Prisoner Rights vs. National Security

"A democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back."

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Below are excerpted sections from a Sept. 6, 1999, Israeli Supreme Court decision outlawing the use of torture in interrogations by the country's General Security Service (GSS). These sections of the lengthy decision illustrate the difficulty the court faced in balancing the individual suspect's rights with the need to prevent terrorist attacks about which that person might have information.

Background:Prisoner torture


1. The state of Israel has been engaged in an unceasing struggle for both its very existence and security, from the day of its founding. Terrorist organizations have established as their goal Israel's annihilation. Terrorist acts and the general disruption of order are their means of choice. In employing such methods, these groups do not distinguish between civilian and military targets. They carry out terrorist attacks in which scores are murdered in public areas, public transportation, city squares and centers, theaters and coffee shops. They do not distinguish between men, women and children. They act out of cruelty and without mercy (For an in depth description of this phenomenon see the Report of the Commission of Inquiry Regarding the GSS' Interrogation Practices with Respect to Hostile Terrorist Activities headed by (ret. ) Justice M. Landau, 1987 - hereinafter, "Commission of Inquiry Report") published in the Landau Book 269, 276 (Volume 1, 1995).

The facts presented before this Court reveal that 121 people died in terrorist attacks between 1-1-96 to 14-5-98. Seven hundred and seven people were injured. A large number of those killed and injured were victims of harrowing suicide bombings in the heart of Israel's cities. Many attacks--including suicide bombings, attempts to detonate car bombs, kidnappings of citizens and soldiers, attempts to highjack buses, murders, the placing of explosives, etc.--were prevented due to the measures taken by the authorities responsible for fighting the above described hostile terrorist activities on a daily basis. The main body responsible for fighting terrorism is the GSS.

In order to fulfill this function, the GSS also investigates those suspected of hostile terrorist activities. The purpose of these interrogations is, among others, to gather information regarding terrorists and their organizing methods for the purpose of thwarting and preventing them from carrying out these terrorist attacks. In the context of these interrogations, GSS investigators also make use of physical means. The legality of these practices is being examined before this Court in these applications….

The Means Employed for Interrogation Purposes

…First, a reasonable investigation is necessarily one free of torture, free of cruel, inhuman treatment of the subject and free of any degrading handling whatsoever. There is a prohibition on the use of "brutal or inhuman means" in the course of an investigation (F.H. 3081/91 Kozli v. The State of Israel, 35(4) P.D. 441 at 446). Human dignity also includes the dignity of the suspect being interrogated. (Compare H.C. 355/59 Catlan v. Prison Security Services, 34(3) P.D. 293 at 298 and C.A.4463/94 Golan v. Prison Security Services, 50(4) P.D. 136).

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