The Israeli judge appointed to investigate the death of Prisoner X (aka Ben Zygier) took two years to do so. She released her report only six weeks before Australian TV broke the story open by identifying Zygier as the victim. Yesterday, a mere eight pages of the report were released (Hebrew) to the public. Those eight pages, which we can assume are the least damaging to the State and the most emphatic in supporting its claim that he committed suicide, provide more than enough evidence to cast serious doubt on the narrative offered by the government.
While the judge finds that Zygier killed himself by attaching a sheet to a bar of his bathroom window, she also notes that trace amounts of a tranquilizer were found in his blood (keep in mind that he would not have been tested until hours after his death, since the security services tramped through the crime scene without allowing any other police or prison personnel to enter) along with bruises on his body. She finds that neither the tranquilizers nor bruises contributed to his death. What she really means is that they didn’t cause his death, which is of course the truth. But were they part of a larger plan to kill him? We must remember that Mahmoud al-Mabouh was murdered in a very similar fashion. He was administered a tranquilizer then smothered with a pillow. If there was a murderer, he couldn’t very well use the same method since smothering would be too suspicious. Suicide would be far more persuasive.
The judge concedes the possibility of foul play:
“Though the deceased was found hanged in the bathroom of the cell, this does not negate the theoretical possibility of active intervention on the part of another person who intentionally caused his death in this way.”
I also note that MK Uri Ariel, one of the most extreme right-wing members of Knesset, and who has no love lost with the security services, reported yesterday that he didn’t believe the prisoner committed suicide.
The most disturbing aspect of these findings (or tranquilizer traces and bruising) is there is no explanation for how they occurred. The judge does not explain how Zygier got a tranquilizer. Was he prescribed one? By whom? If he was not prescribed one, how did it enter his body? The judge says she cannot determine whether the bruises on his body were caused before or after death. This is but one important question to answer. What caused the bruises? An instrument? Another person? The movement of the body during the act of suicide? A forensic pathologist who wants to do so can answer many of these questions. Either these questions are answered in the 18 pages the judge maintained under gag or they aren’t answered at all.
The judge writes in her report that no one could’ve entered Zygier’s cell to kill him because there were no entrances not covered by surveillance. But she neglects to note that it was precisely the negligent surveillance of the cell to begin with that allowed the suicide. So are we to believe the prison service was negligent enough to allow him to kill himself but not negligent enough to miss someone entering the cell to kill him? Further, the prisoner service says it was not monitoring the cell, nor was it suicide proof. Who do you believe?
I’ve noted Israeli reports based on prison service eyewitnesses who noted that unnamed plainclothes security agents swarmed Zygier’s cell after his death. They were not doing a criminal investigation nor treating it as a crime scene. But there were reams of documents they signed as they left the cell indicating they may be coordinating their stories for the investigations to come. The judge’s finding do nothing to explain why this bizarre behavior.
Reports note that the State urged the judge to close her file without finding any criminal finding or negligence on any official party. Zygier’s family objected and complained that doing so would preclude assigning blame to any official party. The judge didn’t oblige the State and sent her findings to the attorney general to determine whether a case for negligence could be made against the guards. My guess is that the judge knew that if she acceded to the government, when this was exposed publicly she’d be a laughingstock. Blaming the prison service would be a classic stratagem for blaming low-man on the totem pole so you don’t have to place blame at the feet of the powerful men who really brought about his death: the directors of the Shabak and Mossad themselves.
This partial release of the judicial inquiry is wholly unsatisfactory and raises more questions than it answers. In fact, the 20 pages that remain sealed allow the public to harbor the impression there are further damaging facts and evidence that the State is concealing. If Israel doesn’t want the world to believe they’re covering up they must release this report in full.
A Haaretz headline yesterday asked why Zygier hanged himself. If he did, that’s not hard to fathom at all. Put yourself in his shoes. You are a young man from a sheltered Jewish suburban home in Melbourne. Your father is a major leader of the national Jewish community. You are seeking to make a mark for yourself so you can measure up. But you don’t feel you quite fit in. You’re a bit of a shlep, a bit of a wannabe rather than the real deal.
So you follow the vision of your Jewish youth embodied by HaShomer HaTzair and you make aliyah. You’re recruited to the Mossad possibly largely because of the value you offer in terms of being a dual national and your ability to obtain multiple fake passports for intelligence operations in Arab countries. While in the Mossad you’re still trying to prove to people how important you are and you blurt out to them that you’re a Mossad agent.
All of this doesn’t signal a person who’s cast from the same mold as legendary Mossad agents like Eli Cohen. Zygier still has a need to prove himself and violates the basic rules of spookdom of not blowing your cover.
On a related subject, I find it laughable that the official Australian Jewish community has emphatically denied that its Israel programs serve as a recruitment tool for the Mossad. This denial flies in the face of the fact that the Italian front company was established, as I wrote, by three Australian-Israelis recruited precisely because they were both ardent Zionists and had access to western passports needed for covert operations. Living in denial is one thing, but when you try to persuade others that your denial is an accurate representation of reality, that’s where I part company.
During his spy service, Zygier plays a key role in setting up a Mossad front company in Milan which trades in electronic and computer gear to Iran (Italian security services where are you as the Mossad is violating western sanctions against Iran?). He and his other two Australian-Israeli agents make multiple trips to Iran, Syria and Lebanon for these trade missions. They possibly serve other roles in assisting Mossad’s efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
Further, Zygier plays a key role in the agency’s secret operation to secure fraudulent western passports for agents who assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabouh. Israel, in fact, arrested him on the same day (February 24 2010) that the Dubai police revealed Israeli agents used such passports to enter and exit its country. It appears likely that the Australian intelligence services may’ve gotten Zygier to confess his role in the passports operation. Australia may, in turn, have passed this information on to the Dubai authorities.
When Mossad discovered Dubai was about to announce the identity of the 27 agents (or at least the forged passports they used) it would’ve realized they’d been compromised from the inside. It wouldn’t have taken long for suspicions to fall on Zygier, since Jason Koutsoukis had already pointed a finger in his direction with a story he published about the Iran front-company in the same period.
Once Zygier is arrested and in Ayalon prison, Shabak interrogators begin squeezing him. They want to know not only what he told the Australians, but they want him to go quietly so as not to cause embarrassment to the State and particularly the Mossad. The Shabak is not known for subtlety. They have only one mode: bullying. So they told him if he didn’t accept a plea deal and admit guilt he’d go away for life, never see his family again. They told him his name would be synonymous with treason both in Israel and Australia. He would have no life left worth living.
Then they offered him the plea deal. According to Yediot Achronot, it was 10-20 years in prison. When Zygier’s wife sent Avigdor Feldman to consult with him about whether to accept the plea deal, Feldman undoubtedly told him that security detainees who go to trial never get off. There is no such thing as acquittal or innocence. The interrogators had already promised him a sentence of life in prison if he rejected the plea deal. So he has three choices: go to trial and face life in prison; accept a plea and spend the best years of your life (including the growing up of your two daughters, one of whom is born four days before your death) in solitary confinement before you’re released; or death.
Are you surprised he would choose death? Keep in mind this is not an Israeli or Palestinian in whom a certain grit and toughness is instilled from youth. This is a sheltered kid from the ‘burbs. He’s not used to the grilling, the shouting, the abuse, the browbeating meted out by the Shabak. He’s not used to the isolation of prison. Hell, he’s not even used to prison itself.
My question is why the authorities wouldn’t have anticipated a suicide attempt. Of course, unless they figured that a dead prisoner would be better than a live one; and did nothing to hinder his attempt.
I reported here a few days ago that Security Minister Aharonovich made the laughable claim that Zygier had been afforded the finest mental health treatment the Prison Service budget could buy. Now, the Prison Service tells us the truth–that they could offer him none of these services because there was a strict veil of secrecy over the prisoner. How could a social worker or psychologist have treated a man who didn’t exist? How could the prisoner have shared any of his case with them? I don’t mind that Israeli leaders lie. It’s the absolute shallowness and insult of their lies that disturbs me.
Chicago NPR station WBEZ interviewed me for its Worldview program on the Zygier case. Listen to the audio here.