Torture Comments Trigger Row Between Israel, Denmark

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel's appointment of a new ambassador to Denmark has sparked a decidedly undiplomatic row, after Danes protested that the envoy - a former security service chief - has defended the use of "moderate physical pressure" in questioning suspected terrorists.

Denmark approved the appointment of former General Security Services (GSS) head Carmi Gillon several weeks ago. But Gillon triggered an uproar when he made the remarks during a Danish press interview.

The resulting row deepened to such an extent by Wednesday that the Danish press interpreted written statements by the country's Justice Minister Frank Jensen to mean Gillon would be arrested on his arrival in the country, which was a signatory of the U.N. convention against torture.

But the Danish foreign and justice ministries later clarified that Gillon would not be arrested, saying diplomatic protocol would take precedence over other conventions.

The Danish ambassador to Israel, Michael Kofoed-Hansen, confirmed Thursday that Gillon would not be arrested and it was up to Israel to decide how it wished to be represented abroad.

Israeli leaders accused the Danes of applying a double standard by acting against a man they said had spent his life fighting terror, while welcoming many others who are known to commit terror attacks.

Israel's ceremonial president, Moshe Katsav, called the Danish attitude astonishing.

In a statement released by his office, Katsav accused Denmark of failing to speak out clearly against Palestinian terrorism, which had killed dozens of Israeli men, women and children in recent months.

"The Danish government should know that the bulwarks of Israeli democracy, including the Knesset, the courts and the press are among the most developed and the strongest in the world in protecting human rights.

"The Israeli security forces are among the morally enlightened in the democratic world," he added.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres staunchly defended Gillon, who is a former director of Peres' internationally renowned peace center, praising him as a "real proponent of peace."

"If Denmark acts according to this method, it cannot allow in any member of the PLO who at one time was involved in terrorism," Peres said in a radio interview.

"Is it permitted to be involved in terror, but forbidden to fight terror? Will they boycott all the members of the PLO? Will they boycott Iran and Iraq?" he asked.

Peres described the GSS as a "defense organ" rather than a "secret police." It had saved many lives by preventing suicide bombing attacks.

He called Gillon "a man of great integrity, extremely honest and ... a person favorably inclined towards [Israel's] Arab neighbors."

Ironically, it was Gillon who during his tenure at the top of the GSS chose to make interrogation methods "transparent," Peres said.

Natan Sharansky, an Israeli cabinet minister and former Soviet political prisoner who underwent around 200 KGB interrogations, said it was very hypocritical for Denmark to criticize Gillon and yet continue to receive PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, considering his terrorist past.

Prof. Yehuda Blum, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and expert in international law, said that the Danes were being "unfair" in the way they were handling the situation.

The Danes should not have initially accepted Gillon's appointment, only to subsequently change tack, he said, in the hope Israel would itself withdraw the appointment.

"If we were to withdraw [Gillon] it would be like an admission of guilt," he added.

This dispute and another brewing controversy over a Belgian investigation into charges of war crimes against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has prompted the foreign ministry to examine the judicial systems in countries throughout Europe and pinpoint problem spots.

Israel fears that some of its military officers could be subjected to arrest due to the changing European criminal laws.

"Following the international tendency of enlarging and deepening the international criminal legal system and the enlargement of the jurisdiction competence by many countries, we have been aware for some time of the necessity for mapping out countries whose jurisdiction competence covers acts that took place outside of their own territories and by people that are not their citizens," a ministry official said.

He said the ministry was in contact with those countries in order to avoid an "undue politicization" of international criminal law.