Plot Thickens in Suicide of Israel’s Top-Secret ‘Prisoner X’

Camille Beredjick

Israel today partially lifted a gag order investigating the death of Ben Zygier, the suspected Mossad agent formerly imprisoned in Israel and known as Prisoner X. Officials are now reporting Zygier hanged himself in his cell in December 2010, after the government had concealed details of his death—and his incarceration—for several years. Zygier was born in Australia, but had joint nationality after emigrating to Israel. He worked for the country’s Mossad spy agency and was arrested in February 2010 for “unspecified security offenses” whose details were never released. Israel kept the case so quiet jailors weren’t allowed to know the man’s name, hence the nicknames Prisoner X and Mr. X. Israel premier Benjamin Netanyahu denies allegations that Zygier worked for Australia's secret service, but Australian media report that he had passed off information about Mossad operations to ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation]. Israel only acknowledged the case publicly last week after Australian TV broke the story.  Investigators now report Zygier was found dead in the bathroom of his cell in Ayalon Prison in Ramla in December 2010. Guards say they had been instructed to check on him every 20 to 25 minutes rather than at more frequent intervals because he was not believed to be suicidal. He was reportedly subject to “round-the-clock surveillance from in-cell cameras,” prompting questions about failings in Israel's prison system that leave prisoners unsupervised long enough to commit suicide.  From the New York Times: “We demand that Israel tell us exactly what happened to Ben,” an unidentified family member was quoted by the Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot as saying. The part of the report that was released — 10 of 29 pages, skipping paragraphs 15 to 33 — indicates that the Zygier family supported the investigation, including an autopsy, and participated in the process. Three lawyers represented Mr. Zygier during the investigation, and his wife came before the judge at least once, the report says. …  “The obligations that are put on to the prison authority are many and difficult to carry out,” judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai added. “At the same time, the regulations for special supervision to prevent the danger of suicide were given, and these were known to the different forces who were in charge of supervising. These regulations were not carried out.”

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Camille Beredjick is a student of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a Spring 2013 ITT intern.
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