"We will act in the same way with other prisoners if we believe that state security warrants it," a senior legal official said Thursday in reference to the treatment of the controversial Prisoner X, who has dominated the headlines in Israel and Australia in recent days.
The official added that the State Prosecutor's Office was looking into whether negligence indictments are in order in the affair involving the reported imprisonment and subsequent suicide of Ben Zygier, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen, a suspected Mossad agent who died in a high security prison cell in Israel under an assumed identity.
The official stressed that there are no unidentified prisoners in Israel, only prisoners who, for security reasons, are held under assumed identities, at times even with the prisoners' consent.
In an interview with Army Radio, former senior Mossad official Rafi Eitan commented on the affair, saying that "Israel doesn't know how to handle the difficulty of concealing information."
"It is possible that there are additional prisoners currently being held anonymously, because Israel is unlike any other country. Israel is in the midst of an ongoing war that requires technology of some form," Eitan said.
"Israel is an island in a hostile sea of countries that are, sadly, still stuck in the 14th century," Eitan went on to say. "The threat against Israel is ongoing and real and therefore there is no other choice — such mechanisms need to be implemented by our intelligence services despite reports in the global media."
According to Eitan, the concealment of a prisoner is one of the tools that Israel has adopted in efforts to protect itself. "The very exposure of the existence of this prisoner and the photos of him that are widely distributed can lead to the exposure of people that he worked with or had contact with and who worked together with him for us."
"That is why, in cases like this, there is no other choice but to keep a man like this under wraps," Eitan explained.
Meanwhile, a senior Justice Ministry official who declined to provide his name said Thursday that "there are no 'Prisoner Xs' in Israel. It's a dictatorship term for when people just up and disappeared. We're not denying prisoners all contact with the world. In Israel, 99.9 percent of prisoners are incarcerated under their given names and only in a few, very rare and very unusual cases are they held under a pseudonym to protect their safety and state security."
The official, who followed the case from its initial stages, said, "There is no chance prisoners rights will be abrogated in the name of state security. But sometimes, you need to isolate individual prisoners so that secrets aren't exposed, so that people don't talk too much. Actually, in this case it was all the more imperative to work punctiliously by the book. All this slander published by the media, and I think it is nothing less than slander — as if Israel were being run like a dictatorship or as if the state forbids its people from due representation — is hogwash and causes the state serious damage.
"Not exposing the names of such prisoners and holding them under a pseudonym stems from the fear that if we announce such a person's incarceration, it could cause grave harm to state security," the official explained.
When the prisoner was arrested, the authorities immediately notified his family, the official said, adding that such prisoners are duly represented in all proceedings by a lawyer, are allowed family visits and prison furloughs, and stand trial under judicial supervision.
A statement by the Justice Ministry said “The prisoner in question was found dead in his cell two years ago. Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai, serving as president of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, ordered an inquiry into his death, in accordance with the Inquest of Death Law (1958)." The statement continues: “The prisoner was held by proxy of an arrest warrant issued by the court. The proceedings were overseen by senior officials in the justice ministry and he was duly represented in all the proceedings against him by attorneys Roi Belcher, Moshe Mazor and Boaz Ben-Zur.”
The ministry also emphasized that the prisoner's legal rights were observed at all times, according to the law.
“During this proceeding, a writ ordering it be held behind closed doors was issued. The order still stands,” the statement further adds.
The judicial official said Zygier "was imprisoned under another name not just to protect state security, but also to protect the prisoner himself. Publishing his name could have endangered both his life and his family. He agreed to be held under a pseudonym. His family was notified concurrently with his arrest, he was represented by a lawyer, an indictment was filed against him that was approved by the most senior judicial officials, he stood a routine criminal trial at a district court, and, unfortunately, during the course of the proceedings, he committed suicide."
Judge Blatman-Kedrai oversaw a thorough investigation concerning the cause of Zygier's death, the official continued.
"We determined unequivocally from the investigation into the cause of death that he committed suicide. The State Prosecutor will check to see if there is reason enough to issue an indictment for negligence regarding the prisoner's suicide," the official said.
"There was an all-encompassing gag order for reasons of national security. The court, headed by former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, reviewed The Association for Human Rights' appeal with regards to the gag order. The president recommended that the association withdraw the petition, and she held to it."
Since the case was publicized recently, the State Prosecutor's Office has proposed limiting the duration of a gag order, the official said.
"We didn't try to stymie foreign reports. A few hours after the publication, we asked the court to shorten the gag order to allow Israeli sources to publish anything that was also published abroad. When we saw the level of hype and misinformation, we asked the court again — twice in 24 hours — to release a statement on the case," he said.
Meanwhile, attorney Avigdor Feldman claimed on Wednesday to have met the man called "Prisoner X" the day before he committed suicide in a solitary confinement cell at the Ayalon Prison. Feldman came to meet Zygier along with three attorneys that were representing the prisoner during legal proceedings.
"When I saw him there he showed no signs that he wanted to commit suicide. He sounded rational and was considering all the legal options, which I cannot divulge right now," Feldman said.
"I met a man that was focused and emotionally stable, though slightly anxious and scared. He wanted to fight for his innocence," Feldman recalled.
"He was not withdrawn and he didn't burst into tears," he continued. "I didn't get the impression that this man was going to take his own life. When I heard about what he did, I was shocked. The prisoner's family knew about his incarceration and my understanding is that they also visited him in prison. If I examine things after the fact, I believe without a doubt that solitary confinement played a role in the tragic decision that Zygier made. Solitary confinement is something that can shatter a prisoner's spirit and create a supremely high risk for suicide."