portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

human & civil rights | imperialism & war | prisons & prisoners

Facility 1391: Israel's Guantanamo

Le Monde diplomatique, November 2003. By JONATHAN COOK*

FACILITY 1391, a concrete fortress in central Israel on a rise overlooking a kibbutz, is almost obscured by high walls and fir trees. Two watchtowers give armed guards extensive views of surrounding fields. From the outside it looks like many other police stations built by the British in the 1930s across the Mandate of Palestine. Today many serve as military bases, their location revealed by signposts showing only a number.

Facility 1391, close to the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, is different. It is not marked on maps, it has been erased from aerial photographs and recently its numbered signpost was removed. Censors have excised all mention of its location from the Israeli media, with the government saying that secrecy is essential to "prevent harm to the country's security". According to lawyers, foreign journalists divulging information risk being expelled from Israel. But, despite government attempts to impose a news blackout, information about more than a decade of horrific events at Facility 1391 are beginning to leak out. As a newspaper described it, Facility 1391 is "Israel's Guantanamo" (a reference to the Camp X-Ray prison for al-Qaida and Taliban captives run by the United States on occupied Cuban territory).

In October 2003 a panel of international legal experts, led by Richard Goldstone, a judge in South Africa's constitutional court who has also been chief prosecutor of the international tribunals for former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, called Camp X-Ray "a black hole" into which inmates disappeared, to be stripped of basic rights under the Geneva Conventions. The report added that "states cannot hold detainees, for whom they are responsible, outside of the jurisdiction of all international courts".

Although Facility 1391 has received none of the publicity of the US prison, it more flagrantly violates international law. Unlike Camp X-Ray, its location is not publicly known; there aren't even long-distance photographs of its inmates of the kind taken at Guantanamo Bay. Unlike the US prison, Facility 1391 has never been independ ently inspected, not even by the International Red Cross. What happens there is a mystery.

Justice Goldstone was able to declare that inside Camp X-Ray there were "662 people without any access to due process" of law, but no one, apart from a few senior Israeli government and security officials, knows how many inmates there are in Facility 1391. Testimonies from former inmates suggest it is crowded with detainees, many of them Lebanese captured during Israel's 18-year occupation of south Lebanon.

Four months after the first revelations of its existence, the Israeli courts have yet to make the government reveal any substantial information about it. "Anyone entering the prison can be made to disappear, potentially for ever," says Leah Tsemel, an Israeli lawyer who specialises in advising Palestinians (see Israel: beyond hope) "It's no different from the jails run by tinpot South American dictators."

What little information is available suggests that interrogation methods using torture are routine. A high-profile detainee, Mustafa Dirani of the now defunct Lebanese Shia militia Amal, has alleged that he was raped by his interrogators. Israel recently admitted that he had been moved to Facility 1391 after he was kidnapped from Lebanon by Israeli agents in 1994.

The first chinks in the secrecy about the prison were prized open by Tsemel last year, after the Israeli army's reinvasion of West Bank cities in Operation Defensive Shield, April 2002. Until then it seems to have been used almost exclusively for captive foreign nationals, mainly Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians and Iranians. It is not known how many of them have been held there. The Friends of Prisoners Committee in Nazareth claims 15 Arab foreign nationals have gone missing from Israel's prison system.

There are many instances of kidnappings, particularly from Lebanon, assumed to have been carried out by Israel. Four Iranian government officials who disappeared in Beirut in 1982 have never been accounted for. In recent prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hizbollah, their families have requested information from Israel.

But after the mass arrests in April 2002, which stretched Israel's detention facilities to bursting, a number of Palestinians were also sent to Facility 1391. For a while the disappearance of these detainees was concealed in the general chaos after the army sweeps. By October 2002, however, Tsemel and an Israeli human rights group, Hamoked, were demanding information in the courts. They presented habeas corpus writs, effectively demanding that the missing Palestin ians be produced to prove they were alive.

Cornered, the Israeli authorities admitted that the missing men were being held in a secret facility but would give no more details. They referred all requests for information to Madi Harb, head of an anti-terror unit attached to Kishon prison near Haifa. Since the petitions, Israel admitted incarcerating a few Palestinians in Facility 1391, though many others have claimed to have passed through it, including the Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, now on trial. According to Israel, all have now been moved to normal prisons. But only one, Bashar Jadallah, 50, a businessman from Nablus, has been released. He was arrested with his cousin, Mohammed Jadallah, 23, at the Allenby bridge crossing between Jordan and Israel on 22 November 2002. Mohammed Jadallah has provided an affidavit saying he confessed to being a member of Hamas under torture.

Bashar Jadallah says he was not beaten or physically tortured, unlike most other prisoners, possibly because of his age. However, he describes months of severe isolation, held by captors he never saw, who terrorised him. His tiny cell, 2 metres square, was windowless and painted black, with a bulb providing a dim light 24 hours a day. He was refused access to a lawyer, not allowed to meet other inmates and told he was "on the moon" when he asked where he was. He was not allowed to see anything outside his cell. "They made me wear a pair of blacked-out goggles that covered the whole of my eyes before allowing me out," he said. "I had to wear them if they took me to another room, such as the interrogation room or the medical clinic. Only once inside could I take the goggles off."

Hamoked is to present an expert opinion from Dr Yehuakim Stein, a Jerusalem psychiatrist, on the effects of detention in such conditions. Dr Stein says that the treatment of Jadallah and the other Palestinians who provided affidavits is mental torture that creates what he calls "DDD syndrome": dread, dependency and debility. Lack of food, sleep, movement and mental stimulation, as well as exclusion from human contact - whether lawyers, family members, other prisoners or guards - is designed to lower resistance to questioning and force inmates to be entirely dependent on interrogators. Combined with the pain of torture, with threats of torture, with the fear of being killed and the sense of being forgotten, inmates are likely to be consumed by what Dr Stein calls psychologically damaging dread. Jadallah says: "Not knowing where I was or even seeing the faces of the jailers made me extremely frightened. The worst thing was feeling like I might disappear and my family would never find out what had happened to me."

His account of his isolation and living conditions corresponds with those of other detainees whose affidavits have been collected by Tsemel and Hamoked. They describe damp, foul-smelling mattresses, rarely-emptied buckets used as toilets and a single tap in the room under the control of invisible guards. Loud noises prevented inmates from sleeping and air-conditioning could be turned on to chill them.

The affidavits also include descriptions of torture, a practice banned by Israel's Supreme Court in 1999. Hannah Friedman, director of the Public Committee Against Torture, says her group has recorded a steady rise in such cases in Israeli jails during the intifada. A recent survey showed that 58% of Palestinian prisoners reported overt violence, including beatings, kicking, shaking, being forced into painful positions and having handcuffs intentionally tightened.

Such practices and worse are commonplace in Facility 1391. According to the affidavit of Mohammed Jadallah, he was repeatedly beaten, his shackles were tightened, he was tied in painful positions to a chair and not allowed to go to the toilet. He was prevented from sleeping, with water thrown on him if he nodded off. The interrogators showed him pictures of family members and threatened to harm them. "They brought me a picture of my father in prison clothes and played a cassette of him as a detainee. They threatened to imprison and to torture him."

But these prisoners probably fared better than Facility 1391's long-term inmates, the foreign nationals. The Palestinians who passed through the secret prison remained under the authority of the General Security Services (Shin Bet), responsible for interrogation in the usual Israeli detention centres. Foreign nationals in Facility 1391 are the responsibility of a special wing of Israeli military intelligence known as Unit 504. The treatment of these prisoners has been revealed by documents submitted to the courts in Dirani's law suit. He was seized from his home in Lebanon in May 1994 in an attempt by Israeli intelligence to get information on the whereabouts of an airman, Ron Arad, whose plane crashed over south Lebanon in 1986. Dirani held Arad for two years before allegedly selling him on to Iran.

Dirani, who was moved to Ashmoret prison near Netanya a year ago, spent eight years in Facility 1391, along with another famous inmate, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid of Hizbullah. In the first months of Dirani's capture, when hopes of extracting information about Arad were high, he was tortured by a senior army interrogator known only as "Major George". Although torture was at that time legal in Israel, Dirani is suing the state and "George" for two incidents of sexual abuse. In one, "George" allegedly ordered a soldier to rape Dirani; in the other, he is accused of inserting a wooden baton into Dirani's rectum.

Dirani's accusations have been corroborated by affadavits from soldiers who served in the prison. One interrogator says: "I know that it was customary to threaten to insert a stick if the subject did not talk." A petition signed by 60 officers in defence of "George" does not deny that such practices were employed, only that it is unfair to victimise him for using working methods standard in the prison. "George" has admitted that it was normal practice for detainees to be naked while being interrogated.

Jihad Shuman, a British national whom Israel accused of belonging to Hizbullah after he was arrested in Jerusalem in January 2001, was held in Facility 1391 for three nights. He recounts severe beatings by soldiers: "They removed my blindfold. I saw 15 armed soldiers, some with clubs, standing around me. Some of them beat me, pushed me and punched me from behind." Soon afterwards he was interrogated by a man in uniform who said: "You have to confess or you're done for, and no one will know what happened to you. Confession or death."

The effects on the emotional and psycho logical well-being of inmates are not hard to predict. A relative of Dirani's, Ghassan Dirani, who was captured with him and held in Facility 1391, later developed catatonic schizophrenia.

Although Israel has confirmed to the courts that Facility 1391 is a secret prison, it is unclear

whether it is the only one in Israel. Among documents submitted to Hamoked by the Israeli army are those relating to Moussa Azzain, 35, a Hizbullah activist imprisoned in the notorious Khiam jail in south Lebanon in August 1992. According to Israeli officials, he was later transferred to a "Barak Facility" in Israel. Azzain reports that he was taken to a secret prison referred to by inmates as "Sarafend", a name often mentioned by Lebanese prisoners. This is the English name of an army base known as Tzrifin, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

Before the government-imposed information blackout, Facility 1391 was occasionally called by the name of the neighbouring kibbutz, which is neither Barak nor Sarafend, leading Hamoked to suspect that the facility where Azzain was held may not have been 1391. Hamoked's director, Dalia Kerstein, points out that Azzain was taken to Haifa in northern Israel when he was allowed to see a lawyer. Dirani and Obeid, both of whom are known to have been held in Facility 1391, were always taken to Tel Aviv. That may suggest that Azzain was held in another secret jail, possibly close to Haifa. Several detainees known to have been held in a secret prison say they could hear the sound of waves. Facility 1391 is some distance from the sea. Others say they could hear the sound of planes taking off or gunfire, possible from a military firing range. There are up to 70 Taggart buildings - heavily fortified police stations built during the British Mandate - so several could be used without raising suspicion.

Another Taggart building, in Gedera, south of Tel Aviv, is reported to have been a secret prison until the 1970s, when operations were supposedly relocated to Facility 1391. There may be other precedents. A former Red Cross official, who tracked prisoners during the first intifada between 1987-93, says the organisation learned in the early 1990s that Israel had been secretly holding Palestinians in a wing of a military detention centre near Nablus, known as Farah. He suspects that Israel may have several secret prisons, which it opens depending on its needs. During the height of the occupation of Lebanon, several could have been used. The glut of Palestinian prisoners last year may have forced Israel to open more secret jails.

Kerstein also fears that Israel may lease the services of such prisons to other countries, particularly the US following its invasion of Iraq. The Red Cross has confirmed that no Iraqis are being held in Camp X-Ray. In the current mayhem in Iraq it is almost impossible to know who has been arrested and where they are being held.

Diplomatic sources say there is strong evidence that the United States is using Jordan to interrogate prisoners, to circumvent international law out of sight of the Red Cross, which has access to Camp X-Ray. Egypt, Morocco and Paki stan may also be helping. "It would be quite astounding if Israel, the US's most loyal ally, which we now know has at least one secret prison, wasn't offering its services to the US," says Kerstein. "Israel has decades of expertise in torturing and interrogating Arab prisoners - exactly the skills the Americans now need since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq."

* Jonathan Cook is a journalist living in Israel

homepage: homepage: http://www.ppsmo.org/e-website/Reports/Facility%201391-%20Israel's%20Guantanamo.htm

"Shut down secret detention facility 1391" 22.May.2004 04:41

Public Committee Against Torture in Israel

PCATI to Israeli government: "Shut down secret detention facility 1391"

Open Letter, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), 4 September 2003


The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), through attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard, this week called on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz and Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, demanding that they the revoke the status of facility 1391 as a military prison and stop incarcerating detainees, suspects, prisoners or any other persons in it.

Alternately, PCATI demands that the secrecy surround the facility be lifted, that it's location be published, that it be opened to visits by attorneys, the Red Cross, human rights organizations and other supervisory bodies and that the facility be turned into an ordinary detention center administered by the Military Police and under the supervision of the relevant authorities.

According to Hannah Friedman, Executive Director of PCATI, the existence of facility 1391, as described in the press and the media, is a reality reminiscent of dictatorial regimes where rulers secretly incarcerate their opponents in unknown detention camps, and is a clear indication that the state that has surrendered its democratic values.

The letter to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Attorney General follows below.

On Sunday, September 7, a hearing will be held at the High Court of Justice on the petition filed by Hamoked-The Center for the Defense of the Individual on this matter.

Text of the letter

1 September 2003


The Prime Minister of Israel Mr. Ariel Sharon

The Minister of Defense Mr. Shaul Mofaz

Attorney General Mr. Elyakim Rubinstein

Re: Detention Facility 1391

Dear Sirs,

1. On Behalf of my client, the Pubic Committee Against Torture in Israel.

2. We appeal to you as those in charge of the operation of the General Security Service and the Israel Defense Forces and following the exposure of detention facility number 1391.

3. Over the years, Palestinian detainees claimed that they were held at a secret detention facility whose exact location was unknown to them and where they were interrogated by General Security Service personnel, that no member of their families knew where they were being detained and that their attorneys were not given an opportunity to meet with them.

4. This highly charged practice, denied by the security services, led to the submission of dozens of petitions to the High Court of Justice by families concerned that their dear one had been detained and had disappeared for days and weeks without anyone knowing where he was held and by what authority, demanding that the IDF notify the petitioners where their relative is being held.

5. The existence of Detention Facility 1391was revealed within the framework of HCJ cases number 8696/02 and 10327/02 Jadallah et al vs. the IDF Commander of the West Bank filed by Hamoked-The Center for the Defense of the Individual on behalf of the families of two detainees who had "disappeared" after their arrest. Hamoked-The Center for the Defense of the Individual succeeded in discovering the existence of the facility, and the affidavits of two detainees, who had been held there without their or their relatives knowledge of the facility's location, were submitted to the Court. The existence of the facility was confirmed for the first time in the statement of the State Attorney's Office. The State Attorney's statement includes the following:

"Facility 1391- located in a secret military base. The base serves various needs of the security forces and for this reason its location is confidential. Because of the concern for harm to the security of the State, it is impossible to reveal the details in this public statement...

In addition to its principal designation, there is a detention facility in the base"

6. A declaration by the Minister of Defense, pursuant to section 505 of the Military Judicial Law - 1955 and dated April 2002 was annexed to the State Attorney's response and states that the facility serves as a military prison (Military Jurisdiction Order (Designation of a Location as a Prison) (2002).

7. After this initial exposure, facility 1391 "gained" further exposure through news stories, one on channel 10 and the other in the "Ha'aretz" newspaper. According to the article published on 18.8.03 in the "Ha'aretz" magazine under the title "The Darkest Corner in Israel", the facility served as a detention, interrogation and incarceration facility many years before April 2002 when the Minister of Defense signed the declaration mentioned above. The article and the testimonies of the interrogees and detainees included in it, also reveal that the conditions at the detention facility are inhuman and that interrogators employ illegal means of interrogation including torture and psychological pressure against the detainees.

8. It must bestated, firstly, that a situation under which people are detained in a secret location, a place unsupervised by the relevant authorities, human rights organization, the courts, a place to which attorneys representing detainees have absolutely no access is a reality known to us from dictatorial regimes where all-powerful dictators hide their opponents away in unknown detention camps. There is no democratic state in the world where this practice exists and it is regrettable that the State of Israel has set such an undesirable precedent in the field of the protection of human rights and the rights of detainees and prisoners.

9. Moreover, the "disappearance" of persons as if the earth had swallowed them, particularly at the hands of the authorities, is a clear sign of state that has given up its democratic values, and that its administration and security forces have long ago forgotten the legitimate limits of their power.

10. The testimonies regarding facility 1391 are both shocking and frightening and it comes as no surprise that there is a direction link between the administration of a secret facility, with no public supervision, and the appalling conditions of detention and the contempt demonstrated towards the detainees by the interrogators and wardens.

11. So, for example, detainees who had been held at facility 1391 testify to the practice of having their eyes covered for many hours, to the airless cells where a bucket, which remains in place for days, serves as the toilet. A fact, which is repeated in the statements of all the detainees, is the lack of ventilation in the windowless cells that are, in addition, painted in dark colors to prevent the detainees from distinguishing between day and night. The detainees also state that there are no showers in the cells and that they were unable to shower or brush their teeth for weeks.

12. The detainees testify to the harsh treatment they suffered at the hands of their interrogators and by soldiers who act as wardens at the facility. This, also, is made possible by the secret nature of the facility and the lack of any supervision of the goings on in it.

13. It is difficult to believe that in Israel of 2003 a human rights organization is forced to write a letter which includes such grotesque contents to the heads of the state. Yet the difficult and sad fact is that in Israel of 2003 the army and the General Security Service maintain a detention camp where people are brought after they were taken away from their families in the dark of night, without any of their relatives having a clue as to where his dear one is being held, and where they are cut off from the outside world for weeks and months and held in inhuman conditions and exposed to torture, humiliation and ill treatment.

14. In addition to the above, one wonders what the legal basis was for holding detainees and prisoners at facility 1391 before April 2002 when it was formally declared to be a military detention facility. It is clear, today, that for many years detainees were held at the facility and the declaration was made only last year.

15. In view of the above, we request that you revoke the status of facility 1391 as a military prison and cease the holding of detainees, suspects, and prisoners of any kind in it. Alternately, we request that you lift the secrecy surrounding the facility and publish its location, open it to visits by attorneys, the Red Cross, human rights organizations and other supervising bodies and turn it into an ordinary detention facility as for example Prisons number 4 or 6 which are administered by the Military Policy under supervision of the relevant authorities..

16. We would be most grateful for your prompt reply so that we can advise our client as to the legal alternatives available.

Sincerely Yours,

Attorney Avigdor Feldman
Attorney Michael Sfar

For additional information please call:

Hannah Friedman
Tel: 02-6429825, 056-556442

Attorney Gaby Lasky
Tel: 054-418988

Guy Tatse or Nadav Cohen Keidar
Tel: 03-5290572, 058-356030

Related Links

A story from the heart of Israel's secret prison by Mohammad Daraghmeh, Al-Ayyam daily newspaper (9 July 2003)

alternate URL link for original article, plus more info on Facility 1391 22.May.2004 04:44


Facility 1391: Israel's Guantanamo by Jonathan Cook [original article, posted above]

Facility 1391: Israel's secret prison

Facility 1391: photos and maps