American citizens arrested in Israel have repeatedly suffered physical and psychological trauma while detained by Israeli security forces, stated an FBI agent to a US court, during a hearing about the alleged torture of a man accused by the U.S. of funneling money to Hamas.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent told the court that he questioned a US consular official responsible for helping Americans arrested in Israel during the course of his investigation into Chicago resident Muhammad Salah.
"He said, based on his experience, he had seen arrestees who had suffered from physical or emotional trauma," said Edward Priestad.
A number of US citizens had shown consular officials marks that they said resulted from spending hours handcuffed to a small chair that was constructed to tilt forward because its front legs were shorter than the back legs, Priestad said.
But while Salah eventually complained of the same treatment, the consular official said he never observed any marks or other signs of mistreatment, Priestad said.
The hearing was meant to determine whether Salah’s statements to Israeli security forces following his arrest in 1993 can be used as evidence in his US trial for allegedly maintaining an organization which, over the course of a fifteen-year period, provided support to the Hamas party in Palestine.
Instead, "this is an attempt to put the government of Israel on trial," assistant US attorney Joe Ferguson told the court. Salah’s lawyers have requested reams of documents from the Israeli government to support his claim that he was tortured and forced to make false confessions about his involvement with Hamas, which the US has designated a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors have argued that while Israel has mistreated prisoners, Salah was given special treatment as an American and that his allegations of torture are nothing but self-serving lies.
Statements obtained through torture are inadmissible in US courts.
In order to challenge Salah’s claims, the prosecution called two agents of the Israeli Security Agency who took part in Salah’s 1993 interrogations, who apparently stated under oath that they did not torture Salah. Salah’s defense team is attempting to undermine the credibility of those witnesses by showing that Israeli agents have a history of lying under oath to hide the fact that the use of torture is widespread.
The six and a half days of testimony were held behind closed doors, but a transcript (which will be scanned and censored for what the U.S. government deems ‘classified information’) will be made available to the public in a few weeks.
On Tuesday the defense introduced their first witness, Jonathan Kuttab, a renowned Palestinian human rights lawyer who told the court that Israel’s General Security Service has often lied about their use of sleep deprivation, humiliation, threats, isolation, hoods and other methods to break the will of political prisoners.
Kuttab said his group, Al Haq, had interviewed 700 Palestinian detainees and found that 94 percent had been tortured or ill-treated.
Speaking to reporters outside of the courtroom, Salah’s attorney said that regardless of whether the judge believes Salah was tortured, there are sufficient undisputed facts to show that his constitutional rights were not protected.
Israeli government records show that Salah was interrogated for 53 days before he was informed of the charges against him, and was not given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer for 13 days after his arrest.
"The uncontested fact of the time he spent in detention and the fact that he wasn’t given access to a lawyer should require that the statements [made by Salah while in Israeli detention, apparently under duress] should be suppressed," Michael Deutsche said.
A ruling in the suppression hearing is not expected until at least the end of April after a final set of witnesses is presented.
Salah’s racketeering conspiracy trial is scheduled for October. Also charged are Abdelhaleem Ashqar of Virginia and Hamas leader Mousa Marzook, who is considered a fugitive living in