Hugh Naylor
The National
December 8, 2011 - 1:00am

JERUSALEM // In a rare ruling, an Israeli military court has acquitted a Palestinian man because interrogators were found to have brutally forced his guilty confession.

All but one of the 17 charges brought against Ayman Hamida, 37, from east Jerusalem's Azariya neighbourhood, were dropped by the military judges, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday. He was convicted of firing a weapon at Israeli police officers in 2009.

The judges concluded that Mr Hamida was subjected to choking, beating and food deprivation during 40 days of interrogation, the newspaper reported.

They also found his interrogators, from Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, intimidated Mr Hamida's brother and threatened to bring his sister in for questioning at the facility where he was held.

"This time [they went] over the top, and the defendant was forced into telling his interrogators anything to stop the interrogation, to end the veiled threats and to give him even the slightest hope," Major Amir Dahan, one of the judges, wrote in his decision.

Bana Shoughry, the legal director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, said Mr Hamida's case was the first she could recall of a military tribunal ever acquitting a Palestinian who had complained of torture.

"Not a single case out of 750 complaints concerning torture since 2001 have been investigated by the attorney general, not even when the government itself didn't deny the fact that torture had indeed taken place," she said.

Israel's military judicial system has ruled over West Bank Palestinians since the 1967 Arab-Israel war but, in spite of promises by Israel to address abuse, Mrs Shoughry said it was still rampant. "If we talk about abuse, it's the daily experience for these people," she said.

Another judge in Mr Hamida's case, Leautenant Colonel Zvi Lekach, wrote that it was the threat of abuse inflicted on his family that ultimately forced him to confess.

"When he hears that his sister is also being harmed by his refusal to cooperate with his interrogators, one can assume that he felt intolerable pressure," he concluded.

Speaking after the ruling, Mr Hamida's lawyer, Labib Habib, warned that his client's case was only "the tip of the iceberg of the harsh interrogation methods and the physical and emotional violence used against Palestinian detainees by the Shin Bet".

Data released last month by Israel's military courts showed that there had been convictions in all but 25 of the 9,542 cases brought before them last year - a 99.74 per cent conviction rate. These ranged from terrorism-related cases to traffic violations and broadly defined offences such as "disorderly conduct".


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