Ha'aretz, November 30, 1998
Crouching position, suspended arms, broken bonesFor almost a month, Shin Bet interrogators questioned Said Zou'arub about a 1995 suicide bombing. A special judicial procedure to assess the validity of his confessions has revealed some Shin Bet methods of extracting information
By Amira Hass
It was at 11:45 on April 6, 1997, that Sa'id Zou'arub had his first conversation with the man he knew as Hatem. The two discussed the differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zou'arub argued that Islam does not preach violence. Hatem disagreed, claiming that "various references in the Koran prove that, like Christianity, the Muslim faith also sought to force Jews and others to convert or die." A short while later, the man known as Hilmi joined the conversation. Hilmi, like Hatem, is a Shin Bet interrogator.Some 40 minutes after his session with Hatem and Hilmi, Zou'arub was instructed to "wait." That, at least, was how Hatem carefully put it in the report he filled out. The theological debate was also noted in writing. At 14:50, the meeting was resumed. "The subject asked innocently whether (he) could be doing evil and planning terrorist attacks while fulfilling a religious duty," wrote Hatem in his second report of that day. "I told the subject that he had been arrested for his involvement in the Hamas movement and not for his religious activities. I told him that he had been brought in for interrogation not only for his involvement in Moawiyeh Roca's suicide bombing, but for a lot more." In June 1995, Roca had driven his donkey-led cart near an Israeli army vehicle and detonated the bomb he was carrying, killing himself in the process.
According to the report, Hilmi and a third interrogator, "Jerry," also participated in parts of the second session. At 14:50, Zou'arub was once again sent to "wait." He was brought back at 15:54, and interrogated until 17:55. This time, Hilmi wrote the report, noting what had been discussed and that interrogator Jerry and "Max" had also participated. What the report, however, failed to mention was that between 16:30 and 17:25, the subject had been ordered to "crouch." "Crouching means that the subject bends his legs and sits on tiptoes, with his hands handcuffed behind him," Jerry would later explain, when questioned in court.
Zou'arub, a 45-year-old resident of Khan Yunis, was arrested in April 1997 at the border crossing in Rafah, on his way to Mecca. At the end of May 1997 he was indicted, and his trial has been in progress for the past year. A few months ago, the trial itself was halted after the defendant's attorney requested what is known by the Hebrew legal term "mishpat zuta" - a kind of "trial within a trial," conducted in order to assess the validity of a defendant's confession. Through his attorney, Lea Tsemel, Zou'arub claimed that his admissions "had all been given against his free will."
While arguing in favor of this special proceeding, Tsemel listed a number of torture methods which she claimed had been employed during her client's interrogation, between April 3 and mid-May: He had been forced to bend his body into painful positions, to listen to overly loud music and to wear a stifling cover over his head. He had been deprived of sleep, water and sufficient food, and was kept from bathing and from using the bathroom. He had been beaten, shaken, bound with tight handcuffs and treated in a humiliating manner.
Jerry - known to the court as "N" - denied having used some of these methods, and sought to convince the court that some of the other methods didn't inflict any pain. "That does not hurt?" Tsemel asked, referring to the "crouching" method. "I suppose it could cause pain... On the other hand, a man who is accustomed to waiting and eating in this position might not find it painful," replied N.Tsemel: "And you made him sit this way so that he would feel he was among his own people?"
N: "I've already explained my goal in doing this."
Tsemel: "You make him sit this way because it feels good?"
N: "No, I have explained my purpose."
At least 12 Shin Bet interrogators were involved in the efforts to extract a confession from Zou'arub. Judging by the effort put into his interrogation, one would assume that Zou'arub constituted a veritable "ticking bomb" - a man suspected of possessing vital information regarding an imminent terrorist attack, who must be made to confess what he knows so that lives might be saved.
But that was not the case. In his testimony, N repeatedly claimed that Zou'arub was in possession of "vital information." According to the indictment, however, the goal of the interrogation was to get Zou'arub to admit his involvement in a terrorist bombing which took place almost two years before his arrest. Despite being tortured, he persistently refused to admit such involvement. And whatever he did admit, he would later recant.
After having been interrogated by both the Shin Bet and the police, Zou'arub was indicted in May 1997 of various offenses. The gravest charge Zou'arub faced was that of having read a request written by Roca, who wished to carry out a suicide bombing, and having referred him to a third Hamas man so that his request might be approved. Zou'arub's involvement in this attack, therefore, was the worst crime that he could be charged with - unlike what the interrogator "Hatem" had written in his report.
Even the long and intensive interrogation did not lead Zou'arub to change his story. He persistently claimed that Roca had contacted him and told him that, since the Palestinian Authority was looking to arrest him, he wanted to carry out a suicide bombing. Zou'arub stubbornly claimed that he had responded to Roca's request by suggesting that Roca turn himself in, while he, Zo'arub, would try to "resolve Roca's problem with the authorities."
In the course of N's testimony, Tsemel discovered that the Shin Bet had kept yet more records of Zou'arub's interrogation; The court, however, did not grant her request to receive these records due to their "confidential" nature. What Tsemel did succeed in obtaining were the timetables included in these records, which in some places listed "unusual" methods "intended to cause discomfort", as N put it.
For example, Zou'arub was made to crouch eight times, in some cases more than once in one day, for a duration of between 40 minutes and one hour each time. In the three weeks of his interrogation, Zou'arub spent most of his time "waiting" - sometimes with other prisoners, sometimes alone, his head always covered with a sack (which Tsemel claimed had been stifling and foul-smelling; N denied this). While "waiting," Zou'arub was sometimes forced to sit on a tilted stool, his hands cuffed either in front or in back, his body sliding forwards. Sometimes his hands were tied upwards, suspended over his head. In all of these cases, the room was filled with screeching music (intended, according to N, to keep subjects from exchanging information rather than to torture them).
In the course of the 21 days he spent at the Shin Bet facility, Zou'arub was sent to his own cell a mere five times. The rest of the time, when he was not being interrogated, he spent "waiting." When asked to explain the practice of sending subjects to "wait," N testified: "'Waiting' is the time spent between interrogations, while the subject is sitting on either a high chair or a low one, in some cases wearing a head-cover." The purpose of keeping a man in "waiting," according to his testimony, is "to maintain an interrogative sequence and for other purposes, which I cannot reveal because they are privileged." When Tsemel suggested that the point of "waiting" was to keep subjects from sleeping, N answered: "One can sleep while waiting. I have no responsibility over who does or does not sleep."Tsemel further learned that on four occasions - three of them in one day - Zou'arub had been forced to "sit on a small chair with his hands lifted up behind him" for a duration of between five and 30 minutes. On six occasions, he was made to stand "with his hands over his head." On one particular day, he was instructed to stand this way on four different occasions, once for almost three consecutive hours. According to N's testimony, this method was only used after April 9 - meaning, after Zou'arub had already given his confession. When questioned, N also confirmed that handcuffs were at times "tightened" behind the subject's back: "The situation is that of tightening the handcuffs as far as possible around the defendant's wrists, for a certain period of time." According to N's testimony, this method was also used after Zou'arub had admitted what he knew to the police.
In other words, in addition to the fact that Zou'arub never constituted a "ticking bomb," most of the "unusual methods intended to cause discomfort," other than the "waiting" itself, were used on May 14 and 15 - after Zou'arub had already confessed in detail. But, as N admitted in his testimony, "the goal was to receive from this subject information that was, in our professional opinion, essential. The use of this method [tightening the handcuffs - A.H.] was meant to contribute to the subject's divulging matters he would otherwise not spoken of." In retrospect, N also admitted, these methods did not in fact lead the subject to elaborate any further than he already had.
In his testimony, the Shin Bet interrogator known as N said that the purpose of the torture was not "to cause myself pleasure":
Zemel: "What is the name of that activity that he refers to as 'hanging'?"
N: "A situation that might resemble the one defense counsel is suggesting is when the subject stands with his hands over his head."
Zemel: "How do you note this activity (in your report)?"
N: "I defined it as standing with hands in the air."
Zemel: "And what are the handcuffs attached to when the subject stands this way? How do you get the hands up and keep them up?"
N: "Another set of handcuffs is used to attach the handcuffs to some kind of anchoring. In any case, the arms are not stretched, and the defendant's feet don't leave the ground.
Zemel: "And this method is intended to cause the subject what - a tickling sensation, pain, discomfort?"
N: "This method is intended to further the revelation of the essential information which the subject does not wish to divulge."
Zemel: "Do you agree with me that this method causes pain, physical torture, emotional weakness, or is at least intended to cause them?"
N: "The method is intended to lead to the goal which I have described."
Zemel: "And what makes you think that doing this will cause the subject to talk?"
N: "I have stated the purpose. I have explained the method in some detail. I said that in any case, the point is not to torture him. Nor is it to cause me any pleasure.
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