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US report urges Arafat to use torture for peace

An influential think-tank advises Palestinian Authority to ruthlessly repress militant elements without regard for basic human rights

By Robert Fisk in Gaza, The Independent, 6 November 2000

Palestinian leaders have been shocked to read an American think-tank report which urges them to act "ruthlessly" against opponents of the Oslo agreement - even if this involves "excessive force", trials without due process of law and "interrogation methods that border on psychological and/or physical torture."

A draft copy of the report by the influential Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which has close links with the United States government, has been published on the internet and circulated among dozens of members of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, including Yasser Arafat's most senior intelligence officers.

The report says that even if peace follows the "Second Intifada", "both sides [Palestinian and Israeli] will be forced to conduct aggressive [sic] security operations for years to come" which "can have a high price tag in terms of human rights." By way of comparison, it adds that British security forces in Northern Ireland "balanced" what it calls "effective security" with human rights - even though "the British used excessive force, abused human rights, and used extreme interrogation methods and torture."

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have frequently condemned the use of arbitrary false arrest, detention and torture by Arafat's "muhabarrat" security apparatus, pointing out that CIA operatives appear to have been complicit in these abuses. Far from denouncing these practices, however, the draft CSIS report appears to encourage their use, stating that "such measures also tend to work".

The document is dated 18 October and bears the name of Anthony H Cordesman - a former national security assistant to failed Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain - who is now holder of the Arleigh A Burke Chair in Strategy at the CSIS, named after the former Chief of US Naval Operations. His document is heavily referenced to CIA, State Department and Israeli sources and, according to Palestinian officials here, has been circulated within the US and Israeli governments.

Entitled "Peace and War: Israel versus the Palestinians", it recounts the turbulent history of Israeli-Palestinian relations since the 1993 Oslo agreement although its bias is obvious from the frequent use of "terrorist" to describe violent Arab groups and the almost ubiquitous use of "extremist" in reference to their violent Israeli opposite numbers.

It excuses the use of Israeli live bullets against stone- throwers, adding that CS gas and rubber bullets are often "not effective in stopping large groups" and that "troops cannot let mobs armed with stones and Molotov cocktails close on their positions, or rely on the riot control gear used in civil disobedience."

In a section headed "The Need for Palestinian Authority Ruthlessness and Efficiency", it states "there will be no future peace, or stable peace process, if the Palestinian security forces do not act ruthlessly and effectively. They must react very quickly and decisively in dealing with terrorism and violence if they are to preserve the momentum of Israeli withdrawal, the expansion of Palestinian control, and the peace process. They must halt civil violence even if this sometimes means using excessive force by the standards of Western police forces. They must be able to halt terrorist and paramilitary action by Hamas and Islamic Jihad even if this means interrogations, detentions and trials that are too rapid and lack due process. If they do not, the net cost to both peace and the human rights of most Palestinians will be devastating."

The report says that permission must be obtained for any publication of the contents, but copies have now been circulated throughout the Palestinian Authority, including the offices of Mohamed Dahalan and Jibril Rajoub, respectively heads of Arafat's "Preventative Security" in Gaza and Ramallah. Both Dahalan and Rajoub were sent to Langley, Virginia, for what was called "human rights training" by US government intelligence services.

Although it condemns "Israeli terrorism" - a phrase used only once and in reference to Jewish settlers' groups - the document concludes with chilling advice to both Palestinians and Israelis. "Every counter-terrorist force that has ever succeeded has had to act decisively and sometimes violently," it says.

"Effective counter-terrorism relies on interrogation methods that border on psychological and/or physical torture, arrests and detentions that are 'arbitrary' by the standards of civil law, break-ins and intelligence operations that violate the normal rights of privacy, levels of violence in making arrests that are unacceptable in civil cases, and measures that involve the innocent (or at least not provably directly guilty) in arrests and penalties."

The issue, the report adds, "is not whether extreme security measures will sometimes be used, or whether they are sometimes necessary. The issue is rather how many such acts occur, how well-focused they are on those who directly commit terrorism, and how justified they are in terms of their relative cost-benefits."

Palestinian officials here noted with surprise how accurate was the report's list of escalating Israeli responses to the current low-intensity war, from Israeli mobilisation of armour to the sealing off of Palestinian towns and "the use of helicopter gunships and snipers to provide mobility and suppressive fire". Apparently based on a 1996 Israeli test plan codenamed "Operation Field of Thorns", the military responses end with the "forced evacuation" of Palestinians from "sensitive areas". Palestine Authority officers, however, were taken aback to read that the PA's "military strength" includes a Lockheed Jetstar aircraft. The plane, they point out, happens to be Arafat's personal executive jet.

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