It now seems clear that the Red Cross and, indeed, members of Israel’s parliament, are being stopped by Israeli intelligence services from finding out the location of what has been called a “secret prison”. The MP for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, Dr. Dov Hanin, has filed an enquiry to the Israeli Internal Security Minister, Yitzhak Aheronovic, regarding an unidentified prisoner at Ayalon Prison, Department 15. The prisoner, whose details were referred to on the Ynet website, and then quickly removed, has been held in total isolation and prevented from having visits or giving any information about himself to the officers who guard him. Nobody claims any knowledge of the reasons for the said prisoner to be in this situation.
Dr. Hanin wondered, in his enquiry to the minister, about the identity of the prisoner and the reason for the total information blackout and his complete isolation from the outside world. He also asked about the lack of access to rights which are guaranteed for any prisoner under Israeli law, including whether this prisoner’s family has been informed of his whereabouts. The MP refused to accept the concept of the state holding a prisoner of unknown identity.
The enquiries being made about this particular prisoner are reminiscent of recent calls in the media for a disclosure of information about “secret” prisons in Israel the existence of which has long been denied by the government, which has also sought to hide them from international observers such as the Red Cross. The calls for more transparency were made following the publication of a report by the UN Committee against Torture.
Yediot Aharonot newspaper published what looked like a prisoner identification card for “1391 secret prison”, which was a base used as an investigation office at military unit 504 associated with the Intelligence Department of the Israeli army. The task of the unit is to recruit and investigate terrorists and soldiers of hostile armies captured by the Israel Defence Forces. According to Yediot Aharonot, the secret prison was set up in an investigation section in Unit 504 in Gdera city in the south of the country. For many years, the department was a centre for investigating the perpetrators of the famous coast operation and the Palestinians who tried to blow up an El Al aircraft at Nairobi airport. In the 1980s, the secret prison was transferred to a building built for this purpose near another base for high-security intelligence operations. The newspaper said that the prison has rooms deep underground and soldiers from the military police provide all the logistics services at this facility, such as the transfer of detainees to and from the prison and from their cells to the interrogation rooms.
The most prominent case linked to this secret prison, according to the report, was the interrogation of the Lebanese former prisoner, Mustafa Dirani. Mr. Dirani was tortured severely during the interrogation, when he was beaten, forced to walk wearing an adult “nappy” and forced to swallow triangular objects; he was also anally raped. The army was forced to investigate this case as a result of which the chief investigator, a man known as George, was dismissed.
According to the newspaper report, the secret facility has another function, which is training Israeli soldiers who wish to join some specialist military units, such as CERT Mtkal, and Cedlag Haitt 13, which carried out the attack on the Freedom Flotilla. They undergo interrogation as part of their training in case they are ever captured during an operation. The officers of unit 504 expose the soldiers to serious torture to the extent that medical personnel and psychologists have joined the process to monitor such methods to ensure that no serious harm is done to the trainees.
A human rights organization known as the Centre for Defence of the Rights of Individuals has submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against those responsible for perpetrating torture at the secret prison, and has asked for checks to be made to see if the Israeli authorities have in detention in unit 504 those Palestinians who have simply disappeared since their capture by the Israel army. The Prosecutor General Representative has refused to consider the petition, claiming that the detention unit is in a secret military base and therefore cannot be investigated or revealed. In this way, the prosecutor sought to prevent the issue of a warrant for the disclosure of the detention centre thus opening its doors to legislators who want to visit and find out what is happening inside.
The government claims that the prison has been closed but the petitioners say it cannot verify this claim because of the ban on visits. The petitioners say that detainees in the secret prison know nothing about their location of what happens outside. When they ask the guards where they are, they are told, “on the moon” or “in a spacecraft”.
The Director of the Centre which has submitted the petition, Dalia Christine, said the prison is a blatant violation of international law. The petition included sworn testimonies by former Palestinian prisoners who believe that they were detained in this prison; the rooms, they claim, had no windows, the walls were painted black and the “toilet” was a bucket placed in the corner. The ex-prisoners also claim that they did not see anyone for the length of their detention apart from the investigators and military judges. They talked about the torture they suffered in the prison, including sleep deprivation, shackling in uncomfortable positions and beating.
Following a discussion in camera at the Supreme Court, the judges rejected the petition.