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Shin Bet Murders  


Confession of a Killing in Cold Blood Chills Israel; Mideast: 

The embattled Shin Bet security service faces new criticism as agent describes 1984 deaths of prisoners.

 Home Edition., Los Angeles Times, 07-27-1996, pp A-1. 

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JERUSALEM--The security agent's two prisoners had already been beaten when the agent took what he now calls a simple step. He picked up a rock and battered their skulls until they were dead.

He was just following orders, he says. He has no regrets. He has no remorse that he lied about the incident a dozen years ago to shift the blame. He does not believe that it was a problem that the army commander on the scene was disgraced, though ultimately exonerated.

But now, on the verge of retirement after a career as one of this country's senior warriors against terrorism, Ehud Yatom is the subject of a wave of criticism and recriminations for his revelations about his life in the Shin Bet, Israel's legendary secret service.

His chilling, relaxed attitudes toward a key and scandalous incident involving the agency have set off alarm bells among civil rights activists in Israel, renewing calls for legislation to set standards for the conduct of the Shin Bet.

The admissions center on the "Bus 300 Incident" of April 1984.

In an interview with the Yediot Aharonot newspaper this week, Yatom admitted for the first time that he killed the two Palestinian bus hijackers after they had been taken into custody.

Most shocking to the Israeli public was how he did it: The prisoners had already been beaten after their capture, he recounted. They were injured, bleeding and could not stand. Yatom described them as "two sacks of potatoes."

"We put them in our van, and then I received instructions from [Shin Bet chief] Avraham Shalom to kill them, so I killed them," said Yatom, who then was the 36-year-old head of the agency's operations branch and the top Shin Bet agent on the scene.

Taking a big stone, "I crushed their skulls," he recalled. "Believe me, there was no need for too much of an effort. They were already finished."

Yossi Melman, an Israeli journalist who has written extensively about the Bus 300 case, said, "People are surprised, even astonished, that he made these revelations."

The current leadership of the Shin Bet reportedly is studying whether Yatom violated secrecy rules with his disclosures.

"What Yatom did is a betrayal of the organization as a whole," said a former senior agency official who was quoted by Yediot Aharonot.

At 48, Yatom has spent half his life in the Shin Bet, rising steadily.

He has commanded the agency's operations, administrative and protection branches. But he requested leave 15 months ago after having been passed over for the agency's top job. Melman said he believes that Yatom's role in the bus hijacking incident probably made that advancement impossible.

His retirement is due to take effect next week. But he remains extremely well-connected in the country's security apparatus.

In March, his older brother, Danny, was named director of the Mossad, Israel's external intelligence agency.

In the interview, Ehud Yatom sounded bitter that his career has suffered because of the hijacking. He said he was "paying dearly," although he remains "proud of what I did."

If nothing else, the scandal over the incident--the killings themselves and the cover-up and finger-pointing that followed--has contributed in recent years to a greater skepticism about the conduct of the Shin Bet and other security agencies in Israel, lawmakers and analysts say.

The Shin Bet, founded in 1948, reports to the prime minister and is not regulated by any specific law.

While the vast majority of Israelis appreciate and support the agency in its continuing war against terrorism, the courts, lawmakers and the media have become more jaundiced in accepting official explanations of some of its acts, said Dedi Zucker, a member of parliament from the liberal Meretz Party.

Zucker said Yatom's disclosures will harm the Shin Bet's image and morale at a time when the agency is recovering from its shame in failing to protect Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from a right-wing assassin last year.

The previous Labor government began work on a law to tighten regulation of the agency, but it was not completed before Labor's defeat at the polls in May.

The latest disclosures underline the need for legislation to subject the Shin Bet to standards of conduct and parliamentary review, the Assn. for Civil Rights in Israel argued, saying: "Killing prisoners, even terrorists, is a grave crime, and those responsible should have been punished. Instead, after being pardoned . . . Yatom was promoted."

That Yatom offers as a defense that he was merely following orders, Melman said, was reminiscent of alibis once offered by Nazis.

"For Israelis and Jews to hear that kind of explanation is terrifying," he said.

The incident occurred after four Palestinians had hijacked a bus and were threatening to kill 40 passengers aboard. After a confused, all-night standoff, army commandos stormed the vehicle; two hijackers were killed by gunfire. A female Israeli soldier, who was among the passengers, was also slain.

Initially, officials said that the remaining two hijackers died of injuries while en route to the hospital. But that account was cast in doubt after a newspaper published photographs of them being taken away, apparently unhurt.

At an internal hearing, Yatom and other top Shin Bet officials conspired to direct blame at the top army officer on scene--Yitzhak Mordecai--whose troops had stormed the bus. Eventually exonerated, Mordecai recently became defense minister.

When the cover-up first became public in 1986, Shalom and three other top officials were given presidential pardons and resigned. Seven other Shin Bet agents, including Yatom, also were pardoned and remained at their jobs.

"In a war against terrorists, to prevent the murder of innocent people one must take actions that do not always coincide with perfect values," Yatom said in reflecting on his deed.

Still, he has trouble explaining it to his 12-year-old son, he admitted: "He asks and I squirm. I say to him: 'It's wrong to do that. Only certain people do it, who are working for the good of the country and have the prime minister's consent. At home, daddy wouldn't kill a fly, but at work he must contend with war.' " top of page

Karamallah Daher, Israeli group urges countries arrest Shin Bet man

Reuters, 08-08-1996 

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JERUSALEM, Aug 8 (Reuter) - A leading Israeli human rights group has called on foreign countries to arrest and try a former Israeli Shin Bet secret police officer who admitted he crushed the skulls of two Palestinian prisoners over a decade ago. "B'Tselem today called upon human rights organisations around the world to demand that any state in which Ehud Yatom is present arrest and institute criminal proceedings against him," the group said in a press release late on Wednesday night. "This is the first time that B'Tselem has requested foreign countries detain an Israeli official. It decided to take this unprecedented action because Yatom cannot be held accountable inside Israel due to the sweeping pardon granted to him." Yatom shocked Israel in July by giving the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper a graphic description of the double murder of two Palestinian bus hijackers 12 years ago. He admitted to crushing the skulls of Subhi and Majdi Abu-Jamya with a stone. Yatom, whose brother Danny Yatom heads Israel's Mossad spy service, said he killed the hijackers at the instruction of then Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom and was proud of his actions. Media reports said that shortly after Yatom gave the interview he left for Switzerland. His present whereabouts are unknown. The pair were captured in a 1984 raid on an Israeli bus they and two other Palestinians had hijacked. The other two hijackers were killed in the raid along with an Israeli woman. Shin Bet officials said at the time Subhi and Majdi died in custody of their wounds but an Israeli newspaper published pictures of the two being taken from the scene unhurt. The affair in the end led to the resignation of Shalom and three other top officials. They received presidential pardons along with seven agents involved in the incident, including Yatom. top of page

Report: Israel tortures 850 Palestinians a year

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Tuesday May 19, 1998

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel tortures at least 850 Palestinian detainees a year, a leading Israeli human rights group said Tuesday ahead of a court hearing on petitions to ban violent interrogations.

The B'Tselem group, the Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories, presented estimates at a news conference that Israel's General Security Service interrogates between 1,000 and 1,500 Palestinians a year.

"Some 85 percent of them -- at least 850 persons a year -- are subjected to methods which constitute torture," it said in a report on GSS interrogation. Its estimates were based on official sources, human rights organizations and attorneys.

Urging Israel to come out of the "dark ages," the B'Tselem group demonstrated the physical pressure which Israeli authorities admit is used against suspected guerrillas.

The interrogation methods, detailed in court documents and in testimony by Palestinian detainees, include placing hoods and shackles on prisoners, putting them in painful positions, depriving them of sleep and sometimes shaking them violently.

In 1987, an official commission chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau allowed the GSS, also known as the Shin Bet, to apply "moderate physical pressure" to suspects under certain circumstances.

International human rights groups have long condemned the decision, saying it gave the go-ahead for state-sanctioned torture.

Nine Israeli Supreme Court justices are to hear Wednesday six petitions, filed by Israeli human rights groups and Palestinians undergoing Shin Bet questioning, to ban violent interrogation.

In an affidavit made public Monday, Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon said the shaking of suspects and other physical pressure were "absolutely essential in the struggle to eradicate terrorism" and "thwart terrorist attacks."

"It will be up to the court to decide whether Israel will join other democratic nations and fight terrorism without resorting to inhumane methods of interrogation," said Yuval Ginbar, author of the B'Tselem report.

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