Yossi Sarid
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 10, 2012 - 1:00am

We never really knew whether there was such a person as George; we also had doubts about the existence of the Loch Ness monster. At the end of last week we discovered that he lives among us and grants interviews. That's his first name and that's his rank - he's always called "George" and he's always "captain." But that's also a surname, and the family is us.

The story investigative journalist Ronen Bergman told me is terrifying, not to say shocking. George opens the door of the interrogation room, sheds light on the darkness at noon and lets us take a quick look inside.

We take advantage of the opportunity, look around and notice soldier Y., nicknamed "Kojak," whom George invites into the room. Then he orders Y. to open his belt and to "drop your pants to your knees." That's how they try to get a confession from a subject who's difficult to crack, who hasn't been convinced by sleep deprivation, a sack over his head, his hands tied behind his back. That's how they get him to open up and tell his dark secrets.

Every Jewish mother, like Y.'s mother, should be aware that she's handing her son over to commanders who'll release him from childhood inhibitions: "I'm sorry that I agreed, I should have said 'no' to George."

Now Captain George is paying the price - his commanders have thrown him to the media hounds. He himself doesn't see any particular problem with his conduct; that's what everybody does in Unit 504 of the Shin Bet security service, with the knowledge and approval of all the top people. "Do you know how many people have died under interrogation?" he asks, and immediately replies: "They died, they died, and they'll die in the future too .... Nobody really wants me to get up on the witness stand and tell all."

Interrogation under torture is not only forbidden under international conventions. It not only endangers our people who have been taken hostage and makes the "bad cop" and "good cop" lose their humanity. It's also patently ineffective and produces false confessions, as almost certainly happened in the case of Lebanese militia operative Mustafa Dirani, who was abducted by Israel in 1994. The person under interrogation is willing to confess anything as long as the interrogators are satisfied and leave him alone.

Even the Americans tortured many suspects - the destruction of the Twin Towers made them go crazy, too. They did the torturing themselves, and they tortured using subcontractors. The Bush administration gave out "special permits," but there's no proof the base in Guantanamo or any such facility provided them with useful intelligence and saved lives in the war on terror.

And how many times will we fondly remember Menachem Begin's legacy, without which we wouldn't have known whether there are judges and where they sit, and why the sophisticated interrogator is preferable to the violent one.

They'll ask, what does Y.S. want from us? Sometimes there's no choice and the evil is necessary. The bomb is ticking, we have to roll up our sleeves, don a veterinarian's glove and stick a finger, cudgel or something else into somebody's rectum. Someone has to do the dirty work.

Let's assume this is true; would you want that "someone" to be your son, him of all people? Would you be happy if your daughter were to bring George home and he were to father and raise your grandchildren? After all, every time he hugged them and picked them up, you'd be scared to death he'd shake them too hard.

We naively believed that, after the 1984 Bus 300 affair (in which the Shin Bet immediately executed two bus hijackers), and after a commission of inquiry and the Supreme Court had had their say, torture in Israel had ended. Once again we were mistaken. Perhaps now, when the Shin Bet has less work to do, its people will have time to learn how to watch over us, but also to watch over their souls and ours.

After all, now that the primaries are over, there's no need to waste time and energy searching for terrorists on the hilltops. They can be found as elected members of the Likud Central Committee.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017