NEW YORK (Ma’an) — Palestinian security officials privately offered American diplomats candid details about the 2009 death of a detainee while they publicly refuted allegations of torture, according to a US diplomatic cable recently released by WikiLeaks.
Suspected Hamas member Haitham Amr, a nurse at a Hebron hospital, died less than a week after the PA’s General Intelligence division arrested him in June 2009.
Security officials claimed publicly that Amr fell to his death trying to escape through a second-story window. But the recently released cable, part of a full batch posted online in late August, reveals that General Intelligence officials told the US Consulate in Jerusalem that their initial account was “simply wrong.”
Corroborating allegations of torture from the victim’s family and human rights groups, the cable says the PA’s own investigation found evidence that Amr was abused before his death.
Those findings seem to correspond with the results of an official autopsy, witness reports and investigations by human rights groups that Amr died under torture by his Palestinian captors. Amr’s body showed signs of severe abuse like electric shocks and cigarette burns, his father insisted at the time.
The cable also shows that senior PA figures as well as American officials were made aware almost immediately of the circumstances of Amr’s death, but they never shared that information in public.
Multiple “mid- and high-level” General Intelligence officials told the consulate that investigators had “confirmed that bruises and other signs of abuse were observed on Amre’s body prior to his burial,” the document says.
“While the investigation continues, GI officials said they now expect to conclude that Amre’s death resulted from maltreatment,” according to the cable, marked “secret” and dated three days after the incident.
The PA never retracted its initial account, although Interior Minister Said Abu Ali conceded in October 2009 that there had been a “violation of the rights” of Haitham Amr.
Rights campaigners say the new information casts doubt on the credibility of a special military court which acquitted five officers who were charged in connection with Amr’s death.
The cable seems to confirm that the court “ignored not only the testimony of prisoners who saw Amr die, but also information from the GI itself,” Human Rights Watch researcher Bill Van Esveld said Monday.
Esveld told Ma’an that “Until today, Haitham Amr’s family has been denied justice for his death, and the result in his case is typical” and indicative of widespread reports of human rights abuses.
The 2010 verdict ordered the General Intelligence officers to pay compensation to the victim’s family, which rejected both the ruling and the money. Another officer, identified by witnesses, was never charged.
No PA security official has ever been criminally convicted of abusing persons in custody “despite hundreds of documented complaints of torture and other abuse,” Esveld says. “Given these serious and widespread abuses, the US should stop funding PA security agencies until the PA ends this record of impunity.”
In 2010, the US provided $350 million to the PA for its security forces in addition to $150 million in direct budgetary aid, according to Human Rights Watch.
US government officials have consistently denied that American funds support security agencies accused of torture; they say most aid goes to the PA’s National Security Forces.
News reports suggest otherwise. In December 2009, The Guardian quoted Western officials saying that the CIA works so closely with the General Intelligence and the Preventive Security organization that the Americans seem to be supervising the Palestinians’ work.
Former negotiator Yezid Sayigh, an expert on the Palestinian security sector, has also reported that the US and UK have been providing funding and training to the General Intelligence since the mid-1990s.