Salem - Interrogation of Witness, Incriminators

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Revital Sella (reporting)

Translation: Marganit W.

Testimony of 3 witnesses for the prosecution in the case of Jamal Tirawi

(See earlier report of this case: Salem 24.1.10)

Judges: Major Dalia Kaufman, Lieutenant Eyal Nun, Lieutenant Yair Zadok

Defense: Haim Yitzhaki from Avidgor Feldman law office

Prosecutor: Captain Camil Faraj

Unfortunately, there is not much to report about the "legal procedure" - everything has been said before. The lawyer from Avigdor Feldman's law office did not do his homework and the cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses was an insult to the intelligence (let me hasten to add that I realize that it is easy to criticize and that it is not I who have to do this impossible job of defending suspects who do not enjoy the presumption of innocence; I am also aware of the fact that one human rights lawyer left the country to live abroad, and that the others, when they are not collaborators, are exhausted and worn out... still...). All I have to say in this respect is that, if even a respectable law firm like this one doesn't bother to prepare a decent defense for suspects who had the misfortune to fall into the clutches of the military legal system, then there should not be any doubt in our minds that the system won. Still, I'd like to relate a few stories that took place on the margins of the main event.

Security problems

In an earlier hearing in the Tirawi case (24.1.10) I was pleasantly surprised to see that 4 members of his family were allowed to be present at the hearing. Moreover, until the arrival of the judges, the visitors were allowed to talk to the defendant (with 15 meters separating them, but who's counting). Since his abduction, on 29.5.07, Jamal Tirawi has not met his wife, except in court. Only his son is allowed to visit him. Today, his wife and son were in court, as well as his father's brother. His own brother - who attended the previous hearing - was not allowed in. Why? "Security problems...procedure... risk". Note that at the time when all four were admitted, there was only one guard in the courtroom - and he too occasionally left the room, as most Druze personnel were on leave for Nabi Hadr holiday. On a related issue, today there were Junior Prison Guard officers in the court. One of them wondered aloud why the defendant was allowed to converse with his family. And "old hand," their mentor, explained: this prisoner has such high status...." He did not elaborate. These guys and their rules are indeed flexible.

If you want to talk, not here

3 witnesses testified - two are investigators who interrogated Tirawi's incriminators, and one was an incriminator himself (who claimed that he never mentioned Tirawi in his interrogation). One of the witnesses wore a knitted kippa (Sgt. Maj. Nahum Babkoff of the Yarkon Interrogations Division), the other was Druze (Sgt.-Maj. Aataf Awda) and the third a Palestinian, (Fadi Fahmi, Bakri).

Most of the time, Justice Kaufman was busy reprimanding Mrs. Tirawi ("If you want to talk, not here!") and dictating to the typists what to write. When the man from Nablus testified, she added detailed descriptions of his body language: "He lowered his eyes, he looked sideways, he rolled his eyes, he smiled, he didn't smile... type, type." Apparently, he was the only witness who used body language, and it certainly needed recording, because the protocol reflects the truth and nothing but the truth.

Even an animal cannot live 90 days underground

On the other hand, things that the Palestinian witness said and should have made everybody sit bolt upright, went unmarked. The judge did not instruct the typist to put them down, and the defense did not rush to demand clarification. In my opinion, what was said there should be reported to the Committee Against Torture.

A few words about the witness: he lives in Nablus and has had a quarrel with the Tirawi family (since Jamal Tirawi, acting as a officer of the PA, released the killer of his uncle Ahmad Tabuk). Because of this family feud, the witness moved out of Nablus. He was sentenced to 4 years in jail for charges that were not mentioned in this hearing. However, he was acquitted of the charge of participating in a bombing in Tel Aviv, which is the most serious charge against Jamal Tirawi. He is supposed to be released in 40 days (which did not match the count of 4 years since his arrest on 7.6.06, but this is what I heard him say).

In his testimony he said that he had been "90 days underground" adding, "even an animal cannot live underground for 90 days." The police plants - A.L. Safir - pretended to be members of the Tanzim organization. At least in one interrogation, GSS interrogators "Herzl" and "Yair" were masked. One of them pretended to be a Fatah member and the other a member of the Islamic Jihad. When they took off their masks and called him a liar, he threw a fit and hit his head against the wall, necessitating intervention to prevent him from hurting himself. He claims that they later threatened to take him back to the interrogation room, whereupon he said, "You want him to be there, fine, he was there." I tend to believe him. (Grammar too is a victim of the military justice system...)

Jamal and I were on time

I wrote the sentence "The hearing scheduled for 9:30 - due to its anticipated length - began as usual only at 10:45" even before I left. I decided to open a file and write those annoying details that you are reading right now, thus saving time. As it turned out, I had to make no changes, even though in the previous hearing (31.1.10) the judge and the attorney spent 20 minutes exchanging humorous comments about traffic between Tel Aviv and the court (it is certainly more amusing than discussing the harsh conditions of detention and interrogation that the witness complains about). When they were done exchanging pleasantries, it was decided that the hearing would start at 9:30 - despite the difficulty this posed for the Tel Aviv attorney - in order to hear all 3 witness in one session. Well, Jamal and I got there together, shortly after 9:00 - we were the only ones to be on time. Then, since it was such a long, grueling day, the judges took a break. "Until One, not a second later," said the Her Honor. I lounged in the sun, knowing that I had plenty of time. In front of me I saw a black clad defense attorney trying to shoo two Vanessa Atalanta butterflies that tried to settle on him. What were the butterflies looking for in this setting anyway? The trial resumed around 2 o'clock. Time too is flexible here.

I proceed according to the memorandum.

In the three hearings I attended concerning this case, I had opportunity to hear first hand how investigators describe the interrogation, and second hand how they talk about the detaineesinfo-icon. The picture emerging is of a thick spider web that nobody in his right mind would attempt to unravel. This is how it works: The army kidnaps a person in the Occupied Territories and hands him over to the GSS for interrogation, under conditions we are not sufficiently aware of. At the end of the investigation (which sometimes lasts 3 months), the suspect is then handed over to the police, which interrogate him on the basis of the info received from the GSS. In other words, the police already know what the suspect is supposed to confess to. In the majority of cases, this is where it stops. The suspect signs a revised charge sheet, often on his attorney's advice, thus saving the court time and the state expenses (and generating income from the fine), as well as saving the accused himself some jail time and legal hassle. The problem is with the minority of detainees who deny the allegations. These are subsequently ensnared in the GSS and police web, which is bolstered by incriminations of other detainees as well as by a pack of police plants who share a cell with the suspect and later "substantiate" the GSS version. The end result is a thick tissue of lies, contradictions and coercions ("He said that you said that they said that you were there"), that no one can possibly disentangle. Eventually - if the suspect insists on rejecting the charge sheet and no other suspect has mentioned his name, and the police plants can't extract a confession - he can always be put under ‘administrative detention'. And so the question remains: who needs this circus? For there, truth is a totally pliable value.

Edna Canetti is cute and Tirawi will get a life sentence

When the first shift typist saw my badge she volunteered that "Edna Canetti is cute." The second shift typist opined that Jamal Tirawi would get a life sentence. I cannot comment on the first pronouncement - though I have seen several Big Brothers in my life - but I am not familiar with the Israeli Big Brother TV reality show. The second pronouncement, however, is the most solid statement I heard so far in this entire "legal proceeding." While the GSS ‘laundry' keeps emitting hot air, drivel and evil spirit, the savvy typist knows the score. At all events, the two of us are eagerly waiting for Sunday, 21.2.10, when Jamal Tirawi will testify at the opening of his defense.