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IDF prosecutors chided for using testimony of mentally disabled Palestinian witness

25 October 2010 | Amira Hass, Haaretz

A military judge has criticized the military prosecutor’s office for relying on the testimony of a mentally challenged young man who referred to events that never took place. In doing so, the witness put a resident of the Palestinian West Bank village of Na’alin behind bars for nine months for a crime he did not commit.

The judge, Maj. Amir Dahan, acquitted Ahmed Nafa, a 29-year-old high school teacher, of all charges against him. The indictment accused Nafa of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails and rolling an Israeli car into a canal late last year. He was also indicted for being one of a group that later threw rocks, Molotov cocktails and gas canisters at an Israel Defense Forces jeep.

The indictment also said Nafa took part in an incident in which Molotov cocktails and gas canisters were thrown at an Israeli infantry unit “in or around July 2009.”

The prosecution, however, failed to give evidence that these high-profile events took place. The prosecution and police investigators did not provide the court with any independent evidence other than the testimony of a mentally disabled young man, Mustafa Amira. Amira testified to the Shin Bet security service and police after several days speaking with an informer.

Amira contradicted himself during questioning several times and later said he had admitted to acts he did not commit to bring his interrogation to an end.

28 arrested

Nafa was one of 28 Na’alin residents whom the IDF arrested in January, based on Amira’s testimony, in an effort to halt demonstrations in the area against the construction of the separation barrier.

Most of the detainees struck a plea agreement in the belief that their detention before trial would exceed any jail time they might receive.

Nafa, however, demanded an evidentiary hearing. In his opinion acquitting Nafa, Judge Dahan said he was surprised that despite the precision of the accusation, “the investigators did not make any effort to identify the victims or soldiers” to gather additional information.

In the cases of Nafa and three defendants accused of membership in a local village committee, the prosecution called another witness, Hamed Sarur, but Dahan discounted his testimony after finding that Sarur was promised release from detention if he “came to a mutual agreement with” his interrogators.

Dahan said such improper methods cast a shadow over the investigation. In acquitting Nafa, Dahan wrote: “It is not possible that this court would fail to employ the same minimum standards of proof of harm to persons or property that is customary in Israel even in civil cases.”

Two military judges had decided to leave Nafa in custody until the end of proceedings. Nafa’s lawyer, Nery Ramati, said Dahan’s criticism of the prosecution and police that resulted in Nafa’s acquittal was also relevant to the cases of the other defendants implicated by Amira.