Prisoner X is a name that the Israeli government has at least twice given to a prisoner in their system, particularly at Ayalon Prison. However, today the pseudonym is used to refer to a prisoner that the government only just admitted they once held. The announcement that there was a Prisoner X, that he was a dual citizen with one of his homes being Israel and that he committed suicide while in prison was made on February 13, 2013. Until then, reporters in Australia were already hot on the trail of the prisoner’s identity. Once the announcement came out, the most likely identity of Prisoner X became glaringly obvious, though why he was kept a secret is still a mystery.
All the media knows about Prisoner X is what the Israelis said about him in their recent comments on the man. They did not reveal his true identity. They did not comment on the crimes for which he was being held. They did not say whether he was tried or whether he was found guilty. However, the fact that he held dual citizenship and committed suicide in his cell led Australian Broadcasting System’s investigative journalist Trevor Bormann to surmise Prisoner X’s identity as an Israeli-Australian man named Ben Zygier.
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Ben Zygier, also known as Ben Allon and Benjamin Burrows, was born into a Jewish family in Melbourne. He was active in the Jewish community there and stayed until he was roughly 20 years old when he moved to Israel. He returned to Australia frequently enough to raise the suspicion of Australian intelligence and to earn a law degree. He worked at a law firm in Israel and was also known to travel to Syria and Iran. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two children.
Something went wrong for Ben Zygier in 2010, though precisely what happened is unclear. According to Australian authorities, they received word that Israel had a dual citizen in its custody and that the prisoner was charged with severe crimes against Israel. This is interesting, as Zygier had also been accused of spying on Australia and being a member of the Mossad — the Israeli equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency. Neither the prison nor Zygier’s lawyer would release the charges that were brought against Ben. However, that did not stop other sources from speculating.
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Zygier’s lawyer said that the charges were not major and that Ben was not being charged with anything traitorous. A newspaper in Kuwait said that he had been charged with trying to sell Israeli secrets to India. India had agreed to protect him, but the Mossad found him. Australian sources said that Zygier was about to blow the whistle on Israel about using foreign passports in an assassination. However, if Zygier was planning that, he never got to do it. Could he have been spying for everyone and selling secrets whenever he got the chance? Yes, he could have been. Nonetheless, there is no evidence that he did anything wrong, only speculation and secret charges that never went to trial.
In December of 2010, Ben Zygier’s lawyer saw him. He later said that he did not seem depressed or suicidal. Prison guards said the same. He was not on suicide watch. It was said that he was in the middle of a plea bargain that would result in minimal punishment, nothing severe. He did tell his lawyer that he was being treated poorly, but no one knows to what extent or even if this was true. The prison is equipped with surveillance cameras that do not appear to have picked up any abuse. Nevertheless, there is a however.
Ben Zygier went into the bathroom of his cell on December 15, 2010, and hanged himself with a sheet. The cameras were not in the bathroom, but they did not pick up anyone coming into the cell before the suicide. There is no reason to believe someone else was involved, but there are a few interesting parts of the coroner’s report. Ben had bruises on his body, though they may have been postmortem. Even stranger was unexplained trace elements of tranquilizer. If the authorities know why he had sedatives in his system, they have not yet said.
All of the elements of Ben Zygier’s arrest and imprisonment match up to what little we know about Prisoner X. He was held in Ayalon, he was a dual citizen and he killed himself. That is a tough description to match and the media has yet to find another person who fits the description. Ben Zygier was most likely Prisoner X, but that in itself raises an important question. What could Ben Zygier have possibly done that would lead Israel to depersonalize him with a pseudonym, put a gag order on the case and continue to hide the circumstances of his arrest, despite the shady circumstances of his death being public knowledge?