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Newsweek - Top Secret Jail Specializes in Nightmares


Dear friends,


The below Newsweek article shows just how much information is kept hidden from us. It's the story of a secret prison where torture methods, both subtle and overt, force information out of prisoners who have no legal recourse. The prison never would have been known to exist had it not been for a footnote in a historical paper. Let us not forget that each of us has a part within that wants to be able to control and manipulate others. By acknowledging and working on that part of ourselves, we are choosing to be a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem. Take care and have a good day.


With best wishes,


Secrets Of Unit 1391
Uncovering an Israeli jail that specializes in nightmares

By Dan Ephron

June 28 issue - Sometimes a country's darkest secrets have a way of surfacing in the most offhanded manner. Gad Kroizer, an Israeli historian, was researching old British police buildings when he stumbled on a 70-year-old map drawn by a government architect. The map showed the location of 62 police compounds built by the British in Palestine in the late 1930s and early 1940s where both Arabs and Jews who agitated against Britain's occupation were interrogated. What caught Kroizer's eye was a camp called Meretz, which he had not seen on any contemporary Israeli map or read about in any modern writing on security compounds in the Jewish state. "There was a discrepancy between the map I had and the lists I'd been looking at," says Kroizer, who lives in Jerusalem and teaches at Bar-Ilan University. "I started putting two and two together."

What Kroizer had discovered and later footnoted in an academic paper (published in the March 2004 issue of Cathedra, circulation: 1,500) was the location of an ultrasecret jail where Israel has held Arabs in total seclusion for years, barred visits by the Red Cross and allegedly tortured inmates. Known as 1391, the facility is used as an interrogation center by a storied unit of Israel's military intelligence, whose members-all Arabic speakers-are trained to wring confessions from the toughest militants. According to Arabs who've been imprisoned in 1391, some of the methods are reminiscent of Abu Ghraib: nudity as a humiliation tactic, compromising photographs, sleep deprivation. In a few cases, at least, interrogators at 1391 appear to have gone beyond Israel's own hair-splitting distinction between torture and what a state commission referred to in 1987 as "moderate physical pressure."

But the nightmare for those in 1391 is the isolation and the fear that no one knows where you are, say Arabs who've been held there as well as an Israeli who's been inside the prison. The location of the compound is so hush-hush that a court this year banned a visit by an Israeli legislator. Prisoners describe being hooded everywhere at the facility except in their cells. Jailers often tell them they're on the moon or in another country (in fact, the compound is less than an hour's drive from Tel Aviv). "This can be devastating emotionally," says Dalia Kerstein, whose Israeli human-rights group, HaMoked, has petitioned the High Court of Justice to close down 1391. "We've seen that psychological pressure in certain instances can be even harder on inmates than physical pressure."

Hassan Rawajbeh would be the first to agree. A member of the nearly disbanded Palestinian Preventive Security force suspected of taking part in a shooting attack on Israelis, Rawajbeh was picked up by soldiers in Nablus 18 months ago. After stops at two other detention centers, he was hooded, handcuffed and thrown on the floor of a van. When the hood was removed, he was in a tiny, windowless cell with black walls and almost no light. The chamber contained no toilet, only a bucket in the corner, which the 39-year-old Rawajbeh says his jailers would empty once every few weeks. A low buzzing droned constantly. Rawajbeh, who denies shooting at Israelis, was never beaten, but he says he was on the verge of a breakdown. "I was jailed six times before," he said earlier this month at his office in Nablus, where other Palestinians, some armed with pistols, smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. "But those experiences were like five-star hotels compared to 1391."

For nearly four months, Rawajbeh saw no one but his interrogators, who kept him naked for days at a time and prevented him from going to the bathroom. "You begin to feel like the jail exists only for you, that no one else is there," he says.

Israeli officials deny torturing inmates at 1391 or any other facility. But Gideon Ezra, the former deputy head of Israel's Shabak security service, says psychological pressure is one of the most effective tools interrogators have in the war against terrorism. Ezra, now a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party and his cabinet, says 1391 was actually set up as an interrogation center for non-Palestinian Arabs who entered Israel illegally. (Ezra says the number 1391 corresponds to the adjacent military base and has no particular significance.) "In cases like that, you need to find out very quickly who this person is and how he might harm you."


But at least one former inmate at 1391 says the comparison to Abu Ghraib is fitting. Mustapha Dirani was brought to the facility after being abducted by Israeli commandos from his home in Lebanon in 1994. Israel believed Dirani knew the whereabouts of a missing airman, Ron Arad, and wanted to glean information quickly, while he was still stunned from the kidnapping. Dirani, who returned to Lebanon five months ago in a prisoner swap, said in a phone interview that he was raped by a soldier in those first days at 1391 and sodomized by an interrogator he identified as George. His civil suit against the state for more than $1 million in damages is scheduled to start in January. "It's the same style as in Abu Ghraib. They take advantage of the fact that Arabs and Muslims are culturally conservative," says Dirani, who spent eight years at 1391 but was never tried for a crime. In what might look to some people like a foreshadowing of Abu Ghraib, Dirani said in an affidavit four years ago that he was interrogated naked for days and photographed repeatedly.

George has since left the intelligence unit that operates at 1391, according to Kerstein of HaMoked. She believes the Army might be worried the interrogator will divulge other scandals if the Dirani case ever goes to trial. In an interview with Israel's Channel Two television four months ago, George said Dirani invented the rape story to avoid retribution back in Lebanon for information he divulged to the Israelis.

Kroizer, the academic who stumbled on 1391, is still surprised by the attention his footnote received. Days after his paper was published, his editor got a call from Israel's military censor, who wanted to know why the article had not been submitted for inspection. "We publish an historical journal. We usually deal with issues that are at least 30 years old," says the editor, Benjamin Zeev Wexler. "But I thought it was interesting to note that this old British interrogation center was still operating today." For a few hundred Arabs held there over the years, it was no news at all.

With Joanna Chen in Jerusalem and Samir Zedan in Nablus
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.


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