JERUSALEM – Israeli interrogators frequently beat Palestinian suspects, shackle them in painful positions and deprive them of sleep, defying a 1999 court ruling outlawing torture, two Israeli human rights groups said Sunday.
One Palestinian said his captors made him arch his back over a bench with his hands and legs joined in what prisoners commonly call "the banana position," according to a report released by B'Tselem and The Center for the Defense of the Individual.
"They brought a chain and used it to hook together the handcuffs and leg shackles. The way this made my body stretch was unbearable," said the man, identified as A.Z., 29. "Then the interrogators lifted the bench from both ends and dropped it suddenly. At that point I lost consciousness."
Israel's Supreme Court in 1999 outlawed what the Shin Bet security service called "moderate physical pressure," such as sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and tying up detainees in painful positions.
Israel's Justice Ministry said interrogations were carried out within the law and described the report as badly flawed.
The report was based on affidavits from 73 Palestinians detained between July 2005 and January 2006. Most of the testimony was taken by a lawyer for the rights groups who visited detainees in their cells, the report said.
Prisoners said they were physically abused, humiliated, sworn at, threatened, deprived of sleep and routinely held in appalling conditions, including isolation, the report said.
"Their purpose is to break the interrogees' spirit and as such, they contradict the Supreme Court ruling and constitute prohibited ill-treatment under international law," the report said.
B'Tselem research director Yehezkel Lein, the report's author, said it did not claim to provide a representative sample, but the testimonies provided a snapshot of the treatment of Palestinian detainees.
"We are convinced that they represent a valid indication of the frequency of the phenomena," he said at a news conference.
No criminal investigations have been opened against Shin Bet interrogators, even though 500 complaints have been filed since 2001, he added.
Israel's Justice Ministry, which received a copy of the report, said in response that Shin Bet interrogations are "performed in accordance with the law." The report is "fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies," the ministry said, without elaborating.
The ministry said Shin Bet interrogations were part of Israel's "day by day fight against terrorists" and that many civilian lives had been saved as a result of information gained from its investigations.
Hundreds of Israelis have died in suicide bombings, shootings and other Palestinian attacks since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in October 2000. Israeli defense officials say the death toll would be many times higher but the vast majority of attempts are thwarted, often due to Shin Bet warnings.
Lein acknowledged the security concern but said it was not a defense under international law and that those involved could be liable to arrest and prosecution if they visited other countries.
B'Tselem said it did not plan to take the prisoners' allegations to the Supreme Court. However, it called on Israeli authorities to immediately order a halt to interrogation methods that cause bodily harm or strike at human dignity, and to back the ban with legislation. It delivered its recommendations to the Justice Ministry, Israeli lawmakers and international organizations.
"Like murder, rape and slavery, torture is a form of absolute evil that justifies the imposition of an absolute prohibition," the report said.