[Ppnews] How Many Secret Prisons Does Israel Have?
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 18 10:57:00 EDT 2009
May 18, 2009
UN Watchdog Demands Answers
How Many Secret Prisons Does Israel Have?
By JONATHAN COOK
The United Nations watchdog on torture has
criticised Israel for refusing to allow
inspections at a secret prison, dubbed by critics
as Israels Guantanamo Bay, and demanded to
know if more such clandestine detention camps are operating.
In a report published on Friday, the Committee
Against Torture requested that Israel identify
the location of the camp, officially referred to
as Facility 1391, and allow access to the
International Committee of the Red Cross.
Findings from Israeli human rights groups show
that the prison has in the past been used to hold
Arab and Muslim prisoners, including
Palestinians, and that routine torture and
physical abuse were carried out by interrogators.
The UN committees panel of 10 independent
experts also found credible the submissions from
Israeli groups that Palestinian detainees are
systematically tortured despite the banning of
such practices by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999.
The existence of Facility 1391 came to light in
2002, when Palestinians were detained there for
the first time during Israels reinvasion of the West Bank.
In a submission to the UN committee, Israel
denied that any prisoners are currently being
held at the site, although it admits that several
Lebanese were detained there during the attack on Lebanon in 2006.
The committee expressed concern about an Israeli
Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that found it
reasonable for the state not to investigate
suspicions of torture at the prison. The panel is
believed to be concerned that without inspections
the prison might still be in use or could be revived at short notice.
The Israeli court, the committee wrote, should
ensure that all
allegations of torture and ill-treatment by
detainees in Facility 1391 be impartially
investigated [and] the results made public.
Hamoked, an Israeli human rights organisation,
first identified the prison after two Palestinian
cousins seized in Nablus in 2002 could not be
traced by their families. Israeli officials
eventually admitted that the pair were being held at a secret site.
Israel still refuses to identify the precise
location of the prison, which is inside Israel
and about 100km north of Jerusalem. A few
buildings are visible, but most of the prison is built underground.
We only learnt about the prison because the army
made the mistake of putting Palestinians there
when they ran out of room in Israels main
prisons, said Dalia Kerstein, the director of Hamoked.
The real purpose of the camp is to interrogate
prisoners from the Arab and Muslim world, who
would be difficult to trace because their
families are unlikely to contact Israeli organisations for help.
Ms Kerstein said the prison site was an even
grosser violation of international law than
Guantanamo Bay because it had never been
inspected and no one knew what took place there.
According to the testimonies of the Palestinian
cousins, Mohammed and Bashar Jadallah, they were
held in isolation cells measuring two metres
square, with black walls, no windows and a light
bulb on 24 hours a day. On the rare occasions
they were escorted outside, they had to wear blacked-out goggles.
When Bashar Jadallah, 50, asked where he was, he was told he was on the moon.
According to the testimony of Mohammed Jadallah,
23, he was repeatedly beaten, his shackles
tightened, he was tied in painful positions to a
chair, he was not allowed to go to the toilet and
he was prevented from sleeping, with water thrown
on him if he nodded off. Interrogators are also
reported to have shown him pictures of family
members and threatened to harm them.
Although Palestinians passing through the prison
were interrogated by the domestic secret police,
the Shin Bet, foreign nationals at the prison
fall under the responsibility of a special wing
of military intelligence known as Unit 504, whose
interrogation methods are believed to be much harsher.
Shortly after the prison came to light, a former
inmate Mustafa Dirani, a leader of the Lebanese
Shia group Amal launched a court case in Israel
claiming he had been raped by a guard.
Mr Dirani, seized from Lebanon in 1994, was held
in Facility 1391 for eight years along with a
Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid.
Israel hoped to extract information from the pair
in its search for a missing airman, Ron Arad, downed over Lebanon in 1986.
Mr Dirani alleged in court that he had been
physically abused by a senior army interrogator
known as Major George, including an incident
when he was sodomised with a baton.
The case was dropped in early 2004 when Mr Dirani
was released in a prisoner exchange.
Ms Kerstein said there was no proof that more
prisons existed in Israel like Facility 1391, but
some of the testimonies collected from former
inmates suggested that they had been held at different secret locations.
She said the concern was that Israel might have
been one of the countries that received
extraordinary rendition flights, in which
prisoners captured by the United States were
smuggled to other countries for torture.
If a democracy allows one of these prisons, who
is to say that there are not more? she said.
The committee examined other suspicions of
torture involving Israel. It expressed particular
concern about Israels failure to investigate
more than 600 complaints made by detainees
against the Shin Bet since the panels last hearings, in 2001.
It also highlighted the pressure put on Gazans
who needed to enter Israel for medical treatment to turn informer.
Ishai Menuchin, executive director of Israels
Public Committee against Torture, said his group
had sent several submissions to the committee
showing that torture was systematically used against detainees.
After the court decision in 1999, interrogators
simply learnt to be more creative in their techniques, he said.
He added that, since Israels redefinition of
Gaza as an enemy state, some Palestinians
seized there were being held as illegal
combatants rather than security detainees.
In those circumstances, they might qualify for
incarceration in secret prisons like Facility 1391.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and
the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press)
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair
(Zed Books). His website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.
A version of this article originally appeared in
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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