Torture constitutes the worst imaginable human rights abuse. It is a crushing blow to the body and spirit and destroys the trust between human beings. From its establishment, PHR-Israel has taken a significant part in the struggle against torture in Israel and has set the struggle against doctors’ participation and compliance with torture as a main goal, grounded in the belief that the chances for abolishing torture from the world would be higher if doctors were not used to mask this practice. We have therefore contacted the medical community in Israel and its institutions: the IMA and the Ministry of Health, in the hope that they would also join the struggle.
In 1992 PHR-Israel released a first report highlighting the manner in which doctors take part in torture of detainees, and in it requested that IMA join PHR-Israel's efforts and call on the medical community to report torture cases. In 1993 Attorney Tamar Peleg discovered forms in which the physician of detention facility guides the interrogators on ways a detainee may be interrogated. PHR-Israel contacted IMA’s Chairperson, Professor Zangen about this matter. Subsequently the IMA expressed its objection to the form before Defense Minister Rabin, after which the form was no longer used. During that year, together with MP Tamar Gozansky, PHR-Israel promoted a bill for the prohibition of torture. The bill however was taken off the Knesset agenda per the instructions of then Minister of Justice, Dan Meridor. In 1995 the book “Torture - Human Rights, Medical Ethics and the Case of Israel” by Dr. Ruhama Marton and Dr. Niv Gordon was published. The book includes testimonies that doctors continue to approve the use of torture in interrogations. The book also includes an appendix of a copy of an interrogation form in which the detention facility physician writes: ‘Not to place on a small chair’. In 1999 PHR-Israel published another report following the information exposed during the High Court of Justice’s torture case and the State Attorney's response during court hearings, namely the fact that physicians were present at all times in the interrogations facilities.
The High Court of Justice’s ruling in the torture case in 1999 was supposed to be the end of a bleak era in Israel’s history. For several years it seemed that the cruel torture methods used by the General Security Services (GSS) in interrogating Palestinian detainees had been abolished never to return.
Various human rights organizations have however compiled evidence between 2005 and 2007, which shows without a doubt that torture methods are still used and very little has changed since the 1990s. This evidence also suggests that to this day the following interrogation methods are still used: sleep deprivation, creating sensory deprivation, painful sitting positions for prolonged periods, (such as the “shabach” pose) and beatings. Also little has changed regarding the issue of doctors’ involvement in torture. Nowadays the doctor provides the interrogators with a laconic description of the interrogated person’s medical condition and approves the interrogation without giving any instructions on permitted interrogation techniques.
There is no doubt that torture methods are still used to this day in detention facilities in Israel. In some legal proceedings state officials had admitted that torture methods were used at times, now called ‘special measures and ‘necessary methods for protection’. These practices are enacted by the GSS even though the High Court’s ruling the State could not pre-authorize the use of torture and / or special measures and afterwards have the right to argue that they were ‘necessary methods for protection’. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel believes that since it is known that torture methods are enacted in interrogation facilities doctors must not be present there.
PHR-Israel believes that once doctors will not take part in the torture system, the interrogation mechanisms will have a difficult time continuing this practice. A doctor’s presence in the detention facility provides the torturers with a vital support system and the sense that in the event that severe harm is caused to the tortured person, a doctor will be there to save the situation.
PHR-Israel is acting to recruit the Israel Medical Association and the Ministry of Health to have doctors taken out the interrogation facilities and for backing up and protecting doctors that either report or object to torture methods. We believe that doctors will not act against the practice so long as the medical community does not make an effort to protect and support them and create the appropriate public atmosphere.
Moreover, PHR-Israel acts to provide medical assistance to torture victims suffering medical injuries caused as a result of interrogation, and which have not been properly treated in prison.