On the day he hanged himself in the shower of his solitary cell, the Australian-born Israeli spy known as Prisoner X had a visit from his wife in which he received difficult news; he emerged crying. He was taking anti-anxiety medication at the time, and told social workers that he had twice before attempted suicide and once cut his own hand.
These new details in the mysterious case of Benjamin Zygier were revealed on Thursday in an investigative report by a judge, Daphna Blatman Kedrai, who said there was evidence “to charge elements in the prison service for causing the death” and singled out a prison officer and two guards. But Israel’s chief prosecutor, Moshe Lador, announced on Thursday that there would be no indictments.
Mr. Zygier’s incarceration and death in 2010 were kept under extraordinary secrecy for more than two years; when they came to light, the case prompted international headlines and accusations of negligence by the Israeli Prison Service. Judge Kedrai wrote in her 29-page report that guards failed to fulfill orders to monitor Mr. Zygier constantly with cameras and check on him every half-hour.
“He was a prisoner who was in danger and needed supervision,” the judge wrote. “The foreseeability of self-harm was something that every one of the people in the chain of supervision and the command of the prison service should have been aware of.”
In his own lengthy report, the chief prosecutor, Mr. Lador disputed the finding that Mr. Zygier’s death was foreseeable. He noted that during his 10 months in Ayalon Prison, psychiatrists examined Mr. Zygier 14 times and social workers met with him 57 times; they repeatedly said he was not a high suicide risk. Because Mr. Zygier died within a few minutes of tying a bedsheet around his neck, the prosecutor said, the guards’ failure to check on him that night also cannot be blamed.
“The degree of supervision over the deceased was stricter than that which was determined by psychiatric assessments,” Mr. Lador wrote. “The responsibility for the well-being of a person” in custody, it adds, “does not in and of itself impose criminal responsibility.”
The two reports were released on Thursday after Israeli news organizations challenged a court order banning reporting on the case. They shed no light on what Mr. Zygier, who was 34, may have done during his years working for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, or on why he was imprisoned in February 2010.
An Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the German magazine Der Spiegel jointly reported last month that Mr. Zygier had unintentionally exposed two top Israeli informants who were spying on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization that Israel fought in a monthlong war in 2006. The two informants were later sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Mr. Zygier, who grew up in a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne, Australia, immigrated to Israel as a young man and served in its military. The Der Spiegel-Morning Herald report said he was sent to Europe by the Mossad in 2005 to infiltrate companies that did business with Iran and Syria, but returned to a desk job at the spy agency in Tel Aviv in 2007 and later went to Australia to study for a master’s degree.
Earlier news reports claimed that Israel arrested Mr. Zygier because he was on the verge of revealing secrets about Mossad using false Australian and other passports, a claim dismissed by the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Lawyers for Mr. Zygier have said he was in plea-bargain talks at the time of his death on Dec. 15, 2010.
The reports released Thursday include previously unreported narrative details of that day. Mr. Zygier’s Israeli wife and one of his two daughters entered his cell at 11:10 a.m. At 12:05 p.m., a prison officer reported, Mr. Zygier was “crying, nervous and upset.” When the officer refused Mr. Zygier’s request to give his wife a piece of paper, the report said, “his reaction was to tear up the piece of paper and express rage.” His wife returned to the cell, and came out crying herself.
Later that day, according to the report, Mr. Zygier was awakened to take a telephone call from his lawyer.
At 6:05 p.m., Mr. Zygier turned off the light in his cell, turned on the television, and got into bed. A minute later, he turned off the television, but at 6:54 p.m. he turned it back on. The cell was dark, its bathroom darker, and his movements were difficult to discern, the judge’s report said. On top of that, one of the cameras trained on Mr. Zygier’s cell malfunctioned, the report said, and the prison’s monitoring team was short staffed. Guards did not check on him every half-hour, as they were supposed to do; the next entry in the prison’s logbook was for 8:19 p.m., when he was discovered hanging in the shower, motionless.
The prison service said in a statement that there had been “a dramatic decrease” in prisoner suicides in recent years, and that the prosecutors’ report would be “learned in all its aspects.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an advocacy group, noted that the judge had found both “systematic failures” of communication among prison workers and “pinpoint failures” specific to Mr. Zygier, like the camera and staffing problems the day he died.
“These issues require the prison service to take measures against those involved in the issue and learn lessons to prevent similar incidents in the future,” the group said in a statement.
Thursday, 25 April 2013
Posted @ 09:27