The scathing report published Tuesday by the United States Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA's interrogation of terror suspects reveals that the CIA's lawyers used the rulings of Israel's Supreme Court to construct a legal case justifying torture.
According to the 528-page document, a redacted version of the 6,000-page report that remains classified, in November 2001 some CIA officers were concerned they may need legal justification for the interrogation methods they had begun using when questioning Al-Qaida suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
In a draft memorandum prepared by the CIA's Office of General Counsel, the "Israeli example" was cited as a possible justification that "torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm."
The "Israeli example" refers to the conclusions of the Landau Commission in 1987 and subsequent Supreme Court rulings that forbid Israel's security services from using torture in interrogation of terror suspects, but allows the use of "moderate physical pressure" in cases which are classified as a "ticking bomb," when there is an urgent need to obtain information which could prevent an imminent terror attack.
Over the years, Israeli human rights organizations led by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel have petitioned the Supreme Court a number of times, and succeeded in outlawing various interrogation methods which the Shin Bet continued to use.
In 2005, as members of the U.S. Congress began asking more questions regarding the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques," the intelligence agency began planning a public-relations campaign to drum up support for its methods.
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the CIA attorney preparing the campaign "described the 'striking' similarities between the public debate surrounding the McCain amendment (a congressional act passed in December 2005 regulating interrogation methods) and the situation in Israel in 1999, in which the Israeli Supreme Court had 'ruled that several... techniques were possibly permissible, but require some form of legislative sanction,' and that the Israeli government ultimately got limited legislative authority for a few specific techniques."
The CIA attorney also referred to the Israeli Supreme Court's "ticking time bomb" scenario and said that "enhanced techniques could not be preapproved for such situations, but that if worse came to worse, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense, if he were ever prosecuted."
An Al-Qaida plot?
Israel is mentioned in one other connection in the redacted version of the report. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Al-Qaida operative who planned the 9/11 attacks, was captured by the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service and was tortured in his interrogations. According to the report, Mohammed told his interrogators about plans by Al-Qaida to carry out attacks on various targets including "an Israeli embassy in the Middle East," among other information.
While Israel has Middle East embassies only in Egypt and Jordan, in another place, the report says that Mohammed spoke of "a terrorist plot in Saudi Arabia against Israel." Israel has no diplomatic relations with the Saudis, though there is a great deal of coordination between the two countries beneath the radar. It is unclear what Israeli target the CIA claim that Al-Qaida were planning to attack, but the report also says that "much of this (Mohammed's) information was inaccurate."