Last Update: 01/12/2003 14:53
Court orders state to explain secrecy on prison Facility 1391
By Moshe Reinfeld and Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondents
The High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the state to explain within 45 days why it is refusing to release information on the secret interrogation and detention facility 1391.
In September the court instructed the Center for the Defense of the
submit a revised petition that raises the question of whether the state may hold
security detainees in a secret prison.
Justices Eliahu Mazza , Mishael Cheshin
and Miriam Naor reached their decision
after reviewing a petition submitted on behalf of Palestinians who have served time in Facility 1391, a closed military prison.
Represented by the Center for the Defense of the Individual, the petitioners claimed that families and attorneys of the Palestinians held in Facility 1391 have not been informed of where the detainees are being held.
The state recently admitted that Facility 1391 exists, but claimed that it
is a regular
military prison located in a secret military base.
Early in the hearing, state prosecutors told the court that a democratic state has "very good reasons" for keeping the location of a prison facility of this nature secret. The state, said prosecutors, will only agree to provide its arguments in this connection behind closed doors.
The petitioners claimed that if the state wants to operate the facility as though it is a
regular prison, it must turn it over to military police administration, allow
supervision and open it to visits by lawyers and human rights groups.
It has been removed from maps and airbrushed from aerial photographs. But Facility 1391 certainly exists - you just have to ask the Palestinians and Lebanese who have been imprisoned and tortured there. Chris McGreal reports
The men under the black hoods all have the same question once the blindfolds and manacles are off: Where am I? A voice filtering through a narrow slit in the steel door told Sameer Jadala he was "in
"I was barefoot in my pyjamas when they arrested me and it was really cold," says Sameer Jadala, a Palestinian school bus driver. "When I got to that place, they told me to strip and gave me a blue uniform. Then they gave me a black sack. They told me: 'This is your sack. You need to keep it with you. Any time someone comes to your cell, you must put it on your head. Any time they deliver the food, you must put it on your head. You must never see the soldiers' faces. You do not want to know what will happen if you take it off.' Sometimes I thought I would die in that place and no one would ever know."
1391 has been airbrushed from Israeli aerial photographs and purged from modern
maps. Where once a police station was marked there is now a blank space.
Sometimes even the road leading to it has been erased. But
The prison has held Lebanese abducted by the Israeli army as hostages, Iraqi defectors and a Syrian intelligence officer who tried to defect but was accused of spying and chose to remain in another prison rather than return home and face a firing squad. More recently, scores of Palestinians were incarcerated in 1391 for interrogation, which finally led to the almost accidental disclosure of a prison the state decreed did not exist.
Those who have been through its gates know it is no illusion. One former inmate has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was raped twice - once by a man and once with a stick - during questioning. But most of those who emerge say the real torture is the psychological impact of solitary confinement in filthy, blackened cells so poorly lit that inmates can barely see their own hands, and with no idea where they are or, in many cases, why they are there.
"Our main conclusion is that it exists to make torture possible - a particular kind of torture that creates progressive states of dread, dependency, debility," says Manal Hazzan, a human rights lawyer who helped expose the prison's existence. "The law gives the army enough authority already to hide prisoners, so why do they need a secret facility?"
Unlike any other Israeli prison, the International Red Cross, lawyers and members of the Israeli parliament have been refused access. One leftwing MP, Zahava Gal-On, describes Facility 1391 as "one of the signs of totalitarian regimes and of the third world". The Israeli government declines to discuss the secret prison other than to issue a standard response: "Facility 1391 is situated on a secret military base. The base is used by the security services for various classified activities and thus its location is kept confidential."
But it is
not just human rights lawyers and leftwing MPs who have a problem. Ami Ayalon is a former head of
Sameer Jadala was
detained at his home in
Jadala estimates that he was driven for about an hour. "We were taken out one by one. The only reason I knew there were two other prisoners in the car was the sound of the chains," he says. "I was blindfolded right up to the time they took me to the cell. There was a small slit in the door. It was not even wide enough to push a cigarette through. A voice said, 'Take the blindfold off but any time I come you must put it on and put your hands on the wall.'"
Raab Bader, a 38-year-old accountant and
father of two, was also in the cells, although the two men had no contact. He
too had been detained in
variously told that he was on a submarine, in space or outside the borders of
"The cell walls were painted black. I never saw the ceiling. When I looked up, I saw only darkness. Light no stronger than the power of a candle penetrated in a peculiar way from one side of the room," he said in an affidavit.
The bed was a thin, damp mattress on a concrete slab a few inches above the ground. The toilet was a bucket, emptied every few days. Water to the cell came out of a hole in the wall, controlled by the guard. "On the ninth consecu tive day in the stench-filled cell, one of the soldiers was supposed to come and take me out. He almost vomited and rushed out of the cell," Bader says. "I spent many days in that solitary confinement cell and in others like it, and hour after hour I would talk to myself and feel that I was going crazy, or find myself laughing to myself."
Jadala was still trying to work out why he
had been arrested in the first place. "I asked the interrogator: why am I
here? What do you want from me? When I asked where I was, they told me I was in
dawned on Jadala that he was there because days
earlier his brother, Mohammed, and a cousin, Basher, had been arrested while
crossing into the
"They kept me there in a solitary cell for about 67 days. During this period, they continued with the torture, but they used a different method. They did not let me sleep more than two hours a day. When I started to get drowsy, they woke me up by making noise or by throwing water on me. As a result of the torture, they were able to get me to admit to all kinds of offences," he says.
The interrogators brought the brothers together briefly, apparently as a means of letting Mohammed know that Sameer would pay the price if he didn't talk. "They took my brother and cousin to the secret facility and showed me them crying; the interrogators said that they would be tried because of me," Mohammed says.
Probably the first prisoners at Facility 1391 were Lebanese. The prison is part of a military camp that is home to an army intelligence group, Unit 504, which specialises in interrogation. The unit has a hard reputation, and some of its members have badly blemished records. One has been accused of murder, another of spying. Unit 504's glory days were during Israel's 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, interrogating captured Hezbollah fighters and running an extensive network of collaborators, some of whom are still being put on trial for their lives by the Lebanese authorities.
In the late 80s, Unit 504 went in search of another kind of prisoner; men who could be held hostage and exchanged for captured Israeli soldiers and airmen. In 1989, the Israelis seized Sheikh Abd al-Karim Obeid, a spiritual leader to Hezbollah. Five years later, they snatched Mustafa Dirani, a leading Shi'ite fighter. Both were taken directly to Facility 1391.
The soldiers who grabbed Obeid also abducted his bodyguards, members of his family and Hashem Fahaf, a young man who happened to be visiting the sheikh to seek his blessing and who found himself locked up for the next 11 years, initially at 1391.
Fahaf was never accused of any crime, but he was refused access to a lawyer and any other contact with the outside world. For the first few years, the Israelis denied they were even holding him. In April 2000, the Israeli supreme court finally ordered Fahaf's release. The government said it had been holding him and another 18 Lebanese as hostages - or "bargaining chips", as Israeli officials prefer to call it - in the hope of winning the release of an airforce navigator, Colonel Ron Arad.
Mustafa Dirani, the primary target of the abductions, had been the
head of security in the Shi'ite movement Amal, and held
In its response to the lawsuit, the Israeli government denied Dirani was raped but it confirmed that prisoners were routinely stripped naked for interrogation. However, the state attorney's office later went further and said that "within the framework of a military police investigation the suspicion arose that an interrogator who questioned the complainant threatened to perform a sexual act on the complainant".
"Major George" was sacked. Dozens of other interrogators signed a petition objecting to his punishment for using methods they said were sanctioned by the authorities.
Lebanese prisoner, Ahmed Ali Banjek, was convicted of
smuggling a surface-to-air missile into the Israeli-controlled zone of southern
1391 remained a secret for two decades or more because those delivered to its
clutches could be made to disappear. But even amid the severity of occupation,
"The circumstances have changed, and the security people have informed us that detainees are currently being held at Facility 1391," prosecutors told the court.
Hamoked's director, Dalia Kerstein, an Israeli, was horrified. "I was shocked to find out there is such a facility. I don't want the country I live in to have such a secret prison," she said. "We're challenging the legality of this place. We're seeking to close it and we're challenging the whole system of interrogation that goes on in the facility and is a byproduct of the fact that this place is secret, including torture.
psychological torture is very intense. People have been there for months at a
time. I've met five people from different cities across the
Sameer Jadala was close to breakdown as he was dragged through interrogation after interrogation that seemed to lead nowhere as his inquisitors tried to get him to implicate his brother or to confess to being a member of Hamas. Then his inquisitors offered him the chance to win his freedom with a lie-detector test.
"I said I know beyond doubt that there is nothing on me. I took the test. At the end, they said 'Congratulations, Sameer' and I never saw them again," he says. "During the night I was visited by soldiers. I was blindfolded and had chains on my hands and legs. They put me into the car, covered me in a blanket and I was driven to a court near Jenin.
"First I had to see a doctor, who asked me where I had been. I said: 'I don't know, I really don't know.' The doctor asked the soldier where I had been. The soldier waved his hand in the air as though he were pointing to a distant planet. The doctor stopped asking questions."
Eventually, Jadala was dragged before a judge, who also wanted to know where he had been held. The prosecutor said he didn't know. "The judge wanted to know if I had a lawyer. I asked how I could appoint a lawyer when I didn't even know where I was. There was no way to contact anybody outside," he says.
It wasn't the end of the ordeal. Government lawyers repeatedly asked the military courts to extend his detention on "security grounds" - by a week or two at a time - but never said what it was he was suspected of.
"During one hearing I burst into tears. The judge asked me why I was crying. I said that for 30 days I didn't know where I was, I had no contact with a lawyer, I was transported in a brutal way. The judge finally said they had to come up with some evidence against me or let me go. So they let me go."
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Israeli Secret Service (Shin Bet) Facility 1391 – Source : Haaretz
- - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - -
According to a Russian Source Map The Facility
1391 is in this circle in