Monday, May 7, 2007

Torture is a Form of Absolute Evil - B'Tselem

Today is Day 14,268 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and almost the 40th anniversary of the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.


In the May 7, 2007, edition of the Boston Globe is an article about a report released by B'Tselem and The Center for the Defense of the Individual. One prisoner interviewed for the report said that his captors: made him arch his back over a bench with his hands and legs joined in what prisoners commonly call "the banana position"; brought a chain and used it to hook together the handcuffs and leg shackles making his body stretch in an unbearable way; and then lifted the bench from both ends and dropped it suddenly at which point he lost consciousness." The report is based on affidavits from 73 Palestinians detained between July, 2005, and January 2006, taken mostly by a lawyer for the two groups, in which the prisoners said that Israeli interrogators physically abused and beat them, shackled them in painful positions, humiliated them, swore at them, threatened them, deprived them of sleep, and routinely held them in appalling conditions, including isolation. The report says that these actions of the Israeli interrogators defy the Supreme Court’s 1999 ruling outlawing torture. “Like murder, rape and slavery, torture is a form of absolute evil that justifies the imposition of an absolute prohibition," the report said.


Sometimes I feel like I can be accused of always criticizing the Israeli government, always blaming the government of Israel, “Israel-bashing”. But when you finish writing reading another article describing the torture of Palestinians “suspected” of doing something (although it is not always clear what and it is not always clear that they will ever be tried and it is not always clear that they ever gave any helpful information) and you decide to write about it, you are faced with a dilemma.

What would I do to make this a “balanced presentation” to give the “other side” of the documented torturing of 73 Palestinians and the reports of 1000’s of torture over decades by Israeli security services?

The usual answer for all actions is “Security” but that doesn’t work because:


From B’Tselem - Israeli penal law contains two relevant provisions on the use of force by public officials and the admissibility of evidence obtained by force. A. Use of force by a public official Section 277 of the Penal Law clearly prohibits the use of force by a public official: "A public servant who does one of the following is liable to imprisonment for three years: (1) uses or directs the use of force or violence against a person for the purpose of extorting from him or from anyone in whom he is interested a confession of an offense or information relating to an offense; (2) threatens any person, or directs any person to be threatened, with injury to his person or property or to the person or property of anyone in whom he is interested for the purpose of extorting from him a confession of an offense or any information relating to an offense."

In September 1999, the High Court of Justice ruled that some of the interrogation methods used by the GSS (Shin Bet or General Security Service) against Palestinian detainees were illegal and unacceptable. The judgment caused a significant change in the scope of the use of torture. This decision voided the interrogation guidelines previously in effect, which included the use of interrogation methods that constituted torture, including violent shaking, holding and tying the interrogee in painful positions, sleep deprivation, covering the interrogee's head with a sack, and playing of loud music.

Since the High Courts decision of 1999, attempts have been made to enact a statute that would permit the GSS to use torture. So far, these attempts have failed. Any law that grants the GSS permission to use physical force in interrogations or to intentionally cause mental suffering – even if limited to cases intended to save lives and even if "the use of torture" is expressly prohibited – would clash with one of the most firmly-rooted principles of international law: the absolute prohibition on torture and on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.


Article 3 of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment , unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1975, states: "No state may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

In 1997 and 1998, the UN Committee Against Torture deliberated on Israel's report. The Committee unanimously ruled that GSS interrogation methods constitute torture. The Committee added that the Convention against Torture's prohibition "is a prohibition that does not allow derogation in respect of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of any kind."


From the Torah Deuteronomy XVI, 18:20 “Justice, Justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”And From the footnotes to Deutoronomy XVI, 18:20 in the Hertz edition “The duplication of the word ‘justice’ brings out with the greatest possible emphasis the supreme duty of even-handed justice to all. ‘Justice, whether to your profit or loss, whether in word or in action, whether to Jew or non-Jew’ (Bachya ben Asher). Justice is the awe-inspired respect for the personality of others and their inalienable rights; even as injustice is the most flagrant manifestation of disrespect for the personality of others. Judaism requires that human personality be respected in every human being – in the female heathen prisoner of war, in the delinquent, even in the criminal condemned to death. …. In brief, where there is no justice, no proper and practical appreciation of the human rights of every human being as sons of the one and only God of righteousness – there we have a negation of religion.


That is the problem with finding “balance” for a story on the torture of Palestinians by the government of Israel agencies.

Moreover, having just finished a five part series on the Policies of the Israeli government which lead to house demolition, what should I have written to provide “balance” to that story? Where are the documented cases of the demolition of 1000’s of houses of Israelis over the last 40 years by Palestinians? Where are the articles about the human rights groups and Rabbis courageously standing in front of an Israeli residence in an attempt to prevent a Palestinian owned Caterpillar bulldozers from destroying the house of an Israeli family who built their home without a permit because for years they had been denied a permit to build?

I am fully aware and condemn the deaths of innocent Israelis caused by Palestinian suicide bombers. But the “balance” of that is the deaths of Palestinians caused by Israeli weapons and Jewish Israeli squatters.

There is no real balance to an occupation. It is not the Palestinians who demolish houses, who build a discriminatory road system, who detain prisoners without bringing charges, who torture prisoners, who build walls around villages, who close universities, who establish curfews, who support the building of settlements, who fail to prevent physical attacks and property destruction by Jewish Israeli squatters.

The reality is that as Steffi Schamess was quoted as saying in my previous post, “In this situation, it is the Israelis who have the power. It is the Israelis who can move toward a political, not a military, response and eventual solution.”

Sadly and tragically, the only power able to bring pressure on the Israelis is the United States government which has no willingness, no interest and perhaps no competence to respond in any way except militarily and therefore by far not a role model for developing political responses.

That leaves the responsibility of ending torture, ending house demolitions, ending the settlements and ending the occupation where it has always been and always should be – with us.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you, O man, Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God

No comments: