Update from NIF grantee ACRI on 'Prisoner X' - New Israel Fund Australia

Update from NIF grantee ACRI on 'Prisoner X'

ACRI logoHaving first become involved in 2010, New Israel Fund's flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), has written to Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan regarding the ongoing 'Prisoner X' case. A full copy of the letter is republished below, and available in Hebrew on ACRI's website.

To:   Mr Shai Nitzan, Deputy Attorney General

Re:   Prisoner X

Dear Mr Nitzan,

Our involvement in this case following our letter to the Attorney General in June 2010 demanding the publication of details surrounding the arrest (and later, the circumstances of the death) of the prisoner, referred to as Prisoner X, are well known to you and I do not need to go into them again here.

Yesterday we once again saw the disturbing occurrence of an invisible hand taking care to remove from Israeli news sites reports on an investigative feature by the Australian Broadcast Company into the affair. This morning, detailed reports once again appeared in the Israeli media, and I therefore conclude that the gag order was limited to allow coverage of details that were reported by the foreign press. This raises a serious doubt about the original justification of requesting such a sweeping gag order that limits publishing information that has already been published by media outlets abroad and that is rife on the internet – especially social media, blogs etc.

What is far more concerning of course is the fact that a man was held in detention under heavy secrecy, and nothing was published about the reason for his arrest or the circumstances surrounding his death.

If there is any truth in the reports that the man in question was a Mossad employee, and if the assesment voiced by Australian intelligence experts is correct that the case concerns the transfer of highly sensitive and secret materials, it may well be that the gag order on the details of the case is justified. However, there is an absolute public interest in knowing what conclusions were made following the affair and what lessons have been learned to prevent similar cases in the future. The answers to such questions do not have to relate to the role of the employee or his area of work, but they do concern the conduct of the organization, as well as the supervision and regulation of its activities.

Of even greater concern is the information published about the prisoner being held in complete solitary confinement, his identity kept confidential, and cut off from the outside world. According to the investigative report that was published, even though he was placed in the maximum-security cell, with security cameras monitoring the cell 24 hours a day, he died. Without relating to the justification for the sweeping gag order on the affair, given that he was detained, there is considerable public interest in information on the investigation into the detainee’s death, and in answers to the following questions: Was it really suicide? Was there negligence in the supervision of the detainee? Has any official body taken responsibility? What steps have been taken to prevent the recurrence of similar events in the future?

We believe that it is possible to answer the above questions while safeguarding state security on the one hand, and [enabling] transparency over the acts or failures that occurred on the other. The public interest in supervision and regulation of state authorities – including the security services – necessitates accountability for the severe failures that occurred and the methods of dealing with them and correcting them.

We therefore ask you to ensure that a request to scale down the sweeping gag order is presented to the court, allowing the publication of information concerning the issues outlined above.

Yours sincerely,

Dan Yakir, Attorney
Chief Legal Counsel