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A call for an end to the double interrogation
[26 August 2013] – An Israeli military court judge recently handed down a verdict in the case of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy accused of throwing stones in the West Bank. In the course of the hearing, evidence emerged that during the police investigation a number of boys were threatened with physical violence unless they implicated the accused. The boys testified that whilst they were being threatened the audiotape used to record the proceedings was switched off. Once they agreed to implicate the boy accused of throwing stones, the interrogator switched the audiotape on. Although the military court judge was highly critical of the manner in which the police conducted the investigation, he nevertheless relied on this incriminating evidence to convict the boy. Only in one instance did the judge reject this evidence in circumstances where the threats were actually made whilst the audiotape was on.
This case highlights a practice employed by Israeli police interrogators operating in the West Bank whereby they conduct a double interrogation when investigating children. The first interrogation frequently combines threats and sometimes physical violence until the child agrees to confess or to provide evidence that incriminates others. Once this occurs, the child is taken into another room where he is told to repeat the confession, which this time is audiotaped. During the course of the second interrogation no threats or violence are used, giving the impression to anybody who might subsequently hear the tape that the investigation was conducted in a lawful manner.
In order to ensure that children are interrogated lawfully and free from any form of coercion, it is essential that the practice of using two interrogations, of which only one is audiotaped, be eliminated. This recommendation must be part of a package of reforms urgently required in order to effectively address the recognised problem of abuse of children in the military detention system. These reforms should include the following: 
  • All children must be immediately informed of their right to silence upon arrest;
  • All children must be permitted to consult with a lawyer of choice prior to interrogation;
  • All children must be accompanied by a parent throughout their interrogation;
  • All interrogations must be audio-visually recorded; and
  • Any breach of these recommendations, including any unexplained gaps in the recording, should result in the discontinuation of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release. 
Recent decisions by the military courts confirm that until this package of recommendations is implemented in full, there is little incentive for the police to comply with the rule of law when interrogating children.
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Photo: Ofer military court by Sylvie Le Clezio