Ofer - Interrogation of Witness

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Norah Orlow, Ofra Ben-Artzi (reporting)
Translation: L.W. 

Two of the five hearings at which we were present were postponed, because in each case the defense attorneys did not arrive - one was late, and the second, Adv. Ahlam Hadad, was in another hearing in Ofer. The judge, Colonel Itzik Mina, ruled in his decision that "this was contempt." We assume that this was an expression of the broad phenomenon of disorder in representation, and was symptomatic of a reality in which hundreds, if not thousands, of judicial hearings take place as a direct result of daily arrests on a wholesale scale. In such a situation, the ones who pay the immediate heavy price are the thousands of Palestinians brought to trial.

The entire hearing was devoted to a prosecution witness, Nissim Argaman, who interrogated the defendant, extracted from him his confession or statement, and recorded it.

Presiding Judge: Major Dalia Kaufman

Judges: Major Amir Dahan, Major Sharon Rivlin-Ahai

File No. 6307/06 Hussein Otman Hussein Abu Hamad ID 904584208

Military prosecutor: Captain Hila Yogev

Defense attorney: Shadi Kawar (replacing Advc. Fida Kawar)

The main examination (of the prosecution) entirely focused on the manner of use of Hebrew and Arabic languages during interrogation, and the degree of the investigator's command of Arabic. We learn that the investigator has been working with "the local population" in the West Bank since 1979. According to him, Arabic is his "professional language." He has taken two courses in Arabic (length unmentioned). He defines his knowledge of spoken Arabic as "good" and his reading and writing as "less good." In response to the prosecutor's question, he details the process of obtaining a statement - contending that it is "according to procedures and laws," in other words, the statement and also the defendant's version were written by the investigator in Hebrew, and then translated to Arabic by him to the defendant, who confirmed the writing by his signature.

The (defense attorney's) cross examination dealt with the issue of language, and the place and time of the apparent offence.

In response to the attorney's question as to why he had not recorded the statement in Arabic, the police investigator replied that "in that period... there was no obligation to write the statement in the suspects' mother tongue... I carried out the procedure the ways it was customary at the time." Afterwards, Advc. Kawar explained to us that, only after a High Court ruling on an appeal brought by the Committee Against Torture, did they begin implementing the law obligating statements to be written in the suspect's mother tongue.

The appeal: - http://www.stoptorture.org.il/files/156.doc

The response and Israel Police declaration:

The attorney's attempt to elicit whether translation of the statement recorded by the investigator was done "collectively" at the end of recording, or in the course of it - after each question and answer- was unsuccessful. The investigator's responses in no way clarified the manner in which the statement was taken from the accused. Once he responded when asked if he translated after each question and answer: "No, it does not happen this way..." And once, when asked by the court "does that mean that there wasn't translation at the end of each statement?' - he answered: "According to what is written, I see that the translation took place during the testimony and not at the end." Finally the defense attorney contended that "the accused also tells me that the translation was at the end of taking of testimony, and not according to what you are describing to me and to the court..."

The second part of the hearing makes one wonder how on a suspicion of offence so serious - ("attempt to cause death") - there are two most significant enigmas: time and place. The exchanges speak for themselves:

Defense attorney: why didn't you clarify in the interrogation of the accused the exact timing of the shooting incident for which he was interrogated?

Investigator: can you direct me?

Defense attorney: so I understand that, despite the references to a capital case, you did not even mention a date to the defendant...

Investigator: the offence attributed to him related to him according to the material at my disposal. Usually I have before me a memo of the Shabak (GSS) interrogation, and if there was such a date, I would certainly have noted it. If the accused would have specified a date to me, I would have recorded it.

Defense attorney: you know that each day, and sometimes on the same day there are a number of shooting incidents, and it is most important to sharpen and note most clearly the details and facts to the suspects. Why didn't you initiate such a needed clarification with the other interrogating bodies?

Investigator: ... had I had this mention in the memo, I would certainly have noted it. Now I cannot answer your question...

The question of the place of the incident was repeated in a similar exchange.