Israeli counter-terrorism officials said on Monday that they do  not use Abu Ghraib-type methods despite its close ties with the United States on security matters.

"Under questioning, a terrorist should be made to yield. Sexual abuse goes too far by breaking him, so it's not an option," Ami Ayalon, former chief of Israel's Shin Bet domestic security service said. 

"A broken man will say anything. That information is worthless."

The United States is reeling from revelations that low-level personnel at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad piled naked Iraqi detainees on top of one another and photographed them simulating sex acts.

'Under orders'

New Yorker magazine said the abuses were ordered by US military intelligence as part of the effort to gather information on Iraqi insurgents through interrogation. The Pentagon denied this, calling the scandal an isolated incident.

"A broken man will say anything. That information is worthless."

Ami Ayalon,
former chief of Shin Bet

For many in Israel, the case recalled charges by a Lebanese resistance leader, Mustafa Dirani, that he was sodomised by an Israeli interrogator while in captivity in the mid-1990s.

Ayalon said the Dirani case was exceptional as he had been held by Israeli military intelligence, whose top-secret foreign missions secure it virtual freedom from judicial scrutiny, while the Shin Bet works in Israel and the Palestinian territories under strict Supreme Court guidelines.
 
Under court restrictions, the Shin Bet can use "moderate physical pressure", including sensory deprivation and shaking short of causing permanent damage.

Blackmail and collaborators

"The Shin Bet has professionalism and oversight, so everyone keeps to these methods. They are effective enough," Ayalon said, adding that interrogators undergo almost three years of Arabic and psychology training before confronting their first suspect.

Palestinian collaborators are an
asset to Israeli intelligence

According to New Yorker correspondent Seymour Hersh, some of Abu Ghraib's abused inmates may have been photographed in the hope they could later be blackmailed into becoming US informants.

Israel depends on a vast network of collaborators in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to help its hunt for Palestinian resistance fighters waging a 3 1/2-year-old revolt.

Palestinian advocates say collaborators are recruited on the offer of pay or after Israeli authorities withhold favours such as travel permits, an account confirmed by Shin Bet sources.

But sexual blackmail is almost unheard of.

"An informant risks being caught and killed by his countrymen, so he will only be effective if he works of his own free will, feeling it is worth his while," said Menachem Landau, a retired Shin Bet supervisor of Palestinian collaborators.

"Someone acting out of fear will be unreliable and could even end up attacking his handler to clear his name," he said.