An Open Letter to "Abu Jerry"
So what do you say?Written by our legal advisor, Lea Tsemel, on September 6, 1999, the day of the victorious Israel Supreme Court decision against torture. We believe that wide distribution is important. Please read and disseminate by electronic and print means.
PCATI (The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel)
What was it like, that moment at 10 o'clock in the morning when you turned off the deafening music, removed the sacks from all the bowed heads, unlocked the handcuffs, releasing the swollen wrists, and raised up dozens of distorted bodies from those awkward stools? How was it when you detached the chains hanging from the ceiling and allowed the stretched bodies to collapse and relax. Did you abruptly stop the "shaking" or did you finish one last farewell round? Did your boot complete its push on an exposed belly or did it retreat?
It was as much a total surprise for me as for you. We were sitting in the Supreme Court, not believing, as Judge Matza read out the nine judges' unanimous decision: "We are making the order-to-show-cause final for all conditions and in all situations. Torture and any humiliating position are forbidden. 'Shabah' is forbidden. The frog position is forbidden. The sack on the head is forbidden. Forbidden. Forbidden. Forbidden."
To my ears the decision played like pure beautiful music. The Court was reading the correct, perfect, obvious decision and I felt as if it had just recreated the Bill of Human Rights. Every argument we had researched, any claim we had brought for years and years, all found their natural place in this decision.
I was looking at you and saw you sitting there, pale and abandoned, as if you had lost your whole world in an instant. And when you came out into the hallway, it was not with the usual self-assured step and cocky gait. We both remember all the long sessions, case after case, when you explained that, "it's not exactly torture" and "for the security of the state" and, moreover, "secret material" and "in camera" and "with good intentions". You have surely counted in your mind all those times when you succeeded in convincing -- just like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood-- that the deafening music is only so that the detainee does not hear and the stinking sack is only so that he does not see and the chains only so that he does not move and the beatings only so that he does not try to riot and the bruises are from falling down the stairs and, anyway, he has a long record and there's no alternative...
All of a sudden, in a well-argued decision in front of your eyes, 32 years of security heroism are turned into 32 years of forbidden criminality. Like the spoiled and admired child you were, you reacted spontaneously, "Good! So we'll give the keys to the judges and we'll see them carrying out the interrogations." Was it out of a need to comfort you when I said that there are other dangerous places in the world and other interrogators who achieve breakthroughs with security offenders? You have not invented the war against terror; it is possible to handle interrogations to reach your objectives while safeguarding the law. I reminded you of all the examples we brought to the Court when offences, no less severe, were solved without the use of your brutal means.
But you were not convinced. Together with losing your "special permission", you have also lost your grandiose self-esteem. Have you asked for the support of the politicians, the interpreters and the security experts? Or were they the ones who initiated the cries to the media, shrieking, "alas and woe!"
Have you noticed how all your argumentation has been turned upside down? Allow me to remind you: until 1987, you totally denied the existence of torture. The Palestinians, and moreover the self-hating Jews, were just defaming you. When the Landau Commission lit the darkness of your interrogation room with a penlight, you were forced to admit that there is moderate use of physical pressure and to promise that you would stop lying in the courts and in the interrogation committees. And then, over the years, as the transparency grew, you admitted, little by little, that there are "special means" and even the use of reasonable force, and after an accident or two you even admitted to the "shaking". And then you fired the interrogator who kicked too much. But you did not go overboard: you only sentenced to internal disciplinary censure the one who choked to death the detainee... who the hell knew that he was asthmatic? After too many on-the-job accidents, you set down regulations, you asked for and received government coverage and you entered the era of bureaucratized torture. And then, in spite of everything going so well, all those human rights organizations and those heathens who deny security is above all, pounced on you with huge floodlights and have exposed all the tied-up and the crawling and the hanged and the bent. In the glare of this total exposure you evaporate and dissolve like fungus that has no existence but in humid darkness.
All of a sudden, you are the one who calls, "help!" All of a sudden the heads of the security services for generations-- the professional torture deniers-- are shouting from the rooftops like addicts in crisis. "Bring us our tools, give us back the rack and the tongs. We cannot live without them." Aren't you ashamed?
Relax. I genuinely believe that you can relax. Hang a sign in the security services (Shabak) dining room that says, "torture and ill-treatment are unconditionally forbidden." And start working like any professional secret service interrogator. It is not such a shame to carry out interrogation like professional police. So what if you have to employ intelligence in the interrogation? Remember how you managed to crack the Jewish underground without having them pass through your torture chamber?
Think of all the advantages:
- When Roni or Dana ask you, what did you do at work today, Daddy, you will be able to tell them that there was a battle of wits and you cracked the case, solved it, and can look into their eyes and forget the image of washing blood from your hands at the sink.
- And when you caress your wife in the evening, your own words to A.K., tied and humiliated on the ground since the morning, will not echo in your ears: "Does your wife suck you? How are her breasts?" as he is sobbing, sobbing at your feet.
- And think of the many thousands of guards, soldiers, policewomen and men, doctors and judges who you turned into secret accomplices to your sins. You forced them to tie up and take down, push down and wakeup, heal and prepare the hundreds of thousands of detainees in every last one of your institutions.
They are free of you today.
And especially think how you are getting rid of the glances. You remember
all those brown eyes, begging for some mercy, crying with pain, that said
that we will do whatever you want and confess to whatever you say. You
cannot forget that you have always known that at a certain moment they
will have a different gaze. Just in the blink of an eye, you read their
promise for revenge. You remember how many times a quick shiver and a
hesitation crept through you when those eyes told you that this
humiliation and pain will never be forgotten and will blow up in your face
one day. And you saw, deep within yourself, that the next bomb is one that
you have created with your own hands.
Lea Tsemel, Attorney
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel