Ofer - Plea Bargain, Stone Throwing
Translation: Marganit W.
Morning and afternoon sessions
Observers: Roni Hammermann, Hagit Shlonsky and Norah Orlow (reporting) + Michal B. (visitor)
Courtroom 2 – Juvenile court for Judea area
Judge: Major Sharon Rivlin-Ahai
There are 12 cases in the docket, 19 of them of children, minors according to Israeli law [but not to Military law].
We have seen most of these kids in earlier stages of their trials. Some have been detained for weeks, months, even a year, and still their trials have not reached conclusion. Some are brought to trial for the second or third time in a couple of years, before they reached 18.
Two plea bargains were reached this morning, in both cases the judge acceded to both sides because of evidentiary problems. The charges (throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at vehicles) do not specify dates, only general references such as “several events in the last year or two…”
It is easy to see the connection between charges based on incrimination and “evidentiary problems”. In both cases that ended up in plea bargains the accused accepted a revised indictment, and the prison sentences they got included part of the suspended sentences that were still in force.
Atty. Muhammad Mahmoud invokes a clause in the “Juvenile Law” that allows the military court to request a memo from Social Services regarding a defendant who is a minor. The prosecution objects, but the judge sides with the defense.
Malek Hesham Hassan Sharif, ID 858818800 - Case No. 1189/11, 14 years old.
Defense: Atty. Muhammad Mahmoud
Malek did not accept the charges in his first interrogation and was later subjected to a second interrogation. He claims that before entering the interrogation room, he was beaten by a policeman all over his body. Only then did he admit the charges against him. He now claims that the confession was obtained under threats.
The policeman will testify on7.3.11.
The court usually rewards defendants who accept the charges, even when the prosecution’s case is weak (“evidentiary problems”). Admission of guilt, according to the court, saves time and justifies a reduced sentence. This is one of the ways the court encourages “plea bargains” which eliminate evidentiary trials that necessitates summoning witnesses.
Today we observed two hearings of evidentiary trials where soldiers and police interrogators testified in the cases of minors who had testified in earlier sessions of the juvenile court.
The evidence we heard today supports the claim that eliminating the need for witnesses serves not only to save the court’s precious time: such testimonies reveal the faulty, often illegal processes used during arrests and interrogations of Palestinians minors. The testimonies put in question the veracity and legitimacy of the charges against many of the defendants. Evidentiary hearings in general, especially those of minors arrested through incrimination extracted from other minors by the police or the GSS, not only take much of the court’s precious time; many of the testimonies heard in court reveal how the military courts turn a blind eye to the malfeasance of law enforcement agencies in the Occupied Territories. It is easy to be blind and deaf when you are unaware of the facts surrounding the detention and interrogation of minors. Thus, the courts’ decisions are based on the negotiations between the sides that end in “plea bargains”.
Testimony of Witnesses of the Prosecution
Muhammad Mahmoud Daud Halbiya, ID 854586136 – Case No. 1512 /10,16 years old - resident of Abu Dis. Has been in detention for over a year, since 6.2.10.
Defense: Atty. Mahmoud Hassan.
Charge: Throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Unlike most boys seen lately at Ofer, Muhammad was not arrested at home in the middle of the night. He was captured by soldiers together with a friend. The officers testified how they chased him (see previous report) describing his capture as a particularly successful operation. One soldier gave a detailed account describing how Muhammad broke his ankle while jumping from a roof during the flight.
Two Border Police officers who took photos of Muhammad after his capture with their cellular phones testified today. Witness No 1, Ilan M., and witness No 5, Tal L. Each in his turn showed the court photos taken by cell phones. In them Muhammad is seen in different positions and different places, with his leg injured but not dressed at a military base, with a dressed leg on a stretcher, then at the hospital etc. There’s also a picture of his friend who was arrested with him (he was already tried) after the two were taken to the military base. The friend is holding a Molotov cocktail in his hand. The witnesses testify that the pictures were taken for possible future internal police investigation as proof that they took good care of the injured boy, who, they claim sustained the injury prior to his capture; the pictures will also prove that the fingerprints on the Molotov cocktail are the friend’s who, they claimed, was holding the device when he was captured.
In a very detailed cross-examination of the witnesses, the defense seeks to prove that the pictures were taken after the boys were brought to the base. They have been kept for a year in the cell phones of the officers who had participated in the chase, the capture and detention of the boys. Those pictures have not been given to the police or to the investigators, nor transferred to the military computer; they were kept by the officers who took part in the operation, because they anticipated being questioned about their illegal actions.
The defense maintains that the officers abused the defendant and his friend, and the pictures were taken as a cover-up.
The defense will resume its case next week, on 22.2.11.
Amir Samir Waja Bastami,ID 854116738 – Case No. 4701/10 - 15-16 year old, from Abu-Dis
Charge: throwing rocks (see earlier report)
Defense: Atty. Akram Samara
Examination of witnesses for the prosecution:
Witness No. 3, Sergeant-major Binyamin B. – youth interrogator at Maale Adumim Police Station, who took Amir Bastami’s statement on 27.10.10 following the arrest. The witness vaguely remembers the interrogation, not even sure in what language it was conducted, yet he points to a disk containing the interrogation where details can be checked. There is also a written memo from the interrogation night.
In cross-examination the defense asks to what extent the witness respected the rights of a minor during the interrogation.
The witness states that there are guidelines issued by the Legal Counsel of Judea-Samaria regarding Palestinian minors. Those guidelines are described in general terms and he does not have them in writing. The witness gets confused when answering the defense’ questions regarding the rules governing interrogation of minors after 10 PM, which include informing the detainee about his right to a counsel and to have his parents present. The witness states that he knows the rules and follows them automatically, including the right to consult a lawyer (defense: it is hard to find a lawyer at 2 AM…)
The defense checks the witness’s proficiency in Arabic, which reveals that the interrogation was done through an interpreter in Arabic and recorded in Hebrew.
Witness No. 4, is a police interrogator from Maale Adumim, Sgt.-Maj. Avi T. who took Muhammad Albasheeti’s statement (Case No. 4701/10) who, according to the prosecution, incriminated the defendant Amir Bastami. (see previous report). Albasheeti was interrogated on 4.11.10 at 4:30 AM, The interrogation was conducted in Arabic and recorded in Hebrew. The witness vehemently denies all of Albasheeti’s allegations: his claims that the statement was obtained under threats, the interrogator used harsh language, threatened him with a dog and made him sign a trumped up a statement regarding the participation of his friends in the incident.
In reply to the prosecution’s questions, the witness described how he did everything by the book, explaining to the detainee his rights, including the right to keep silence, allowed him to consult his brother, writing down the entire testimony, adding that the detainee signed it of his own volition.
The witness explains that the interrogation took place at night, soon after the arrest. Stone and bomb throwers are usually interrogated at night for security reasons, to prevent riots and confrontations in the Arab villages. Soon after arrival, the interrogation takes place, “so as not to deprive him of his liberty,” says Sgt.-Maj. Avi T. (meaning, it is for the detainee’s benefit that he is interrogated before dawn, after a sleepless night, without food or drink…)
The prosecutor asks about the statement given by another defendant from Abu-Dis, Yazan Atallah (Case No 4700/10) who was arrested and interrogated on the same night as Amir Bastami and Muhammad Albasheeti. The witness rejects Yazan’s allegation that the interrogator threatened him with blows, forcing him to confess. He also denies Yazan’s claim that the interrogator added names not mentioned by the detainee and made him sign the statement by intimidation (see report from 11.11.10)
In cross-examination it becomes apparent that the witness Avi T. sometimes serves as a juvenile interrogator even though he is not qualified to do so. He does not remember exactly how he treated the boys that night, but claims everything was approved by the Interrogation Officer at the station. He states firmly that he always observes the rights of the interrogee, reading the questions and answers in Arabic while typing in Hebrew. The video recording is kept for only 30 hours and cannot be reconstituted later. Thus, as soon as the interrogation is over, it is burned onto a disk and kept for future record. But the disk of Albasheeti’s interrogation does not exist. It has disappeared. The witness cannot explain what went wrong, but claims that he activated the recorder and that the interrogation was recorded.
In reply to the defense, the witness explains some of the methods he used to extract from Albasheeti incriminations of other boys. He used information obtained from the intelligence office, where boys are brought by the police and the GSS before they are interrogated by the police. Once an intelligence officer has interrogated the detainees, he passes to the police interrogator all the information he has obtained during his interrogation.
The defense explains to the witness that in Yazan’s interrogation tape, the interrogator does not tell Yazan what he is suspected of. He also throws Yazan’s father out of the room claiming that the latter interferes with the interrogation.
The witness replies that he was following his commander’s orders and whatever he did during the interrogation is on record.
The defense counters that Yazan’s interrogation is imperfectly recorded. The recording does not seem to start at the beginning, and from watching and listening to the video it seems that there was an earlier interrogation. Perhaps that was just an “interview” not an interrogation, which does not require video recording.
From questions the judge addresses to the witness it transpires that indeed there was a preliminary interrogation prior to the one conducted by the police, and that it was not recorded. Important or relevant information collected in that preliminary interrogation is reported to the police interrogator, if necessary, in writing.
In Albasheeti’s case neither was recorded. Interrogator Manny, mentioned by Albasheeti in his hearing (see report from 7.2.11) apparently was the one interrogating him (the “bad cop”) and he passed on info to Avi T. who then talked him into signing the document.
We’ll hear the details in the next hearing on 7.3.11 when two other prosecution witnesses will testify: Alon Cohen and the interrogator Manny.
Judge: Lieut.-Col. Ronen Atzmon
Prosecutor: Captain Eshhar Erez
Defense: Atty. Gaby Lasky
Defendant: Muhammad Ibrahim Ahmad Abu Rahme (nicknamed Abu-Nizar), ID 954903555, resident of Bil’in.
Case No. 1706/10. Released on bail.
The official charge is disturbing the public peace, but the intention is to charge Abu Rahme with incitement. (See earlier report from 20.12.10 on this case).
This is an evidentiary hearing. Witness No. 2, Halil Yassin has been summoned to testify. He is one of two minors that two years ago were kidnapped from their beds in the middle of the night so they would “sing” – and indeed they sang loudly in their interrogation and incriminated dozens of Bil’in residents who are active in the struggle against the separation fence and against the occupation.
At the time Halil was 16 years old. Today, appearing as a prosecution witness he is 18 years old. He is in prisoner garb since he has recently been arrested on another charge. Twice he did not arrive to testify when summoned before the court.
Today, in reply to the prosecutor’s question, he states that he is detained on charges of rock throwing, the same as last time.
The young man looks wretched: he whispers his answers, his eyes downcast. Most of his answers consist of “I don’t remember,” I don’t know him”. He denies most of the things he said in his interrogation.
Thus, for example, when asked to identify the defendant sitting in front of him he says: “Someone from my village… I don’t know his name… Everyone knows him. I know him as Abu-Nizar, not by any other name… I don’t know how old he is… Don’t know his family…” etc.
The prosecutor tries to refresh his memory by quoting from his statement, asking if what is written there is true. The witness says he can’t read, and the interpreter reads the statement, handwritten by the interrogator .
Witness: When I was first taken in, I was 16. I don’t remember what I said. What’s written here is not true.”
Thus it went on for a long time, “Don’t remember, don’t recognize the man in the picture, don’t know the members of the Bil’in committee, don’t remember taking part in the Friday demonstrations in Bil’in, don’t remember throwing rocks…”
Again, he denies what is written in the statement, except what refers to himself, i.e., it is true that he threw rocks at soldiers.
In cross-examination, the defense asks Halil to describe the events of the night of his arrest and interrogation. As it happens, that night and the day after, spent at the police station and at Ofer Detention center, are etched in Halil’s memory in all their gory details (see details in protocol - Hebrew).
In his summation, the prosecutor moves to subpoena Police officer Sharif Katish who took the statement on 23.6.09.
He also wants to summon Witness No. 3, Kamel Hatib, for the third time.
Additional evidentiary hearing is set for 21.3.11, when those two witnesses will testify.