Torture Under Interrogation: Military Intelligence, General Intelligence, and Preventive Security Services
The categories of prisoners most at risk have changed over the years, but what has remained constant is the widespread use of torture under interrogation. In its annual report for 2000, the PICCR speaks of the persistence of physical and psychological torture in PA detention centers, especially to extract confessions.100
The authorities generally deny that torture occurs, or admit only isolated incidents, and insist that those responsible are disciplined and that security forces personnel are clearly instructed that torture is prohibited. "I have never come across any cases of defendants being beaten," Fateh Sorour, the chief judge of the State Security Court, told Human Rights Watch. "Maybe in the past there were cases, but not now," he added. Khaled al-Qidra, the state security attorney general, insisted "We cannot accept anyone torturing any Palestinian, even collaborators, because this has to do with the freedom of our people."
· shabah, being made to stand or sit up in painful positions for long periods, often hooded or blindfolded and often combined with sleep deprivation;
· falaqa, beating on the soles of the feet;
· beating, punching and kicking the victim, especially around the head and ears, sometimes using a leather-covered stick about one meter long, and sometimes while the victim is hooded or blindfolded;
· suspension by the wrists, with feet barely touching the floor;
· threats of death or injury, including rape.
Palestinian human rights organizations also report that some techniques common in the past are still sometimes used, such as burning with cigarettes and exposure alternately to extremes of hot and cold. Families are often not allowed to visit detainees until signs of torture have faded. However, people who visited Nasr Abu Kbash (see above), told Human Rights Watch that they saw obvious signs of mistreatment, including a swollen face. 101 This was the first time he had been allowed visitors after his arrest by the GIS in November 2000 for alleged collaboration with Israel.
General Tawfiq Tirawi, the head of the General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that Hussam al-‛Aslini, convicted in January 2001 in Bethlehem (see State Security Court below), had been mistreated by the Criminal Investigation Police (al-bahth al-jina'i) when initially arrested in December 2000. Tirawi denied, however, that the detainee had been mistreated after he had been transferred to the custody of the GIS. Other sources alleged that the torture included being whipped with electrical wire, being forced to stand on sharp objects, and being threatened with death.102
Khaled al-‛Akkeh was arrested by the PSS in Gaza on February 14, 2001 and convicted by the Gaza State Security Court on August 12, 2001 of helping Israeli forces kill Mas'ud Ayyad on February 13, 2001. Over a period of eighteen days after his arrest al-‛Akkeh was allegedly subjected to shabah and punched repeatedly in the face with his head hooded. He is said to have lost some vision in his right eye and some of his hearing in his left ear. He was able to receive visitors about twenty to thirty days after his arrest.103 Khaled al-‛Akkeh was shot by police on September 9, 2001, apparently while trying to escape from custody (see Deaths in Custody below).
Sometimes torture is used to obtain false testimony to strengthen a case against another person. Yusra al-Ramlawi, a 29-year-old woman from Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, was arrested in June by the GIS. Al-Ramlawi was not accused of being a collaborator herself, but was tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade her to give false evidence that would implicate another person as a collaborator.104 A confidential source told Human Rights Watch al-Ramlawi was two months pregnant at the time of the arrest and had informed her interrogators of this. Nevertheless, she was beaten into unconsciousness, which caused her to miscarry and lose the fetus. Some days later an interrogator threatened to rape her, but stopped when al-Ramlawi screamed. Despite a complaint to other officers, that interrogator was back at work three days later. At the end of June, al-Ramlawi was transferred to the GIS section of al-Saraya prison in Gaza City, where she was allegedly further beaten. The interrogation and mistreatment only stopped when she was transferred to the main part of al-Saraya prison. There she was able to receive visitors but remained in detention without charge or trial as of the beginning of September.105
The Case of F.M., 28-Year-Old Woman107
He [the interrogator] came and covered my eyes and pulled my hair. "What is your relationship with M....?" I said, "He is the neighbor of a relative." "You didn't know he is a collaborator?" He then struck me with both hands on the ears. I couldn't hear anything [for a while]. He pushed me and I fell to the floor.... "Raise your legs." He brought a chair [and put my legs on them] and started hitting the soles of my feet with [a leather-covered stick used for animal herding].
The interrogator threatened F.M. that her fate would be the same as a girl whose body had been found on the street recently. F.M. continued:
He told me "We are the strongest Palestinian group and we can do whatever we want ..." "Excuse me," said another man behind me, "it seems to me she doesn't want to talk and I want to open her mouth to make her talk." He then struck me on the ears again and beat my feet as I sat on a chair. I was then taken from the room and pushed into another room [used as a cell], still blindfolded. Suddenly someone kicked me karate style on the head. I fell unconscious on the floor. When I woke up I had a headache and couldn't feel anything in my right hand and arm and my leg was numb. The next day both hands were numb and I could not see clearly.
F.M. was taken to a medical clinic where a nurse insisted on keeping her for treatment. This was refused and F.M. was returned to the detention center. Her treatment improved. For the next four weeks the GIS kept promising she would be released. Instead, F.M. was transferred to another detention center108 where she was interrogated for seven days, eight hours a day well into the night, again seeking a confession of a relationship with M.... Here she was again subjected to falaqa and beatings, including from a female guard. F.M. explained:
Every time they asked me about M.... and I said no, they would beat me.... They would make me stand in the corridor outside [other interrogation rooms], just to listen. I could hear the men crying because of the torture.
Three months after being arrested, F.M. was released without charge. She has continuing medical effects of the torture, including constant headaches and difficulty walking.
Deaths in Custody
This brings to twenty-eight the number of detainees known to have died in custody since the PA was established in 1994.109 In about half of these cases the deceased was alleged to have been a collaborator. Autopsies are usually performed and, although families may sometimes be invited to select a medical representative to attend as an observer, Human Rights Watch is not aware of any case in which autopsy results have been publicly released. In at least one case this year the authorities have admitted the autopsy revealed signs of torture (see Abu `Amra case below). It is common practice for President Arafat to set up a commission of inquiry following a death in custody, but the PA does not make the results public, nor are those responsible for abuses usually prosecuted.110
Salim Mahmud Hassan al-Akra‛, a father of five in his thirties, died at a hospital in Nablus on the West Bank on February 27, 2001.111 His was the first known case of an alleged collaborator dying in custody since the current Intifada began. MIS officers arrested him on February 6, 2001 and held him incommunicado until they transferred him to a Nablus hospital, probably on February 24. A fellow detainee has said that he and Salim al- Akra‛ were beaten with sticks and punched by masked or hooded men while handcuffed in MIS custody. A witness in Nablus who saw the body of al-Akra‛ in the hospital morgue told Human Rights Watch112 it bore signs of torture: bruising on the wrists and ankles and head. An autopsy was performed but the results have not been released.
Suliman Qwaidh Mohammad Abu ‛Amra (38) from Deir al-Balah, died on or about August 15, 2001 after having been reportedly arrested by the MIS in Gaza City on August 8, 2001and held incommunicado until his death.113 The family was informed that he had died from a heart attack while being interrogated. The state security attorney general confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the autopsy carried out by a doctor at Shifa Hospital in Gaza showed signs of violence. He suggested that those responsible were unknown, although he did pledge that "we will prosecute if we have the evidence." President Arafat has declared Suliman Abu `Amra a martyr, which means the family will receive financial support from the PA. The family is reportedly no longer insisting on a further investigation and prosecution.114
Khaled al-‛Akkeh , whose alleged torture in detention was described earlier, was reported to have been killed by police as he tried to escape from prison or during a prison transfer in Gaza City on September 9, 2001. Newspaper reports quote police as saying that they first fired in the air before shooting him.115
‛Imad Muhammad Amin al-Bizreh (30), a Palestinian Arab of Israeli citizenship, was reported by the PHRMG to have died in the custody of the PSS in Nablus Central Prison on October 8, 2001. Al-Bizreh was reportedly arrested on October 1 while visiting family in Nablus on charges of collaboration with Israel. Officers of the PSS are quoted as saying that al-Bizreh hanged himself in his cell.116
‛Ala' al-Din Hassan Muhammad Wahba (41) from Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, reportedly died in hospital on October 21, 2001, after three days of incommunicado detention by the GIS in Khan Yunis.117 The security forces have alleged that he was arrested for "security reasons" and that he committed suicide after he was confronted with the confessions of his "co-conspirators." The brother of the deceased, a medical doctor, saw the body and declared in an affidavit that he saw "bruises and swelling in the hands, signs of a blow to the forehead, swelling in the neck apparently resulting from another blow, and traces of wire or rope around the neck."
110 Human Rights Watch is aware of four instances in which security officials have been tried as a result of deaths in custody. The most recent followed the death of Walid al-Qawasmi (48) in General Intelligence custody on August 9, 1998. The PICCR reports three GIS officers were tried for negligent homicide on November 11, 1998. First Lieutenants Muhammad `Uthman and Yacub al-Takruri were both found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to six months imprisonment and a transfer from the GIS. A third officer, Major Abd al Latif Abd al Fatah, was tried in absentia, sentenced to seven years in prison, and discharged from the GIS. See PICCR, Fourth Annual Report, Appendix I, Case 14, p. 243.
113 See Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), "A Palestinian Prisoner Dies in Custody of the Palestinian Military Intelligence Service under Suspicious Circumstances," press release, Refugee: 44/2001, August 15, 2001, http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/PressR/English/2001/44-2001.htm.
116 PHRMG, "Death in Custody, A List of People Who have Died While in Custody in the PA," http://www.phrmg.org/resources/deathincustody.htm; Daraghmeh, M., "Palestinian Prisoner Dies in Custody," Associated Press, October 9, 2001.
117 The information and quote in this paragraph is taken from PCHR, "The Death of a Palestinian Detained by the Palestinian Intelligence," press release, Refugee: 59/2001, Gaza, October 23, 2001. See also press releases issued by LAW (October 22, 2001) and Al-Mezan (October 23, 2001).