Salem - Interrogation of Witness, Incriminators

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Revital Sella (reporting)

Translation: Marganit W.

Court of Appeals 

Judges: Major Dalya Kaufmann,  Sgt.-Major  Eyal Nun, Sgt.Maj. Yair Zadok

Prosecutor: Captain Kamil Faraj

Defense: Atty. Haim Yitzhaki (Avigdor Feldman's law firm)

Courtroom 3

I went to the Salem court at the request of the Jerusalem group, as a follow-up on the case of Ibrahim Halil Srour from Ni'lin, who was supposed to be transferred from Ofer to Salem. But upon arrival I found that the order had been cancelled. Neither his attorneys nor we were apprised of the change.

At the gate I am told by the guard that today is a Druze holiday (Prophet Al-Khidr Day). The guard who usually lets me in is on holiday, so I need to check with someone else. As soon as I mention MachsomWatch, all faces light up. "Friend of Edna?" they ask. Lucky for me, I was not part of the debate when she joined "Big Brother". Now I bask in celebrity and before I am fully aware of what's going on, I am making my way to the courtroom accompanied by Dahamshe and his son. Thus I became a witness to the legal saga of Jamal Tirawi who, as it turned out, is a real celebrity.

Let me recap the case for those who, like me, forgot the details. Before his abduction, together with 4 other Palestinians, from Balata Refugee Camp, on May 29, 2007, Tirawi was a member of parliament and spokesman of the Fatah faction in the Palestinian Legislature. His brother, Tawfiq Tirawi, chief intelligence officer in the territories, was one of Arafat's lieutenants, and today, following the last Fatah elections, he has a central position in the party.

On August 15, 2007 Jamal Tirawi was charged with 17 counts, including sending a suicide bomber to "Coffee-shop" on Allenby St. in Tel Aviv (five years earlier, in March 2002). He is also suspected of being a commander of Al-Aqsa Brigade (the military arm of Fatah) and the mastermind of suicide attacks following the massacre at Beit-Hanun, as well as of shooting at Israelis during the Second Intifada.

The indictment is based on testimonies by incriminators and police plants. One of them, Firas Ri'an, was abducted with him from Balata. Another one, Riad Abu Sris, was arrested for "illegally entering Israel," In his interrogation he confessed to transporting the suicide bomber from Kfar-Kassem to Petah-Tikwa in 2002. He claimed to have done so under instruction from Tirawi. Another incriminator whose name was mentioned in the hearing is Muhammad Abu Tubo.

     As soon as I entered Courtroom 3 (having looked in vain for Ibrahim Srour in the courts and offices), it was clear that matters were different today and the hearing was of a different kind of detainee. First, the usual gray and khaki uniforms were absent, due to the Druze holiday, so there was less noise and fewer disturbances (without, however, reduced "security").  What was more noteworthy, however, was the figure in the dock - he was obviously ‘first league'. Although he was in prison uniform, the defendant looked like a person of importance. Underneath the prison's shirt he was wearing a black garb that looked new and neat. He was surrounded by four family members [among them his brother Fawzi Tirawi] - twice the allowed number - who spoke with him freely for half an hour until the main actors arrived: judges, interpreter, and typist. The chief interpreter did the translation.

I assume that his other guests were his son (about 6 years old), his wife and another couple. Everyone walking into the room greeted him or shook his hand; some attorneys kissed him.

The defense attorneys came in, obviously from a Tel Aviv firm [I later found they were from Avigdor Feldman law firm]. What was unusual for Salem was that the defense actually did its job. But on the whole it was a dialog of the deaf. The judge had to "interpret" the defense's questions for the testifying investigators, not because they don't speak Hebrew, but because they never questioned the methods of interrogation: indictment based on incriminators and police plants, nor did it occur to them that detaineesinfo-icon are often threatened and are fed false statements. These techniques are all routinely practiced by interrogators, and they never question them.

If I understand correctly, the defense tried to undermine the testimonies of incriminators and police plants by exposing the defects of such methods of interrogation. Two witnesses testified, both investigators who interrogated Tirawi's incriminators, using the familiar methods. There was nothing new in the criticism voiced in court, but it was refreshing to hear it in this context.

Two investigators testified about three detainees who had incriminated Tirawi: Raid Abu Sris, Muhammad Abu Tubo and Firas Rian. All three recanted the statements they had signed, claiming they were not true.

The Prosecutor claimed that the investigators followed protocol: checked the detainee's medical condition, spoke to him in his language, allowed him to write his statement and the questions and answers in Arabic and made him sign each page. All in the pursuit of truth, and all done out of the detainee's free will. The cross examination by the Tel Aviv attorney painted another picture, but rest assured, nobody except us will pay any attention.

Rais Abu Sris

The defense reminded the court that when Abu Rais testified in court he claimed that when he had given Tirawi's name to the interrogators he was in a confused state of mind and did not know what he was saying. In his cross-examination the attorney made two claims: the man was known as a user of Ecstasy, Marijuana, pot and alcohol. He was interrogated only on the forth day of his detention (he was arrested on Aug. 16 and brought to the interrogation on Aug. 20, 2006) because he was high as a kite and during the interrogation was in withdrawal. The second claim was that Tirawi had threatened him, but the moment the interrogator heard Tirawi's name, he stopped asking him relevant questions and led him to incriminate Tirawi, which was apparently his objective. Thus, he had a chance to avenge someone who had threatened him. The defense stated that no true statement could be extracted from the testimony of that witness for the prosecution.

Abu Sris was arrested on 16.8.07 on a charge of staying illegally in Israel. On 10.5.07 he was convicted of transporting the suicide bomber who blew up a café in Tel Aviv in March 2002. Abu Sris's conviction could possibly be challenged, just like Tirawai's, but he is not a "preferential" detainee, only a common resident of the Occupied Territories who worked in Israel and was addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Muhamad Abu Tubo

He testified that when asked about Tirawi by his interrogator he said only that he was working for the Authority. "The interrogator told me everything," he said about his statement. The defense stated that there was no memorandum of an earlier statement, which means that police plants were used. "You didn't conduct a 4-page interrogation without anything to base it on," he told the investigator.

Firas Rian

He was arrested with Jamal Tirawi.  In this case, too, two arguments were made which put in question the validity of an indictment that relies on incriminators. The first argument was that the incriminator wanted to recant his statement, but the interrogator threatened to "return him to jail for 90 days, to the GSS and to suffering," even though during the interrogation he urged him to sign the statement assuring him that in court he could say whatever he wanted. In his second argument, the defense compared the memorandum of Rian's interrogation of 24.6.07 to a statement based on the detainee's interrogation on 26.6.07 (two days later). These are long, almost identical texts that include a list of ten names; each name is followed by age, residence, marital statue, profession etc, all exactly in the same order. In response to the defense's question, the investigator stated that he did not read the memorandum to the detainee, i.e., he didn't dictate the statement to him. The defense did not look convinced.

Avigdor Feldman's law firm will appeal to the High Court of Justice since the Military Court of Appeals rejected an appeal to disclose additional evidence by another witnesses in Tirawi's trial. At the end of the session, the prosecution requested not to interrogate that witness until the defense obtains an interim staying order or until the High Court intervenes.

The court -  Chief justice and two judges - decided to retain the date of the next interrogation  - 31.1.10 - unless an order is issued - and hold the hearing on the following Wednesday, 3.2.10. If the decision is to allow the defense to see the material, the Chief justice promised that the court would not undermine the defendant's defense. But, she added, we all know that there is very slim chance that the High Court of Justice would intervene.

Throughout the session, Tirawi behaved as if the proceeding did not concern him. He was engaged in conversation with his visitors, using hand gestures and lip reading. There were no gray and khaki uniforms to block their communication.