An autopsy indicated Monday that a Palestinian prisoner who died last week in an interrogation chamber was beaten to death and did not succumb to a heart attack, as military authorities first announced.
The autopsy was carried out by Israel’s chief forensic doctor, assisted by Michael Baden, the forensic chief for the New York state police. Civil rights lawyers acting on behalf of the victim’s family called for an independent examiner to assist in the examination.
“I think in this instance somebody did something wrong,” Baden told reporters. “I would hope there would be a full and thorough investigation and something good would come out of this to prevent this from happening in the future.”
The victim was Khalid Sheikh Ali, 27, an activist in the Arab uprising who died last Tuesday in a prison in the occupied Gaza Strip. Sheikh’s family accused interrogators of Israel’s Shin Bet secret police force of torturing Sheikh to death. He was arrested Dec. 7 and taken from his home by Israeli soldiers.
“During the autopsy, what was demonstrated clearly was that the young man died of internal bleeding in the abdomen, which was filled with about one liter of blood, due to tearing of blood vessels by blows,” Baden said. “My opinion would be that the injuries clearly occurred after he was detained, probably shortly before he died.”
The Israeli forensic specialist, Jehuda Hiss, could not be reached for comment. Baden reported that Hiss concurred in the finding.
Baden said there were also signs of injury to the legs, back and testicles. According to the American specialist, Sheikh’s interrogators insist that they used no force on the prisoner and he simply became ill during questioning.
This is at least the third time this year that Palestinians have died when undergoing interrogation by the Shin Bet, Palestinians and human rights lawyers contend.
Beating of Palestinian prisoners has become commonplace, and prisoners who have faced interrogation complain of torture techniques, among them beatings and being placed in uncomfortable postures.
In 1987, an Israeli judicial commission report approved use by the Shin Bet of limited physical and psychological pressure during interrogations.
Soldiers arrested Sheikh during a search of his Gaza house. The troops uncovered axes, masks and nationalist propaganda.
Stories of brutality in the army and the secret police are becoming common fare in Israeli newspapers. On Sunday, the Supreme Court ruled that an army colonel must stand trial on charges that he ordered soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian prisoners last year. The commander had been given the choice of resigning from the army or facing trial.
Another trial is under way for four soldiers accused of beating a Gaza man to death early in the 2-year-old Arab uprising.
Last month, the family of a Palestinian shot to death by soldiers discovered that the body returned to them by the army was missing the head and limbs. The government returned the missing body parts in early December and said that their removal had been a mistake.
Meanwhile, Palestinian militants continue to execute suspected informers and Arabs accused of crimes of vice despite calls from Palestinian leaders to halt the practice. Last week, Palestinians in Gaza hacked to death an accused prostitute, and, on Monday, youths in Nablus stabbed a suspected female collaborator in the stomach, wounding her seriously.
In nearby Bethlehem, security is always tight around the Christmas holiday. Monday, it was more relaxed than on Christmas Eve, when South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited to endorse the Palestinian struggle.