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Israel releases judge's report into Australian's suicide
Published Tuesday 19/02/2013 (updated) 21/02/2013 13:48
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An Israeli prison guard stands outside Ayalon prison in Ramle near
Tel Aviv Feb. 13, 2013. (Reuters/Nir Elias)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel released details on Tuesday about the 2010 jailhouse suicide of an Australian immigrant reported to have been a disgraced Mossad spy, saying he hanged himself in his cell and no foul play was involved.

The affair was kept under wraps until it emerged last week with an Australian television expose that identified the dead man as 34-year-old Ben Zygier, a likely Israeli foreign intelligence recruit held for suspected security offences.

Without explicitly naming Zygier, Israel has confirmed that at the time it had a dual citizen in custody and under alias to stem serious harm to national interests, on which it would not elaborate. The Dec. 15 date it gave for the detainee's death matched that etched on the Melbourne-born Jew's gravestone.

Easing a gag order, an Israeli court allowed the publication on Tuesday of the results of a judge's inquiry, completed two months ago, into the death.

The investigation showed the prisoner looped a wet sheet around his neck, tied it to the bars of a bathroom window in his cell and hanged himself, choking to death.

Israeli media reported the bathroom area was not covered, for privacy reasons, by closed-circuit television cameras that transmitted images from other parts of the isolation cell.

Ruling out foul play on the basis of medical and physical evidence, Judge Dafna Blatman-Kardai said entry to the cell was monitored by cameras and examination of their footage showed no one "intervened in causing the death of the deceased".

She said his family -- which has not commented publicly on the case -- agreed with the findings.

"A small amount of sedative was found in his blood. There was no alcohol or drugs. This does not change my determination ... about the cause of death," a forensic medical expert was quoted as saying in the judge's report.

Civil liberties groups and some lawmakers in Israel, protesting at the state censorship restricting local reporting on the case, have demanded to know whether Zygier's rights were violated by his months of incarceration, isolated from other inmates, and whether his death could have been prevented.

Those calls were echoed in Australia, where media suggested Zygier had been suspected of betraying Mossad missions to Canberra's spy services. Australia was angered in 2010 by the fraudulent use of its passports in the assassination of a Hamas arms procurer in Dubai, which the Gulf emirate blamed on Israel.

Negligence in question

In her report, the judge said there was prima facie evidence that the Prisons Authority had been negligent, noting that it had received special instructions on supervising the prisoner to prevent a possible suicide.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said state prosecutors would decide whether charges will be brought.

A source briefed on the affair told Reuters that Israel has since installed biometric detectors in the toilet stalls of high-risk prisoners, designed to summon guards within seconds should they stop breathing or display other signs of distress.

Responding to the media reports about Zygier, Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told parliament on Monday that the detainee had received frequent family visits and been "supervised by mental-health support and treatment systems, both external and those of the Prisons Service".

Zygier also consulted with Israeli lawyers, one of whom, Avigdor Feldman, said he saw the married father of two shortly before his death to discuss "grave charges" on which he had been indicted, and the possibility of a plea bargain.

"I met with a balanced person ... who was rationally weighing his legal options," Feldman told Israeli television last week, adding Zygier had denied the charges against him.

"His interrogators told him he could expect lengthy jail time and be ostracised from his family and the Jewish community. There was no heart string they did not pull, and I suppose that ultimately brought about the tragic end."

Feldman declined to comment on an Israeli newspaper report that Zygier faced between 10 and 20 years in prison.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor on Saturday called Zygier's death a "tragedy" but said his treatment was justified.
1 ) Colin Wright / USA
19/02/2013 22:12
I'll be darned -- the report exonerates Israel!

2 ) ian / australia
20/02/2013 12:36
If all it takes is a wet sheet and a private bathroom, with bored guards presumably not watching the monitor, Ayalon prison might want to rethink "suicide proof".

3 ) Rami / Palestine
20/02/2013 12:47
#1 Who would'a thunk it, right? I mean it's not like Israel is exonerated of every single investigation it has conducted into itself in the last 65 years, right?

4 ) Rami / Palestine
20/02/2013 16:19
How do we knows if the Australian was killed in the jail,or even overseas??

5 ) Mel / USA
20/02/2013 18:37
"Sanitization"!"White-wash"!"..hermetically sealing him off" from probability of suicidal acts. Whatever Israel says 'officially',global consensus knows the OPPOSITE is usually FACT! Zionism's crimes are routine POLICY.Listen very carefully to this 33 mins interview re:Aussie Mossad-spy Ben Zygier(Prisoner X)& how Australian,US,S.African,Jews,shamefully"endorse"Zionist practices,regardless of consequences!http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/20/prisoner_x_as_secrecy_falls_doubts

6 ) Colin Wright / USA
20/02/2013 21:22
All this is going to show the power of repetition -- no matter how improbable the assertion. Israel keeps describing Zygier's death as a 'suicide' -- and people start thinking it was. Look at the headline right here: 'Israel releases judge's report into Australian's suicide.' 'Australian's Death' would have been more noncommittal.

7 ) Colin Wright / USA
20/02/2013 21:48
'Israeli media reported the bathroom area was not covered, for privacy reasons, by closed-circuit television cameras that transmitted images from other parts of the isolation cell.' This is a subtle but distinct variation on the original version, which is that there is no footage because the camera was turned off. The former version may have had the virtue of at least being the truth. It's perfectly possible the camera was turned off. That'd be one hot download.

8 ) Colin Wright / USA
20/02/2013 21:51
To Rami #4 'How do we knows if the Australian was killed in the jail,or even overseas??' Oh of course one doesn't KNOW anything -- that's the whole point. To leave the audience immobilized by fear and uncertainty. But one can guess. I think the 'light abrasion' came when Zygier realized what was up and tried to resist when they drugged him, and that's where the sedatives came from. Then, of course, they hung him. He was going to insist on a trial -- and he couldn't be allowed to testify.

9 ) ian / australia
21/02/2013 23:05
The Ben Zygier news cycle seems to be over. It took about a week. At first he was the "alleged" suicide and spy and possible "victim". The silence of the government and press gag (for "security reasons") added to it. They looked panicked and sinister. Then the machine kicked in and he was spun from victim to traitorous villain. A new reassuring version emerged: BZ was a traitor, a disloyal Jew, a loose cannon, a cynical opportunist, a snitch blabbing state secrets to a foreign government and

10 ) ian / australia
21/02/2013 23:05
(contd.) a threat to Israel. And Mossad is the blameless protector of the state with the PM calling for the spotlight to be "turned off" to let them get on with their essential (secret) work. He regrets being unable to provide more detail but the charges are SO "grave" and Israel's security SO important (living in such a "dangerous neighbourhood") he can't. It's masterly. Goebbelesque. The niggling doubts of sceptics (the "suicide-proof" prison, the over-the-top secrecy of the "disappearing"

11 ) ian / australia
21/02/2013 23:18
(contd.) and Israel's sudden concern about being shamed on the world stage as a passport thief (!) incurring the wrath of Australia (hah!) sort of melt away. With the official whitewash finding no-one negligent and the prison blameless, the whole Stalinesque process is complete and the truth totally buried. (Of course, it involves major character assassination, something the family in Melbourne seem strangely unperturbed about, but then, compared to being strangled with a wet sheet, I guess

12 ) ian / australia
21/02/2013 23:19
(contd.) that's small beer.

13 ) gabi / australia
22/02/2013 08:38
Colin Wright - don't know if this hit your newspapers but here, in the Financial Review, a journo suggested that X was about to blow the whistle on the fact that Iran was no threat to Israel - he'd been there doing a bit of spying for Mossad, and discovered that Israel was pushing an empty barrow. And of course they couldn't let this out because that would question their whole "right to defend ourselves" which is how they get away with murder.
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