PCATI calls on the Knesset not to pass the proposed amendment to the Detention of Illegal Combatants Law

19.05.2008

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) submitted a position paper to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee outlining its opposition to the proposed amendment to the Detention of Illegal Combatants Law. PCATI stressed that the proposed amendment is a dangerous, expansion of the law that was ratified in 2002 which allows for the unlimited detention of persons classified as “illegal combatants” by the IDF Chief of Staff, and of persons who are members of an organization classified as an “illegal combatant organization”. Attorney Lea Tsemel and PCATI attorney, Samah Elkhatib-Ayoub wrote the intervention and appeared before the committee.

PCATI emphasizes that there are no grounds for distinguishing between various categories of combatants having different legal status. The only acceptable distinction is the legal one that differentiates between civilians under detention and combatants held as prisoners of war.

At this time, five persons are being held in detention in Israel under the above law. Yet those who submitted the government proposal today explained to the Foreign Affairs and Security committee that it would allow the detention of hundreds of combatants during military operations. The purpose of the law is to make it possible to quickly and easily detain a large number of people without due process including the denial of representation by an attorney, the obligation to bring the detainee before a judge and the obligation to prove that an offense was committed. In practice, the law allows for detention without trial and no effective limitation on the length of detention but for, as the proposal indicates, until the end of hostilities between the State of Israel and its enemies, or in other words, unlimited detention that can in practice become life imprisonment. Furthermore, the law is not limited to residents of enemy states, but may be applied to anyone including residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israeli citizens.

In addition to PCATI's position regarding the current law, we are particularly critical of a number of terms of the new proposal. Firstly, PCATI opposes the article that allows the issuing of a temporary detention order for a period of 96 hours, pending the decision of the IDF Chief of Staff regarding a detention order under the Detention of Illegal Combatants Law. This proposal, according to Attorneys Tsemel and Elkhatib-Ayoub, is illegal and blatantly violates the principle of the presumption of innocence as a person may not be detained without legal cause.

An additional issue involves the right to counsel. The proposed amendment is violates the basic right of every detainee to meet with an attorney, a right that is unconditional and not dependent on the severity of the offense attributed to the detainee. Furthermore, the rationale behind the prohibition of meeting with counsel is unclear as this prohibition will be in effect at a time when there is no investigation taking place and it fails to explain how such a meeting may harm the security of the state and/or endanger human life. This article may also infringe on a detainee's right to be free from torture or cruel , inhuman or degrading treatment.

Thirdly, PCATI is concerned by the provision concerning the appointment of a defense attorney by the court. PCATI emphasizes that the fact that a court will be authorized to appoint an attorney to a detainee held under the Detention of Illegal Combatants Law who is not represented is inadequate. Rather, it must be clearly stated that the court is obligated to inform the detainee of his right to representation and to appoint a defense lawyer if the detainee so wishes. This is essential in view of the entirety of the circumstances and rights violations to which a person imprisoned under the Illegal Combatants Law is subjected.

For additional detail please call:

PCATI Attorney Samah Elkhatib-Ayoub
Tel: 972-2-6429825/ext. 120
PCATI Public Engagement Coordinator and spokesperson Yoav Loeff
Tel:972-2-6429825/ext. 117, 972-54-3368434