Israeli doctors 'failing to report torture of Palestinian detainees'
Human rights groups accuse doctors of failing to document signs of torture and returning detainees to interrogators.
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 3 November 2011
Medical professionals in Israel are being accused of failing to document and report injuries caused by the ill-treatment and torture of detainees by security personnel in violation of their ethical code.
A report by two Israeli human rights organisations, the Public Committee Against Torture (PCAT) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), claims that medical staff are also failing to report suspicion of torture and ill-treatment, returning detainees to their interrogators and passing medical information to interrogators.
The report, Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim, to be published later this month, is based on 100 cases of Palestinian detainees brought to PCAT since 2007. It says: "This report reveals significant evidence arousing the suspicion that many doctors ignore the complaints of their patients; that they allow Israeli Security Agency interrogators to use torture; approve the use of forbidden interrogation methods and the ill-treatment of helpless detainees; and conceal information, thereby allowing total immunity for the torturers."
Alleged ill-treatment of detainees, some of whose cases are detailed in the 61-page report, includes beatings, being held for long periods in stress positions, hands being tightly tied with plastic cuffs, sleep deprivation and threats. Israel denies torturing or ill-treating prisoners.
Doctors are failing to keep proper medical records of injuries caused during interrogations. The report cites "countless cases wherein individuals testified to injuries inflicted upon them during detention or in interrogation, and yet the medical record from the hospital or the prison service makes no mention of it."
Without such evidence, the report says, it is very difficult to obtain legal redress for ill-treatment. "Effective documentation of the injury can be a decisive factor in initiating an investigation, in bringing the perpetrators to trial and in ensuring that justice is carried out."
A medical report should include a description and photograph of the injury, the victim's account of events and a record of treatment, the report says.
Among the cases it cites is "BA", arrested in November 2010. In an affidavit he alleged he was beaten, held in stress positions and deprived of sleep. He said he told doctors of his ill-treatment and said he was suffering from severe arm, leg and back pain. His medical record shows that he was seen by doctors but the only comment noted is that the patient had no complaints and was in good overall condition.
Another, "MA", arrested in June 2008, claimed in an affidavit that his hands were cuffed with tight plastic ties, he was held in kneeling position resting on his fingertips for hours, and his head was slammed into a bench 20 times causing an eye injury. A medical report the following day included a comment from a doctor: "Overall condition satisfactory, heartbeat regular." A further examination, two weeks later, resulted in doctor's comment: "Complains of pain in teeth, eyes". A few days later, a judge referred MA to an eye doctor for treatment with the comment, "Claims he was beaten in the course of his arrest, complains that he does not feel well and complains of blurring in the eyes".
The report also accuses medics of returning detainees to interrogators following treatment of injuries. This, it says, is in violation of ethical obligations and "also serves as a stamp of approval for the interrogators, who rely on the doctors' action as having granted medical permission to continue with their practices".
Among the PCAT/PHR report's recommendations are clear guidelines regarding the medical treatment of prisoners, investigations of and disciplinary action against staff who violate rules, and protection for whistleblowers.
Israel prohibits torture or "inhuman treatment" during interrogation, although its high court has ruled that physical means of interrogation could be defensible to save lives.
"In Israel it is illegal to abuse inmates, including security prisoners," said government spokesman Mark Regev. "Guidelines have been passed to the relevant authorities. If years ago the guidelines were not clear, they are today. And if there are allegations of wrongdoing against people in custody, they are investigated thoroughly."
The ministry of health and prisons service did not respond to requests for comment.