Israeli probe clears Shin Bet in man's death Heart failure ruled in prisoner's autopsy

February 14, 1992|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- A police investigation into the death of a Palestinian prisoner in a West Bank jail has cleared interrogators from the Israeli security service Shin Bet of criminal wrongdoing, the authorities said yesterday.

Police Minister Ronni Milo said the investigation showed that the "Shin Bet acted as it should, and there were no grounds for the complaints and accusations against it."

The inquiry was ordered after the death last week of Mustafa Akawi, 35, who had been arrested Jan. 22 for alleged activities on behalf of the hard-line Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The group is suspected by the Israeli army of being involved in recent shootings of settlers in the occupied territories.

Mr. Akawi complained at a hearing a day before his death Feb. 4 that he had been beaten, and he showed bruises to a military judge. But an autopsy found that he had suffered from acute hardening of the arteries and had died of heart failure.

Dr. Michael Baden, an American pathologist who took part in the autopsy, told reporters later that the heart attack was induced by the conditions of Mr. Akawi's incarceration.

He said the prisoner had been forced to stand handcuffed with a hood over his head in bitter cold and had not received adequate medical care when he complained of chest pains. Dr. Baden, a forensic pathologist with the New York State Police, was sent to Israel by Physicians for Human Rights, based in Boston.

Dr. Robert Kirchner, a board member of the group and Chicago's chief medical examiner, said at a news conference in New York this week that "if we had a similar case in this country, this kind of death should be classified as homicide."

In addition, Amnesty International said in London that it had written to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel, calling for an independent investigation of Mr. Akawi's death.

But the head of Shin Bet, whose identity is a closely guarded secret, told a parliamentary committee this week that Mr. Akawi had been given proper medical attention and that the accusations against his agency were unfair.

In 1987, an Israeli commission of inquiry into Shin Bet practices said that "moderate physical pressure" could be used in interrogations. Human rights groups say the Shin Bet has used those guidelines to allow torture of Palestinian prisoners.

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