Israel court censures police for overzealous interrogation of Palestinian teen

12:00 Oct 5 2011 Jerusalem

By Oz Rosenberg for Haaretz

In an unusual step, a juvenile court judge in Jerusalem has taken the police to task for its handling of the interrogation of an East Jerusalem teenager charged with throwing stones. A gag order on publication of the details of the boy's case, which ended in his acquittal several weeks ago, has only now been lifted.

The case arose out of a 2009 incident in which stones were thrown at an Egged bus not far from the boy's home. The stones smashed several windows on the bus and a passenger was treated for shock. The defendant, who was 13 at the time, was arrested a short time later at his home. Under questioning, he denied throwing the stones, although he admitted being in the vicinity at the time of the incident.

The court acquitted him due to conflicting accounts provided in court regarding his involvement. In her verdict, however, Judge Avital Molad devoted a substantial portion of her ruling to attempts by the police to extract a confession from the boy, explaining that the prosecution's efforts to show inconsistencies in the boy's own testimony led her to take a more thorough look at the case.

Molad noted what she said was a series of shortcomings in the handling of the case, beginning with the appointment of an investigator who was not qualified, followed by an Arabic interpreter who lacked the proper qualifications. At one point, the interpreter actually took over the interrogation.

The primary concern raised by the judge, however, related to what she said were attempts by the interpreter to exploit the boy's lack of experience with police interrogations and his ignorance regarding his rights. When the defendant was informed of his rights in Hebrew, the interpreter provided a distorted translation into Arabic, according to the judge, who cited as an example the translator telling the defendant that he had to talk, although the law accords the boy the right to remain silent.

"Everything that [the interrogator] asks you, answer her," the translator purportedly told the boy. The defendant was also not informed of his right to an attorney from the public defender's office.

"You're a liar," the translator allegedly said to the boy, adding: "We've still been okay with you, but we'll stop being okay soon. Tell the truth. Tell everything."

After the boy maintained his innocence, the translator allegedly said, "You're going to stay in jail and we'll teach you [there]. ... Don't make me hit you."

The interrogation methods were contrary to police procedure and should be investigated, the judge said, adding that the fact that the boy did not break under questioning does not render the conduct any less serious.

The prosecutor's office said the evidence that was relied upon as a basis of the indictment were primarily eyewitness accounts from others and not the defendant's interrogation. The prosecution also said that during the trial, the court rejected the defense contention that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient to require the boy's lawyer to mount a defense.

The prosecutor's office said the interrogation transcript was not provided to the prosecution during the trial, but was produced later at the court's initiative.

"We are now studying the verdict," a prosecution source said, "in order to draw conclusions from the court's comments related to the interrogation of the suspect."

"The judge proved once again in this ruling that the court is devoted first and foremost to the rights of juveniles. I welcome this, but at the same time, I think protection of those basic rights should start at the time of the interrogation by the interrogators themselves and not later," said attorney Vered Birger, who was eventually appointed to represent the boy through the Public Defender's office.
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