Dan from New York:
I normally eschew the use of bold type for emphasis – too horsey. But I am making an exception in this case because British humor is so deadpan it might pass you by if I didn’t. The laughs start now...
25th October 2009
The Government is sending British police and intelligence officers to the West Bank to try to stop a wave of brutal torture by Palestinian security forces funded by UK taxpayers. Their mission is to set up and train a new ‘internal affairs’ department with sweeping powers to investigate abuse and bring torturers to justice.
The department is being paid for by Britain, with an initial planning budget of £100,000 – a sum set to soar as it becomes established. Yesterday a senior official from the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority (PA), which runs the West Bank and its security agencies, admitted for the first time that torture, beatings and extra-judicial killings have been rife for the past two years, with hundreds of torture allegations and at least four murders in custody, the most recent in August.
Haitham Arar, head of the Palestinian Authority interior ministry’s human rights department, said: "This is a shame on the Palestinian Authority. We are determined with the help of our British colleagues to instill respect for human rights as part of the security forces’ daily behaviour and to teach them how to treat prisoners properly."
She said planning for the new department was well advanced and it should be operational in four months’ time. Besides investigation, British detectives will train the Palestinian police and ‘Preventive Security’ forces in how to question suspects without torturing them.
Support for the new department follows the disclosure by The Mail on Sunday in January that Britain spends £20million a year funding the forces responsible for the abuse. Most of their victims are accused of involvement with Hamas, the radical Islamist party that seized power through violence in the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is controlled by the rival Fatah party.
‘A lot of people were talking in a bad way about the PA and saying they wanted the West Bank to be like Gaza,’ Ms Arar said. ‘There were people who had weapons and others who were money-laundering to support terrorism. ‘We had to bring these people to order. But there were violations because not all the security officers were aware of human rights standards.’
...In the region’s largest city, Nablus, Nasser al-Shaer, a former Manchester academic who was deputy prime minister in the short-lived Hamas Palestinian Authority government elected in 2006, said many of those released from detention in recent months were telling the same story – of torture, including beatings, being suspended from the ceiling and electric shocks.
...One young man told in a whisper how he had been assaulted with a high-voltage device with electrodes ‘like fingers’. Refusing to allow me to take notes, he said: ‘I was inside for 12 months and released without charge, but if it gets out I have talked to a journalist, they will come for me again.’
However, Dr al-Shaer said that since the beginning of this month, he had heard no fresh reports of torture.