Prison Tactics A Longtime Dilemma For Israel
Each night, a group of soldiers, men and women alike, held social gatherings in the courtyard where he was being held. On the second night, they took turns posing with him while he sat blindfolded and handcuffed to his wheelchair, he said.
"For a person like me to be surrounded by a group of soldiers, punched, insulted, peeing on myself, my dignity was insulted," he recalled. "Here I was, a handicapped person, and not one soldier came to say stop this, not even one."
The experience increased Labadeh's contempt for Israelis. But for all his complaints about the way he was treated, Labadeh believes the Israelis have higher standards than their American counterparts. He recalls a case when an Israeli military officer was accused of sexually abusing young Palestinians. Another officer turned him in, and the accused man was arrested immediately.
A government lawyer designated to discuss the questions raised by this article insisted that internal safeguards protect Palestinian detainees from random abuse, and he characterized Israel's treatment of suspected terrorists as a matter of self-defense. "The first priority of the government is keeping people safe," said the lawyer, who insisted on anonymity. "That's the basic social contract between a government and its people."
A key moment, he said, was the spate of suicide bombings in March 2002 that killed 135 Israelis and injured hundreds more. "It became a question of a ticking bomb -- how do you balance the need to find that bomb before it goes off at a restaurant or a pizza shop or a checkpoint with the need to respect human rights?" Israelis understood, he said, "there has to be a balance -- you can't just do whatever you want."
What is most striking, the lawyer added, is how united the Israeli public is on the subject. "For most people it's not the central story here," he said. "It's not even one of the top ten questions I get asked about the Supreme Court."
But for many Palestinians, torture is the heart of the matter. Labadeh said abuses like those that took place in Abu Ghraib or in Hawara were inevitable when people were subjected to military occupation. That is why the photos from Abu Ghraib did not shock or surprise him.
"In the end, when you put a person in jail because of political reasons and you give someone power over him, you can expect to see such films," he said. "The camera is always rolling."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Palestinian Anan Labadeh, 31, a paraplegic, says he was abused in prison.
(Glenn Frankel -- The Washington Post)