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2712/03 Israelis tortured me, Lebanese rebel says Guerrilla leader suing Israeli government in Tel Aviv court

Toronto Star | January 27, 2004. 02:02 PM

TEL AVIV (AP) – A Lebanese guerrilla leader about to be freed in a prisoner swap testified today that Israeli interrogators raped him, sodomized him with a club, kept him naked for weeks and humiliated him in a round-the-clock effort to extract information on a missing Israeli aviator.

Human rights groups have accused Israel of routinely mistreating Arab prisoners, but rarely to the extremes Mustafa Dirani alleged to a Tel Aviv court during his six million shekel ($1.3 million US) lawsuit against the Israeli government.

State prosecutor Shamai Becker said interrogators never touched Dirani, who “sang like a bird” and made up the torture allegations of abuse to explain why he gave Israel information.

Dirani is one of hundreds of Arab prisoners to be released Thursday in exchange for an Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers – all kidnapped by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah in October 2000.

The prisoners include 400 Palestinians, 34 people from Arab countries and a German convicted of spying for Hezbollah. The Israeli Justice Ministry said a Moroccan inmate on the list was released a few days ago.

Today, a white bus filled with prisoners drove into the Sharon Prison in central Israel under heavy guard. Prisoners peeked from tiny wire mesh-covered windows, and some tried unsuccessfully to spread their fingers in V-signs through the tightly wrought metal.

The German-mediated swap is to take place Thursday. Security officials said the prisoners from Arab countries and the German would be flown Wednesday to Germany. Israel will release the Palestinians into the West Bank and Gaza Strip and will also hand over 59 bodies of Lebanese militants killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

All the Palestinians had less than three years to serve and were not involved in wounding or killing Israelis, according to a list released today. About two-thirds were scheduled to be released this year.

Some Palestinians greeted the list with disappointment, noting that Israel has often freed prisoners convicted of nonviolent offences on Muslim holidays or as part of peace talks.

“I look at this like a routine release,” said Issa Karake, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Association.

Dirani is among the most prominent of the prisoners named, and his lawsuit presented something of a surreal situation: Israel burst into his home in Lebanon in 1994, kidnapped him and held him without charges for a decade, yet allowed him access to its court system to sue the government for torture.

Today, Dirani testified that interrogators kept him naked and shackled in a secret facility for a month as six men systematically tortured him, splashing him with hot and freezing water, shaking him until he fainted, squeezing his testicles and sexually assaulting him as they demanded to know the whereabouts of missing airman Ron Arad.

Israel accuses Dirani of helping capture Arad, who was captured alive after ejecting from his plane over Lebanon in 1986 and remains missing.

Israeli and international human rights groups say Israel has routinely mistreated Arab security detainees during interrogation by depriving them of sleep, tying them up in painful positions and forcing them to wear hoods on their heads.

In 1999, Israel’s Supreme Court banned the blanket use of such practices, saying they could be used only in specific instances. Human rights activists said abuse fell off after the ruling but has become more frequent again in the past three years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

However, Dirani’s accusations of torture – which he said took place before the court ruling – were far more severe than those usually reported, said Yael Stein, research director at B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group.

“Accusations of rape are not common,” she said. “If it is true, it is very severe.”

Dirani, 53, limped badly and walked with a cane when he entered the Tel Aviv court room. He spoke only reluctantly and had to be coaxed into giving details about the alleged torture.

Dirani said he was interrogated around the clock for a month by six people, including a particularly sadistic man known only as George, who threatened him, cursed him and repeatedly squeezed his testicles “until I felt I would die,” Dirani said.

One day a uniformed soldier nicknamed Kojak came into the room and dropped his pants, and George told Dirani the soldier would sodomize him if he did not talk, Dirani said.

Days later, Dirani was shackled and pushed down onto a bench, he said. “I couldn’t see or resist … I was raped by the soldier. He said he would rape me, and he did,” he told the court.

“Two or three days later they started raping me with a police baton,” he said. “It’s impossible to describe the pain. I yelled to high heaven.”

The interrogators took him to a doctor to stop the bleeding, he said. They also forced him to drink castor oil, which made him incontinent, and made him wear large diapers as his only clothing.

Becker, the prosecutor, denied Dirani’s accusations.

“All the interrogators said you sang like a bird and there was no reason to touch a hair on your head,” Becker said as he cross-examined Dirani.

“What’s all this about? You are going back to Lebanon. People will ask how could you give out this and that information. You’ll answer that you are a heterosexual Muslim. This wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t tortured and thus forced you to talk,” Becker said.

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