a severe tragedy [and] save human life."

Israeli security forces have been on alert after warnings that members of Islamic Jihad have infiltrated Israel to carry out attacks.

The group has warned that it will launch attacks against Israelis in retaliation for the assassination last year of its leader, Fathi Shikaki.

An Israeli human rights group, B'tselem, deplored the ruling.

"We are bitterly disappointed at this, though hardly surprised," senior researcher Yuval Ginbar said. "By sanctioning the use of torture, Israel . . . is breaching a whole string of human rights agreements to which it is a party."

A spokeswoman for Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, also expressed disappointment.

"We are totally against the use of force to oblige people to give information," said Asma Khader, the group's general director.

Hamdan, a student at Birzeit University in the West Bank town of Ramallah, was arrested Oct. 7 and transferred Oct. 24 to the custody of the General Security Service, also known as Shin Bet.

Rosenthal, who has represented numerous Palestinians in appeals before the Supreme Court, said the judges granted the injunction Wednesday after Hamdan complained of being shaken, shackled, deprived of sleep and forced to squat for long periods of time.

After the court overturned the injunction, Rosenthal said: "There is now a blanket acceptance that in every security case of a certain magnitude, different methods of torture are accepted as a daily routine. I believe this can't be accepted."

In 1987, an Israeli commission established guidelines for interrogation that included the use of "physical pressure" when circumstances required security forces to obtain information quickly to save lives. This quickly became known as the "ticking bomb" scenario.

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Human rights groups in Israel and elsewhere have long contended that the guidelines are routinely exceeded, a charge vehemently denied by Israel.

In early 1995, the government decided to allow Shin Bet more leeway when interrogating suspected members of Islamic militant groups.

In April 1995, Abd Samad Salman Harizat, a suspected activist in the extremist Islamic organization Hamas, was shaken to death during a Shin Bet interrogation.

Dedi Zucker, a member of the Israeli parliament and longtime human rights activist, said he believes that the ruling actually imposed a heavier burden of proof than previously on the security services.

The ruling represented a milestone, Zucker said, because investigators will now be required to prove that a suspect is a "ticking bomb" before they can use force against him, Zucker said.

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