When it comes to torture in Israel, there is no grey area

In today’s political atmosphere, the use of extreme words tends to become the norm.

Every activist is an extremist, every statement that fails to adhere to the prevailing viewpoint is subversive and dangerous.

The same happens in the media. In order for a story to grab our attention, it has to be extreme.

The drag of our daily routine has us yearning for colour and curiosities.

In this age of unceasing influx of stimuli, only the extreme jolts us into action.

It was recently reported in Israeli media that the Ministry of Justice decided to launch a criminal investigation against an ISA [Israeli Security Agency] interrogator suspected of ill-treatment.

The specifics of the case are unknown to us, as this inquiry did not arise from a complaint submitted by PCATI.

However, an inside source was quoted saying that the inquiry would probably result in an indictment, which attests to the fact that the interrogator’s conduct was extreme and drastically out of line.

This is extremely rare, and unprecedented.

In comparison, several weeks ago, the Court rejected an appeal we have filed on behalf of As’ad Abu Ghosh, who underwent prolonged sessions of torture by ISA interrogators.

From the court’s decision we learn that smashing one’s head against a wall, depriving them of sleep, forcing one into painful stress positions and maintaining unnatural body angles through the course of several days, do not amount to torture.

Apparently, these measures are not extreme enough to justify a criminal investigation.

According to the Court’s ruling, Mr. Abu Ghosh did not experience torture, but was only subject to the moderate use of “Special Methods”.

The Judicial system often has to deal with the definition of extremes: what is reasonable and acceptable, what will be termed a moderate deviation, what is extreme and calls for review and investigation.

And indeed, up until now the Ministry of Justice attempted to justify torture with security rationales, to validate cruel treatment as a necessary evil, to legitimise humiliation and threats as tools of the trade; in other words, the Ministry of Justice has tried to diminish the extremity of torture and to mask it under a cloak of moderate necessity, as reasonable and logical.

The political reality in which we live and its security constraints are both extreme, and we all acknowledge the security forces’ needs to take effective measures in order to save human lives.

However, there is a sharp and clear line demarcating effective and efficient interrogation methods from Torture: unacceptable practices prohibited by international law and the Convention against Torture, signed and ratified by the State of Israel over 27 years ago.

Unfortunately, in our political reality the extreme doesn’t merely seep into the norm, but it overflows into it, so much that it is hard to say what is normal and what is extreme anymore.

No wonder, then, that the court did not view As’ad Abu Ghosh’s story as an extreme and harsh case.

Many detainees go through similar experiences, and similar, prohibited methods are used against them routinely.

We commend the decision made by the supervision and enforcement mechanisms to launch, for the first time, an investigation against an ISA interrogator on suspicion of torture.

However, we warn against lauding the castigation of these alleged extreme cases.

Firstly, because the disavowing of extreme evils might imply condoning the commonplace wrongs, but more importantly, because when it comes to torture, there is no grey area.

We must repeat the message, loud and clear: torture is prohibited, in any case and under any circumstance.

There is no extreme torture and moderate torture.

The only extreme is the pain and suffering inflicted on the victims, and these demand accountability.

About the Author
Rachel Stroumsa is director of Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
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