Hamas inmates in W. Bank say torture ends

Associated Press / January 4, 2010

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NABLUS, West Bank - Palestinian security forces in the West Bank have stopped torturing Hamas prisoners, ending two years of systematic abuse, Hamas inmates said in jailhouse interviews.

The change in practice, said to have taken effect in October, was confirmed by a West Bank Hamas leader, human rights activists, and the Palestinian prime minister. It defuses a potential problem for Washington because the United States has been closely involved in training Palestinian troops under the control of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, a rival of the Hamas militants.

Human rights groups say their public pressure campaign helped bring about change and that President Obama’s no-torture policy might have helped set a new tone. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, however, said the decision to halt any abuse was an independent one, part of an effort to make sure a future state is built on the right foundations.

Hamas legislators and human rights researchers said they still get sporadic reports of prisoners being slapped or forced to stand for several hours during interrogation. And security forces continue to keep a close watch on Hamas activities, often arresting activists and holding them for lengthy periods without charge.

Fayyad confirmed a “dramatic change for the better’’ in West Bank prisons and said 43 officers have been jailed, fired, or demoted for abusing prisoners. He denied torture was ever official policy, but acknowledged past “excesses’’ that he said stemmed from a flawed culture of revenge.