January 1999

SPECIAL POWERS OF INTERROGATION OF THE GENERAL SECURITY SERVICES (GSS)

1. The issue of interrogations by the General Security Services (GSS) arises from time to time – especially in the wake of reports by international bodies as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), dealing with human rights.

2. A petition was recently filed in the Israeli Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice, by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The petitioners maintain that the GSS uses unwarranted methods of interrogation (particularly the practice of "shaking"), constituting, among other things, a violation of the provisions of the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), to which Israel is a party since 1991.

3. The High Court, composed in this instance of nine justices, held hearings on this petition on January 13, 1999.

4. On January 3, 1999, the Ministerial Committee for the Promotion of Legislation to Amend the Order for the Prevention of Terrorism, adopted a resolution relating to interrogations by the GSS (Resolution No. GSS/22), which reads as follows:

"RESOLVED THAT –

"Pursuant to the deliberations of the Ministerial Committee Dealing with the Interrogations by the General Security Services, it be communicated to the High Court of Justice that, parallel to further action in the Knesset with regard to the legislation of a GSS law, the Government intends to introduce in the Knesset a bill that would secure the existing powers of interrogation of the GSS in its struggle against terrorism, as required in order to avert the palpable danger of a grave impairment of the nation’s security. This with the proviso that these practices would not involve torture, cruelty or inhumanity – and that it be in conformity with the formulation arrived at in the Ministry of Justice, in coordination with the GSS.

"As stated, it is intended to provide a statutory basis for decisions of Israeli Governments, throughout the years, and in particular since the work of the Landau Commission on GSS Interrogations (1987)."

General Background

5. Since its establishment, the State of Israel has had to cope with grave acts of terror. In recent years, such acts are being perpetrated mainly by extremist Islamic organizations which have openly proclaimed their objective to sow death and destruction, indiscriminately, among the citizens of Israel, through massive terrorist strikes – inter alia, by despatching suicide bombers who blow themselves up in crowded places in city centers, and through the use of car-bombs.

6. The avowed strategic aim of the Islamist terror organizations is to bring about a halt to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Their tactics involve striking at large concentrations of civilians. Their methods of operation and their targets clearly testify to the fact that, in the terrorists’ eyes, human lives are of no value.

7. Only in the past two years – from January 1, 1996 to May 1, 1998 – 96 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks (among them 75 civilians and 21 members of the security forces) and 707 Israelis were injured (621 of them civilians). Most of the casualties during the past year have been victims of suicide attacks carried out by the Islamic extremist organizations.

8. The perpetration of terrorist attacks denies Israel’s citizens their basic right to life and limb. This right is protected in all the legal systems in the world as well as in international law, and it is incumbent upon the State of Israel to fulfill its most fundamental obligation, that is to say, its duty to protect the lives of its citizens.

9. Every state may – indeed must – take measures necessary to combat terrorists who seek to inflict harm on it and to disrupt public order and the lives of its citizens. The means to deal with such terrorist actions and to prevent them is to obtain information that will make it possible to locate and immediately apprehend terrorists and their arms and weapons. The objective of such action would be to prevent the terrorists from carrying out planned terrorist attacks aimed at mass murder and devastation. This information is obtained from persons who are known, from reliable sources, to be in possession thereof.

10. Despite the numerous and unique difficulties facing Israel in its battle with terrorism, Israel fully realizes that it must assume certain restraints on its own actions, so that such actions will be in conformity with the rights of the individual and with the principles of international law.

11. The legislation initiated by the Government stipulates that the use of interrogatory methods by the GSS not include acts of "torture" as defined in the UN Convention Against Torture.

12. The use of interrogatory methods, in addition to being subject to restrictions imposed by virtue of the proposed bill, is also under strict scrutiny by the High Court of Justice, to which a person under interrogation may petition, in real time, thus precluding any deviation from the regulations that have been laid down.

13. Moreover, the person under interrogation is entitled to file a complaint against his interrogators. Such complaints are dealt with by an investigating body, under the professional guidance of the Ministry of Justice.

14. With the adoption of the Ministerial Committee’s resolution, torture or inhuman conduct will be unequivocally prohibited under domestic Israeli law. Israel is thereby responding to the call by the UN’s Committee Against Torture, and is meeting its obligation under the terms of the Convention Against Torture, to ensure the incorporation of the above-mentioned prohibitions in domestic Israeli law. While it is true that the proposed bill authorizes the GSS to use interrogatory methods necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, it must be emphasized that in any event this authorization is subject to the overriding prohibition against torture or inhuman conduct.