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Israel high court orders stronger penalty in prisoner abuse case

[JURIST] The Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official websites] to refile indictments on more serious charges against a soldier and an officer accused of shooting a blindfolded prisoner with a rubber bullet. Human rights groups B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) [advocacy websites], and Yesh Din [advocacy website, in Hebrew] filed suit against the IDF, saying that a charge of conduct unbecoming a soldier, the least serious military criminal sanction, did not reflect the severity of the crime. The charges stem from an August 2008 incident [video] in the Palestinian town of Ni'lin in which an IDF soldier shot a handcuffed and blindfolded protester, Ashraf Abu Rahma, in the foot with a non-lethal rubber bullet at an officer's direction. Rahma did not sustain serious injury as a result. Writing for a three judge panel, Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia said [Jerusalem Post report] that the officer had committed a moral failure in ordering the shooting, and that the soldier should not have followed the officer's order because the act was illegal. The rights groups welcomed [press release] the decision, but expressed dismay that the Supreme Court's intervention was necessary in the matter.

Rights groups have long been critical of IDF tactics in Palestine. Last month, PCATI issued a report [JURIST report] asserting that harsh shackling techniques used by the IDF and the Shin Bet Security Agency (GSS) [official website] constitute torture. Last year, PCATI alleged [JURIST report] that detainees are regularly beaten and abused by IDF soldiers after they no longer pose a security risk. In 2007, the IDF launched investigations into two incidents [JURIST reports] of soldiers using Palestinians as human shields, in violation of Article 51(7) of the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions [text] and other international agreements.

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