Friday, January 11, 2008

Twilight Zone / A window on interrogation

Ha'aretz, January 11, 1008

Twilight Zone / A window on interrogation
By Gideon Levy

Imad Khotri says he is a clerk in the Qalqilyah municipality and serves as a volunteer imam in the city's Saladdin Mosque. He is 23 years old, and was arrested in his home late at night on October 17, 2007 by Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The next day he was transferred to a Shin Bet security service interrogation facility in the Kishon detention camp. That was the start of a prolonged series of interrogations involving torture. His hands have remained partially paralyzed as a result of the torture, and the tight and prolonged binding of his hands to a chair with iron handcuffs.

Anyone who saw him brought to the military court saw a person with dangling palms, which he is barely able to move. A judge who saw him in this condition ordered the cessation of his interrogation and medical tests. A test performed in Haifa's Rambam Medical Center indicated "quite serious partial axonal damage to his nerve." The Shin Bet doctor determined that this was caused by "strong pressure" on his hands. The legal bureau of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) filed a harsh complaint with the attorney general.

Khotri is still under arrest, awaiting trial. His testimony exposes Shin Bet interrogation methods, years after the High Court of Justice specifically banned torture. It opens a window to what goes on in our interrogation rooms.

Following is the declaration of prisoner Khotri: "At about 2 A.M. a military force arrived at the place where I live with my parents and four brothers. They rang the bell and shouted that I should come downstairs. We obeyed and went down to the courtyard. Captain Munir, a Shin Bet officer, told me that I should hand over all the wanted men. I told him that I didn't know where they were and he ordered the soldiers to put me into a jeep. The soldiers bound my hands with plastic handcuffs, blindfolded me and put me into the jeep."

After being transferred to several places the prisoner arrived at 9 P.M. the next day at the Kishon detention center, where he was put into solitary confinement: "The next day one of the wardens transferred me with my hands bound and my eyes covered to the interrogation room. In the interrogation room there was an interrogator who identified himself as Eldad, and the warden sat me down in a chair attached to the floor and bound my hands behind my back and put the chain of the handcuffs into a lock behind the chair, so I couldn't move my hands. That day I was interrogated until 9 or 10 P.M. During the interrogation the interrogator removed the handcuffs occasionally, every two hours for about 15 minutes, and I could eat, go to the bathroom and pray.

"The interrogator accused me of helping wanted men. I denied any involvement and the interrogator began to shout at me and told me that he wanted me to undergo a polygraph test. At first I objected because I was very anxious and scared, but as a result of the pressured applied by Eldad and a number of other interrogators, I agreed to take the test.

"During the second week, from November 21-25, I underwent intensive daily interrogations. For the first three days I was interrogated 24 hours a day and the interrogators prevented me from sleeping. During the entire interrogation I was bound in handcuffs as described above ... On the third day in the evening the interrogation ended and I was put into solitary confinement, where I fell asleep immediately.

"On the fourth day I took another polygraph test. At the end of the test Major Effie entered and moved me to another room, and sat me down on a chair attached to the floor and bound my hands from behind but didn't attach the handcuffs to the chair. He explained to me that I had failed the test and I told him that it could have been a result of the tension and fear I felt because of the interrogation and the suspicions against me. Effie told me that I was lying and informed me that they were about to conduct a military interrogation.

"Immediately afterward the military interrogation began. In the room were Captain Eldad, Captain Adi, Maimon and Franco, Major Effie and Peretz. The interrogators would alternate, but at least three were present the entire time.

"Major Effie brought a backless chair and attached it to the floor. Afterward he sat me down on the chair and bound my hands with short iron handcuffs. He sat in front of me, placed my legs behind the chair legs and held me with his legs so I couldn't move them. Captain Adi sat behind me and began to slap my face and ordered me to bend backward, and when I got tired of holding myself in the air he would push me backward and leave me in this painful position for several minutes and pick me up by the shirt and push me backward. Captain Effie used this method for about 20 minutes, and when my body was hanging in the air, Effie would place his hand under the chair, grab my hands beneath my back and pull toward him. Afterward Effie took off my handcuffs, placed each of my hands in a sock and bound my hands behind my back. Afterward he brought different handcuffs, tightened them on my forefingers, with my hands bound behind me, and then another interrogator joined and each of the interrogators began to tighten the handcuffs on my hands with all his strength, and one interrogator would hold me by the neck at the same time and slap my face. The interrogators used this torture for 5-10 minutes, during which I would scream with pain and beg them to stop, while some of them laughed at me.

"Afterward they removed the handcuffs from my forefingers and left the handcuffs on my hands and ordered me to assume the kambaz position - forcing me to squat and to keep myself steady on my toes. One of the interrogators stood behind me and one in front. Occasionally they would slap me and hold me in this position for 20 minutes. At the conclusion of the torture I was unable to stand up and the interrogator would grab me by the shirt and push me into the chair, allowing me to rest for about 10 minutes, and afterward they would repeat the same torture methods, while threatening to arrest my mother and father. The torture continued from 3 P.M. to 6 A.M.

"At 6 A.M. a new team of interrogators arrived. Two interrogators sat with me, removed my handcuffs, and brought me a cup of tea, which I drank with a straw, since I was suffering from pains in my hands. Franco told me that it was better for me to reveal everything because they had permission to continue to torture me for days and weeks. I told Franco a lot of things, but repeated that I had no information about future military activities. Victor insisted I knew more and continued to interrogate me. Afterward they asked me to take another polygraph test and I agreed. At about 10 they took me to the solitary confinement cell. I arrived there a broken man, I had great difficulty walking and moving my hands, I lay on the mattress in pain. I was in such pain that I couldn't fall asleep.

"On Friday I took another polygraph test. The results were that they couldn't decide [anything due to] my medical situation, and the polygraph technician stopped the test in the middle and said he would ask them to allow me to rest for three days. I was held in confinement until Monday when I took another polygraph test. My medical situation was still serious and I had terrible pains, and after three hours the technician decided that I was not telling the truth.

"Captain Victor entered the room and led me to the interrogation room. In the room were Adi, Effie, Peretz and two other people whom they called 'Colonel' and 'General.' The interrogators told me that I had been lying and that I would understand only if force were used on me, and [they] resumed the military interrogation, from the afternoon until the next morning.

"This time they used more force, to the point that I began to invent things, and they told me that I was lying. On Wednesday at six, after I had been tortured all night, they took me to solitary confinement and brought me back up to the interrogation room in the evening and resumed the military interrogation, which continued until midnight. Afterward they took me to solitary confinement and told me they would bring me new clothes, because the clothes I was wearing were too big for me and full of perspiration and saliva. The interrogation ended on Friday and then they brought me up to write the testimony, at the end of which I was transferred for a remand of my detention, and there I told the judge what had happened to me and showed him that I couldn't move my hands any longer."

The military judge, Lieutenant Colonel Aryeh Avriel, wrote in his decision on November 6, 2007: "The suspect told me he was tortured, says his hands are paralyzed, and showed me the condition of his two hands, with his palms bent downward in an unnatural position ... I order the cessation of his testimony ... I order that the suspect be examined by the doctor of the facility to verify the medical problem raised by the suspect, and if there is truth to his words, I order that he be given immediate medical treatment."

Dr. Alex Adler of the Israel Prisons Service wrote: "The prisoner was examined by the doctor of the facility who sent him to the emergency room, where he was examined by specialists. He was diagnosed as suffering from weakness in his hands and there may be ... damage due to too much pressure, and he requires an EMG" (the electromyography exam that checks electrical activity of muscles).

The test was administered on November 29 in the Rambam Medical Center, and at its conclusion, the doctor described "a neurophysical picture that accords with partial and quite serious axonal damage in the bilateral radial nerve."

Attorney Samah Al-Khatib Ayyub of the PCATI sent a letter several weeks ago to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, describing the entire story. Al-Khatib Ayyub is demanding that Mazuz order an investigation and indict the interrogators for exercising serious physical violence. She also cites a High Court ruling against torture.

A Shin Bet spokesperson this week told Haaretz that Khotri was indeed interrogated, "according to rules and regulations and also confessed that he was planning to participate in an attack on Israel." The Shin Bet also says that Khotri named several other indivuals as his co-conspirators, who were subsequently arrested. "Khotri's claims were forwarded to the Justice Ministry and they are currently being investigated. We would like to emphasize that Khotri received medical attention during his interrogation."

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