By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In the last few days Israeli society has been debating about the need for harsh interrogation techniques for Jewish terrorist suspects.
“The sources emphasized that the use of moderate physical force by the Shin Bet – including torture and denying detainees food and sleep – is generally not required unless there is an immediate threat of a terror attack.’We haven’t touched these detainees,’ one source said. ‘However, because of the seriousness of their actions and the threat they pose to democracy, we are taking some draconian steps. These are anarchists who do not recognize the legitimacy of the government.’ One of the most effective measures that the investigators have been using is in fact within the law, which is to prevent suspects from being able to meet with a lawyer. The law, which was originally intended to apply to Palestinian suspects and criminal organizations, helps with preventing the transfer of information from lawyers to suspects.”
“Attorney Chai Habber, who is representing one of the suspects, said ‘After eight days in which my client has been held without seeing his lawyer or his family, or even a judge, the state, which claims to be democratic but permits people to be ‘disappeared’ without any oversight, has made the arrest public.’ Habber stressed that he “believes that as the picture becomes clearer, it will become clear that the authorities claims that some kind of an advance in the case has been made is baseless.”
This is an ongoing debate that has been had before over administrative detention. The general consensus in Israel is that there should be few if any checks on the security services as long as what they are doing is in the name of fighting terrorism. Haaretz ran an analysis piece on December 7 arguing that the “Shin Bet should take the kid gloves off” in dealing with terrorism and argued that this was in order to enforce the “rule of law.” The Israeli embrace of “total” security in sacrifice of individual rights is not unusual. Most countries embrace this method.
It brings to mind the two models of security services.
The sword around the throne
If you have ever looked closely at various logos of state security and intelligence agencies you will find common themes. A sword. An all-seeing eye. The concept of the security service as the last defender of the realm, the “sword around the throne” is the most common approach.
In this approach the most important thing is defense of the state at all costs. The security services, often recruited from the upper classes, are seen as “the state”, they exist to defend the state because they themselves represent the highest form of the state. All aspects of the state can be sacrificed in order to maintain this last line of defense. That means that threats to the state are all basically the same. Radical anarchist violence is the same as Islamist terrorism. Each spreads chaos. Racist violence that might provoke violence by other groups is a problem, not just because of its criminal nature, but because it can spread chaos.
Security is the name. Rights can always be curtailed in the name of “harming security.” Various manifestations or protests can always be banned under the concept that they are likely to create tension or violence. Public security is the watchword. In this model the state services exist irrespective of the type of regime. Dictatorship, military coup, democracy, they are interchangeable as long as they bring some form of stability. The services serve the state. In this sense they are the deep state. Their role in advising the leader is to guide him or her towards “what is best” for the state. Suppression of rights and speech and incitement or other destabilizing factors are often necessary. Forms of torture are used in order to get information. Oversight is often non-existent in time of extreme danger.
The citizen’s rights model
Under this framework the security services exist primarily to defend a democratic state from those that would harm the citizens. The services exist primarily to protect the lives of the people, who are necessary for maintaining democracy. In this model the state is not what is important, but rather the citizen. Guarding the citizen’s rights is the reason the security apparatus functions.
In this model the extremes the security services may go to is often severely curtailed. They try to present the politicians with inventive methods to collect information and enforce the laws. Torture, disappearances, states of emergency, would not be considered under the purview of the service.
Under a coup or a dictatorship these services would be expected to resign because their role has ceased. For them, the invasion of a foreign enemy, or a coup at home would be similar dangers. Their loyalty is not to institutions, but to laws, to rights. They are expected to behave with caution and not seek to expand their powers, they are naturally conservative in their approach.