PRISONER X, MURDERED? February 14, 2013Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Israel-Palestine.
The ABC program cutely observed, “Israel has unique security problems”. And then we are reassured by the pronouncement that Israel is a democracy, but that neatly overlooks that its Arab citizens are either not fully represented, they have been exiled in the manner of a diaspora, often don’t vote when citizens, and when elected never are in government.
The odd thing is that is perfectly fine for Australian citizens to hold Israeli citizenship, provided they are Jewish and serve in the Israel Defence Force. How does that work?
Apparently not too well in the case of Ben Zygier, who went to Israel ten years ago, apparently joined Mossad, so he could travel on his Australian Passport (and presumably these records might exist if this happened), got married and had two children. The story goes he then did something that compromised Israeli security so critically that he was disappeared into a high level security jail in solitary confinement and somehow took his own life in 2010. His body was then flown back to Australia and buried. Israel is attempted to enforce a gag order around the case and the circumstances of Prisoner X’s death.
The New York Times reports:
It remains unclear what Prisoner X might have done to warrant such extreme treatment — and such extreme secrecy, which human rights groups have denounced as violating international law. What is clear is that the modern media landscape makes the Israeli censorship system established in the 1950s hopelessly porous: the Australian report quickly made the rounds on social media, prompting outraged inquiries from opposition lawmakers on the floor of Parliament.
. . . A spokeswoman for the Australian government said in an e-mail that its embassy was unaware of the prisoner’s detention until his family asked for help repatriating the remains, and that she could not “comment on intelligence matters (alleged or actual).”
The Australian report builds on news items from 2010 that described the death of Prisoner X in solitary-confinement cell 15 in a part of Israel’s Ayalon Prison said to have been created especially for Yigal Amir, who killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Prisoner X was not allowed visitors or a lawyer, according to those reports.
. . . Bill van Esveld, a Jerusalem-based analyst with Human Rights Watch, said the reports suggested a serious violation of international law. “That’s the most basic obligation you can think of, not disappearing people,” he said. “You can’t take somebody into detention, deny any knowledge of them, and not allow their families to be in communication with them, not allow them to see a lawyer or have any due process. That’s what needs to be looked into.”
. . . Israel has long employed a military censor and refused to acknowledge certain operations, most recently its airstrike last month in Syria. Most politicians here offer only winks and nods about Israel’s well-known nuclear program, and Israeli journalists are left to quote foreign news media reports about such things. Two weeks ago, Reporters Without Borders ranked Israel 112th out of 179 countries on its annual press freedom index.
But even within that context, experts said the Prisoner X situation was extraordinary. They likened it to the case of Marcus Klingberg, a Soviet spy who was held in Israel for years under a false name.
“There are some episodes in the history of Israel that are still kept under the strongest secrecy thick veil possible,” said Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist and contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine who is writing a book about the Mossad. “Some of them are 40 years old, 50 years old, and are still under thick, thick secrecy, and anyone violating this secrecy would be thrown into jail himself.”
Mr. Bergman said he had information about Prisoner X but could not share it because “so far the gag order is in motion and I’m an Israeli citizen.” Three former directors of the Mossad also refused on Tuesday to comment on the case.
The gag order in Israel has now been eased. The media is now able to report answers to questions in the Knesset. Meanwhile “The Guardian” reports:
In the aftermath of the revelations, Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT) has launched a review into how diplomats handled the case of Prisoner X.
The review was announced after it became known that department officials had been made aware in 2010 that Zygier was being held in jail in Israel, but had not passed on the information.
“DFAT had [originally] advised that it was unaware of Mr Allen’s detention in Israel,” a spokesman said. “DFAT has now advised that some officers of the department were made aware of Mr Allen’s detention at the time in 2010 by another Australian agency.”
Earlier, the foreign minister, Bob Carr, had said consul officials were not aware of Zygier’s circumstances until his parents asked for help in repatriating his body to Australia. Under normal circumstances, foreign embassies are usually advised if one of their nationals is being held in prison.
Zygier had various names, so it is significant that DFAT knows him as Allen.
Here is a brief take on the Foreign Correspondent Program:
The full program (with sub titles for Israeli viewers):
So what happens now. This story is unlikely to die, given the Australian investigation. Speculation around the death of Ben Zyglier will now be rife. What could he have done?
- Ruth Pollard, Strange Fate of Benji: The Suspected Spy (The Sydney Morning Herald)
It is understood the ASIO investigation into Mr Zygier and the two other men began at least six months before the January 10, 2010, assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, widely believed to have been carried out by Mossad using passports obtained from Australia and Europe.
Three of those suspected of taking part in the assassination were travelling on Australian passports, using the names of dual Australian-Israeli citizens, authorities in Dubai confirmed.
There is no suggestion that the three Australian names linked to Mabhouh’s assassination are connected to Mr Zygier or the other men being investigated by ASIO.
After initially denying Australia had any knowledge that one of its citizens was detained in Israel, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, said some officers in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were aware.
The revelations raise questions about how much the Australian government knew about the conditions under which Mr Zygier was being held in the maximum security Ayalon Prison.
- Mystery Israel prisoner ‘identified’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Australian diplomat ‘aware Zygier being held’ (theage.com.au)
- Carr orders review of Zygier case (news.theage.com.au)
- Did Australian Mossad Man Know Too Much About 9/11? (lataan.blogspot.com)
It is possible that Alon became a threat to Mossad because of certain knowledge he had about the events of 9/11. It could well be that by 2010 some kind of guilt complex had emerged and that he had indeed become a security threat. Whatever it was that got him to be secretly locked up and then killed, it must have been serious. It could even be that Mossad wanted to send a message to all of its agents – retired or still working – ‘there are certain things you simply don’t talk about – or else’.
- A real-life spy mystery unfolding in Israel (ndtv.com)
- Wife gave Zygier ‘distressing news’ before he died – Sydney Morning Herald – Sydney Morning Herald (smh.com.au)
There is more to this story. Ben Zygier, it turns out, was a student at Monash in 2009. The leading questions remain unanswered. Did his offence at the Israeli “police State” take place in Australia?
According to Paul Woodward at War in Context, his father, Geoffrey Zygier is a leading member of the Jewish community.
The report in the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, that was censored was reasonably detailed about the circumstances of Prisoner X’s incarceration:
Nobody knows who Mr. X. is. Ynet has learned that a man has been imprisoned for some time in wing 15 of Ayalon Prison but nobody knows who he is and what charges he is being jailed for. Nobody talks to him, nobody sees him, nobody visits him, nobody knows he is in jail. “He was placed in full and complete separation from the outside world,” said an Israel Prison Service official.
To enter the wing where the detainee is being held, you have to pass the jailers on the southern side of the prison and go through double iron doors. Unlike regular separation wings, where prisoners can talk loudly between the cells or see the goings-on in the corridors with mirrors, wing 15 has only one cell without neighboring cells and without a corridor, so that whoever is jailed in it is completely isolated from any living being.
“I don’t know any other prisoner or IPS detainee held in such severe conditions of separation and isolation,” said a Prison Service official. “There is confidentiality surrounding the detainee in wing 15 in every respect, including his identity and the crimes he committed. I doubt even the jailers in charge of him know who he is. There is too much confidentiality surrounding him. It is scary that in 2010 a man is imprisoned in Israel without us even knowing who he is.”
The official said, “it is simply a person without a name and without an identity who was placed in complete and absolute isolation from the outside world. We don’t know if he gets visits, if he gets the rights that every detainee deserves by law and if anybody even knows he is in jail.” The IPS declined to divulge who the person jailed there is. Its spokesman, Lt. Col. Yaron Zamir, said: “The IPS does not provide information about locations and names out of security considerations.”
Mr. X. is being kept in the wing originally built in order to jail Prime Minister Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir. Amir was jailed in the same cell under heavy security, with security cameras in the cell until December 2006, when he was moved to the separate wing at Rimonim prison in the Sharon district. The cell in wing 15 is relatively large and, in the case of Amir, his family met him in the cell so that he would not have to be taken out during visits.
There have been similar cases as Peter Beaumont reports in The Guardian.
According to The Sun Herald, DFAT was advised by another Government “agency” (presumably ASIO) of Ben Zygier’s imprisonment at the time. Now this is getting bizarre. Somebody had better start providing the full explanation.
ynet follows up with inside information from friends, suggesting “Ben talked too much”.
ABC News is reporting, “Doubts Over Prisoner X Suicide Claim” – imagine that! Earlier we were given now Senator Carr performance pretending to explain the death, without describing the charges against Ben Zygier. Who knows what the Australian Government, or its agencies, has been up to, that a death of a citizen cannot be fully explained? The testimony of his lawyer is given in the ABC report:
One of his Israeli lawyers who met him just days before his death says he gave no indication he was going to commit suicide.
“When I saw him, there was nothing to indicate he was going to commit suicide,” said Avigdor Feldman, a top human rights lawyer.
In an interview with Israel’s army radio, Mr Feldman said he had met Prisoner X to offer him advice ahead of his trial.
“His family asked that I meet him to advise him. The trial hadn’t properly started yet,” he said, indicating the prisoner had already been indicted and that talks were under way with senior prosecutors to reach a plea bargain.
“He asked for advice and I sat and listened to him. Not that I’m a psychologist, but he appeared rational, focused, he spoke clearly about the issue and didn’t exude any sense of self-pity.”
A day or two later, Mr Feldman’s liaison at the prison rang him to say the prisoner had died.
The lawyer admitted he was surprised “that a man who was being held in a cell like that, a cell which was being monitored and checked 24-hours a day, could manage to commit suicide by hanging himself.”
Mr Feldman, who said he knew the prisoner’s real name and had access to the file on his arrest but was unable to give any details for legal reasons, said it was clear the detainee was facing a very long jail term.
“I understood that he was told he was likely to face the longest possible jail term and that he was likely to be ostracised by his family,” he said.
“For security reasons, the prisoner was held under a pseudonym, but his family was notified of the arrest immediately,” it said.
“The prisoner was held in jail under a warrant issued by a court. The proceedings were overseen by senior officials in the justice ministry and he was duly represented in all the proceedings against him.”
The statement added that he “was found dead in his cell two years ago” and that a closed-door inquiry into the death was ordered at the time.
The justice ministry said the investigation concluded six weeks ago that the cause of the prisoner’s death was suicide, but that the judge recommended that the state “pursue a negligence investigation”.
“National security prevents the release of any other details in this case.”
If it took two years to establish a prisoner in a high security prison detained in solitary confinement died by suicide, it is unlikely, although perhaps not impossible, that any negligence will be established, since that was the purpose of the confinement, or so it might be argued. Then such proceedings are unlikely to be in an open court.
Ruth Pollard in The Sydney Morning Herald summarizes what is known about the Zygier case so far.
Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, who represented and wrote a book with one of the country’s most famous convicted spies, Marcus Klingberg, is horrified by the revelations about the Zygier case.
”Klingberg got pretty much the same treatment as this recent prisoner,” Sfard said on Thursday.
But Klingberg’s case – in which he was accused (and he admitted under interrogation) of spying for the KGB and was sentenced to 20 years in prison – was believed to be one of the last in which an Israeli was held in secret, Sfard said.
Sfard is also concerned by the discussion in Israel and Australia that assumes Zygier broke the law.
”He was not convicted, the trial never ended – it is very disturbing that there is this prima facie understanding that what the Mossad argues or claims is right – it is not necessarily always right” and Zygier was not necessarily guilty as charged, he said.
For now, the gag order issued on March 4, 2010, still stands, albeit with a reduced scope, while a family is left to wonder how their son died alone in a suicide-proof cell, entrusted to the care of the Israeli prison service.
Paul Woodward is a principle source on this story. He argues plausibly that Ben Zygier was involved in the Israeli murder of Mohammed Mabhoub in Dubai in January 2010. There is cause to be concerned about dual citizenship. Since when was it going to be super-smart to send a lawyer on a murder mission, and not cause that person ethical misgivings? It is always better to rely on psychopaths.Now if Ben Zygier had cooperated with the Kuwaitis, why did they not do a better job of looking after him, remembering he had a wife and two children living in Israel? What could the Australians done, since he had assumed Israeli citizenship, and had become half Australian, if that?
Zionism, although I do not know anything about its tenets and teaching may well be a dangerous philosophy that has created fortress, apartheid, police state Israel. If this story is not an example of hubris, I do not know what is. There is a story about means as ends in the making, and thought as prefiguring action.
An alternative, I have not thought about, is that all human beings without exception should have recourse to full human and legal rights, regardless of circumstances. The Palestinians are, for example, a classic case of a people without a state. So why should we just protest Australian citizens then?
In The Independent, Alistair Dawber suggests that Ben Zygier was involved with the murder of Iranian nuclear scientists. There is this comment:
Did Zygier deliberately, or inadvertently, feed information about Mossad operations to Iran, or other hostile countries? Was he a fully fledged double-agent? Was he feeding information about Israeli operations back to officials in Australia – it certainly seems as though one official at the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv knew about Zygier’s activities and he was known to Australia’s secret service agents.
No half measures entertained by Mossad, if the latest report of ABC News is to be believed.They claim that Ben Zygier had contact with ASIO, which the Israeli secret spy agency found out about and then they killed him, albeit not crudely, but imprisoning him in such a way, he would inevitably kill himself. Hence, they have deniability and the protection of legal cover, which they have for all their murders within Israel. Rachel Corrie is perhaps the best known case until now.
Tom Hyland writing at Crikey has further questions based on the inside briefing and subsequent stories by The Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Jason Koutsoukis:
So here are some local questions that go beyond how and why Zygier died. Whose idea was it to use the media in a dangerous tug-of-war between ASIO and Israeli intelligence? Who authorised the release by ASIO officers of classified information to a reporter? Was Zygier compromised by Koutsoukis’ phone calls? Why did the federal government not tell the public that an Australian citizen had died in secret Israeli detention, until the news was reported by ABC television last week?
And what does it say about Australia’s relationship with Israel, a supposed friend, when officials from both sides were unable to end this treacherous stand-off before it reached its fatal conclusion?
One other question: what are the chances the internal review into this tragedy, ordered by Foreign Minister Bob Carr, will answer any of these questions?
Ulrike PUtz, writing for Spiegel Online adds to the story by referencing the other Australian passport holders, and by suggesting how the Mossad recruitment worked:
Zygier’s case provides insight into the methods of Mossad. It shows how the service recruits agents and masks operations.
As a young man, Zygier got involved with the “Community Security Group” in Melbourne, a kind of Jewish citizens’ defense league. These groups often have links to Mossad and are instructed by agents. Ben Zygier was probably recruited in this way. At around the same time, Paul Y. and David Z. were recruited.
Felix Partrikeef, in The Conversation, does not focus on conditions of imprisonment (Why is a Jewish government engaged in scapegaoting?) but points out his wife has probably contacted the Australian Embassy, ASIO appears to be complicit in the secrecy surrounding the case, and the speculation that Ben Zygier was a double-agent. In other words nobody knows the facts surrounding this likely murder, and meantime Israel, as its’ wont is claiming the totalitarian resort to secrecy by the pretext of perpetual war, and it would seem Australia is travelling on the same road. Of course, there is the suggestion of an Israeli mole in Australia.
Trevor Bormann at ABC’s Foreign Correspondent now has an explanation for Ben Zygier’s incarceration and the secrecy surrounding the case. He apparently blew a secret mission to recover remains of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. So why is this explanation credible?