Israeli officer's acquittal renews security debate

The freeing of former Israeli Lt. Izat Nafsu by Israel's Supreme Court has raised a new storm of controversy about the methods of Israel's chief domestic intelligence arm, Shin Beth. Lieutenant Nafsu, a Circassian who had served 7 years of an 18-year sentence, was freed by the court Sunday and exonerated of charges of high treason, espionage, and the transfer of military equipment to the enemy in southern Lebanon. The court concurred with Mr. Nafsu's claim that he had been framed by the intelligence agency. It upheld a lesser charge that he held unauthorized meetings with a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon.

After a brief return to prison to fill out paperwork, Nafsu went home to a Circassian village in the Galilee where he was welcomed by celebrating villagers who had maintained his innocence and loyalty to Israel. The Circassians are a Muslim minority in Israel that, along with the Druze, serve in the Israeli Army.

In handing down its decision, the court also ruled that Shin Beth investigations leading to court cases must be bound by the same rules that apply to police investigations.

The decision struck like a thunderbolt here. President Chaim Herzog spoke of the shame the nation should feel and said, ``The state should take thorough steps to eradicate wrongful methods of interrogation and to insure proper supervision of the work of [Shin Beth].''

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that the court's criticism ``underlines the importance of the decision to establish a two-man commission to look into [Shin Beth's] investigation methods.'' Mr. Shamir appointed the committee last week. The prime minister warned however, against generalizing accusations against Shin Beth, ``because its members are waging a ceaseless war against terror and have performed great unpublished acts to ensure Israel's security.''

The Nafsu case was the second such recent case that has raised profound questions about Israel's ability, in the face of ongoing security problems, to maintain the standards of Western democracies in protecting individual rights.

Last year, Mr. Herzog pardoned 11 Shin Beth members, including its chief, Avraham Shalom, who were involved in the beating deaths of two Palestinian teenagers after the Palestinians hijacked an Israeli bus in Gaza. Shin Beth was accused of covering up the murders, then framing an Israeli officer for them.

Palestinian activists on the West Bank have for years maintained that Shin Beth routinely violates the civil rights of Palestinians during interrogations. Convictions for most cases brought against Palestinians for security violations rely on confessions obtained during questioning.

``I can only say that the issue of the methods of interrogation have been of concern to us for sometime,'' said Jonathan Kuttab, a lawyer with Law in the Service of Man, a Palestinian organization that monitors human rights violations in the Israeli occupied territories.

Nafsu's lawyer, Arieh Kamar, said the methods of interrogation used against Nafsu by what he called a conspiracy of Shin Beth officials were a ``disgrace,'' and predicted the attorney general will have to reexamined other cases. Shin Beth admitted to the court that it used illegal methods to obtain Nafsu's confession.

Several Israeli politicians called for a full scale judicial investigation into Shin Beth interrogation practices.

``Nothing short of a judicial inquiry commission with the power to subpoena witnesses will put a stop to this and restore the battered credibility of the security services,'' said Knesset (parliament) member Modechai Virshubski of the left-of-center Shinui Party.

``We should be overjoyed at having such a court, but woe to us that we have such a Shin Beth,'' said Citizen's Rights Knesset member Yossi Sarid.

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