Fighting terror with torture: As Bush determines what is acceptable, Israel’s decisions offer insight.

MIDEAST | Israelis have experience in interrogation issues now facing U.S.
Fighting terror with torture
As Bush determines what is acceptable, Israel’s decisions offer insight.
McClatchy Newspapers

Mohammed Barghouthi, a Palestinian Authority official interrogated by Israel for several weeks last summer, demonstrates the position he was held in during questioning.

JERUSALEM | Long before the Bush administration launched its war on terrorism, opened secret detention centers or debated the wisdom of harsh interrogation techniques, Israel wrestled with similar questions about protecting itself.

President Bush soon must prepare an executive order that will outline what methods the CIA can use under a law signed last week. Backers of the law contend that their measure will prevent the use of the most contentious methods, such as “water-boarding.” But the law gives the president broad discretion to decide what tactics to approve, and Israel’s experience could provide guidance.

Since Israel’s Supreme Court curbed the use of extreme techniques in 1999, human rights studies suggest that interrogators are relying more on psychological tricks, informants and electronic surveillance to solicit information.

But some groups say that harsh interrogation still exists, and others worry that the reliance on psychological techniques may do more long-term damage than physical coercion.

Palestinian Authority labor minister Mohammed Barghouthi was held for 48 days last summer before being released without charge. He said he was shackled to a chair in a painful position for hours at a time. But more painful, he said, were the threats against his family, the screams of interrogators and the humiliation of other Palestinian lawmakers that he was forced to witness.

“I am able to forget the physical torture, but not the psychological torture,” Barghouthi said at his West Bank home. “It is engraved in my memory. I could take the treatment if I had done something wrong, but when the arrest is political, it is hard to take.”

Israel would say only that all of its interrogations are legal. It wouldn’t address whether harsh tactics were effective in producing useful intelligence.

During what’s known as the first Palestinian uprising, from 1987 to 1993, Israeli interrogators used a variety of rough techniques on many of the 23,000 detainees, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human-rights group. Interrogators violently shook suspects, causing brain damage sometimes and at least one death. They also forced suspects to lie backward over a chair in a painful position known as the “banana.”

Human rights groups challenged the methods, prompting the 1999 Israeli Supreme Court decision that curbed the use of shaking and other extreme tactics.

But the ruling allowed interrogators to argue retroactively that they’d needed to use tough measures on “ticking time bomb” suspects with crucial information about imminent attacks.

One anonymous interrogator said he worried that using painful methods could produce unreliable information from suspects who simply were trying to stop the pain.

“In the end, your goal is not to get an admission out of them but to get a reliable admission out of them,” he said.


‘Water-board’ used by U.S.

WASHINGTON | Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al-Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called “water-boarding,” which creates a sensation of drowning.

Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn’t regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. “It’s a no-brainer for me,” Cheney said.

Tuesday’s radio interview with Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., was the first time that a senior Bush administration official has confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding against important al-Qaida suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But Lee Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, denied that Cheney said that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding or endorsed the technique.

| McClatchy Newspapers