Mordechai Vanunu apparently placed in isolation

Amnesty International reported today that “Israeli nuclear whistleblower” Mordechai Vanunu has now “been placed in an isolated cell, ostensibly to protect him from other prisoners”.

Vanunu, who served 18 years in Israeli jail for giving for publication photos he took while working at Israel’s Dimona Nuclear Reactor facility, was recently returned to jail on a three-month sentence for refusing to carry out community service in a Jewish area of Jerusalem — a penalty imposed on him for violating conditions imposed when he was released from jail in April 2004 (including a ban on talking to “foreigners”, or approaching embassies or consulates).

Apparently, Vanunu’s isolated cell is in a “dangerous criminals section”. He is being held in Ayalon Prison in central Israel.

Amnesty said it got this information from Vanunu’s lawyer, Michael Sfard, who “was able to visit him”. Sfard told Amnesty International that: “Mordechai Vanunu is suffering from isolation. He should not be made to pay a price because of the enmity of others towards him.”

Amnesty also reported that Mordechai Vanunu’s brother, Meir Vanunu, said: “We fear for the impact this will have on his health”.

Amnesty International is now calling Vanunu a “Prisoner of Conscience”.

Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East Programme, said that “Mordechai Vanunu should not be in prison at all, let alone be held in solitary confinement in a unit intended for violent criminals … He suffered immensely when he was held in solitary confinement for 11 years after his imprisonment in 1986 and to return him to such conditions now is nothing less than cruel, inhuman or degrading”…

Interesting work being done by Richard Silverstein on his Tikkun Olam blog has led to the revelation (in a post dated 16 June) that there apparently is, also in the very same Ayalon Prison in central Israel, a “Mr. X” who is reportedly being kept totally incommunicado: “A few days ago I reported about the sad fate of a prisoner in the Ayalon jail, kept in solitary confinement with no contact with anyone outside or inside the prison (except presumably his interrogators). The story was originally reported by Ynet. The article was then ‘disappeared’ from the site by gag order. Besides this element of the story, I also broke subsequent news that a source in the prison service said Mr. X, as he’s being called in the Israeli media, was a ‘terrorist guilty of involvement in a banned organization’. It should be added that the Israeli authorities have quite a sweeping and often unjustified notion of what constitutes a ‘terrorist’. Israelis I’ve consulted believe the prisoner hasn’t been convicted yet of any crime. Israeli security laws allow for extended detention of individuals who haven’t been convicted of any crime in certain cases. It appears the mysterious Mr. X may be such a one. I’m delighted that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has taken up the cause with a letter [here there is a link to a Hebrew-language website for] to the Israeli [Attorney General], Yehuda Weinstein, protesting the conditions of this man’s detention and the profound violations of democracy they entail: ‘Secret arrests and laws are unacceptable in a free democratic society. They threaten, in a very real sense, the rule of law and damage in a profound way the faith of the public in the justice system. We don’t know a thing about the circumstances of this matter. And we don’t intend to deal in speculation…But it’s important to emphasize that from the moment that someone is arrested, and certainly from the moment he is brought to justice, there is no justification for such sweeping secrecy. It is insupportable that in a democratic country authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear them from public view without the public even knowing such an arrest took place‘. The letter continues by noting that a report written by the staff of the prison service and Interior Ministry noted the likelihood of grave and irreparable psychological damage posed to prisoners by placing them in isolation, especially long-term isolation. As a result of the report, a law was passed whose essential element was the recognition that isolation was to be used as a measure of last resort. ACRI emphasizes further the critical importance of the principle of openness and transparency in such processes. Such openness is a fundamental means to guarantee the freedom to publicly criticize the administration of justice. In light of this, the NGO asks the Minister to inquire urgently into the matter of Mr. X and to remove the veil of secrecy cast over this case to ensure that the prisoner is treated as the law demands”. This post can be read in full here.

[Silverstein reported in a post published on his blog a day or two earlier, on 14 June, that “An Israeli journalist today reports to me that a source, also within the prison service, confirms Yossi and I were right. Not only is there a gag order against publishing anything about Mr. X, there is a ban on revealing that there is a gag order of any kind … Now, think about this. A man is imprisoned for no one knows what. Not only can’t any Israeli report on who he is or what he has done. You can’t even report that he EXISTS … If we in the U.S. want to conjecture where outrages like Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, etc. can lead we should look no farther than Mr. X. No matter what this man may have done (and again, we don’t have a clue whether he is guilty of anything), society – whether Israel or the U.S.– is totally corrupted when it disappears people in such a way”… ] This is published here.

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  1. Why Israel Persists to Persecute Mordechai Vanunu

    Begins on 24 April 2004, which was three days after Mordechai Vanunu was released from 18 years in a windowless tomb sized cell jail for providing the photographic proof and telling the truth about Israel’s clandestine seven story underground WMD Program in the Negev, Uri Avnery wrote:

    “Everybody understands that he has no more secrets. What can a technician know after 18 years in jail, during which technology has advanced with giant steps?

    “But gradually it becomes clear what the security establishment is really afraid of. Vanunu is in a position to expose the close partnership with the United States in the development of Israel’s nuclear armaments.

    “This worries Washington so much, that the man responsible in the State Department for ‘arms control’, Under-Secretary John Bolton, has come to Israel in person for the occasion. Vanunu, it appears, can cause severe damage to the mighty super-power.

    “The Americans, it seems, are very worried. The Israeli security services have to dance to their tune. The world must be prevented by all available means from hearing, from the lips of a credible witness, that the Americans are full partners in Israel’s nuclear arms program, while pretending to be the world’s sheriff for the prevention of nuclear proliferation.”

    A brief history since then:

    On April 30, 2007, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, convicted Vanunu on 14 [out of 21] counts of violating a court order prohibiting him from speaking to foreign journalists in 2004. Vanunu was also convicted for traveling the four miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem when he hoped to attend Christmas Eve mass at the Church of the Nativity, his first Christmas after being released from 18 years in jail [most of it in solitary] on April 21, 2004.

    On July 2, 2007, Israel sentenced Vanunu to six more months in jail for speaking to foreign media in 2004.

    On September 23, 2008, the Jerusalem District Court reduced Vanunu’s six-month jail sentence for speaking with foreign media in 2004, to three months, “In light of his ailing health and the absence of claims that his actions put the country’s security in jeopardy.”

    After appealing that sentence, the Israeli Supreme Court returned Vanunu to jail on May 23, 2010, after they refused his counter-offer to do three-months of community service in Arab east Jerusalem, the only community he has known since 21 April 2004. The Court insisted Vanunu must serve in west Jerusalem, which is 99% Jewish-populated, but Vanunu feared attack there by angry Israelis, most of whom consider him a traitor.

    The restrictions that have subjected Vanunu to 24/7 surveillance [his movements, phone calls and emails] for the last six years come from the Emergency Defense Regulations, which were implemented by Britain against Palestinians and Jews after World War II.

    Attorney Yaccov Shapiro, who later became Israel’s Minister Of Justice, described the Emergency Defense Regulations as “unparalleled in any civilized country: there were no such laws in Nazi Germany.”

    Israel also kidnapped Vanunu in 1986, but Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “No one shall he subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention”, including abduction of a person by agents of one state to another state.

    Vanunu was charged with and convicted of treason and espionage.

    Section 99 of the Israeli Penal Code, treason is defined as “an act calculated to assist (an enemy) in time of war…delivering information with the intention that it fall into the hands of the enemy.”

    Section 113 defines aggravated espionage as “deliver(ing) any secret information without being authorized to do so and with intent to impair the security of the state” and a sub-clause provides for a penalty of seven years for the unauthorized collection, preparation, recording or holding of secret information; if this is done with intent to impair the security of the state and then, the penalty is increased to 15 years.

    During my interviews with Vanunu, he informed me that, “All the secrets I had were published in 1989 in an important book, by Frank Barnaby, The Invisible Bomb: Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East.”

    Frank Barnaby, the Nuclear Physicist, who was hired by the London Sunday Times to interrogate Vanunu, testified at his closed door trial, “I very vigorously cross-examined Vanunu, relentlessly asking the same questions in a number of different ways and at different times…I found Vanunu very straightforward about his motives for violating Israel’s secrecy laws he explained to me that he believed that both the Israeli and the world public had the right to know about the information he passed on. He seemed to me to be acting ideologically.”

    But, Vanunu was rendered defenseless during that closed door trial when the court ruled that his motivations were not ideological and they refused to allow Vanunu’s own statements regarding his intentions to even be considered in his defense.

    On November 24th, 2006 Vanunu wrote:

    “My lawyer succeeded to reveal a few very important facts: This General of the Army also was not allowed to see all the secrets that he is required to protect by these restrictions that they claim I know them. So, he gave orders of restrictions without knowing what he is protecting or that he is also following orders blindly, and Mossad Sheen Bet using its authority for just punishing me. He testified that it is not a crime for me to talk with foreigners in general anywhere. He testified that I can speak freely to any Israeli citizens about anything; it is not his concern what I am saying to them. These Israelis can give this information to any foreigners. It was difficult for the Judge to understand why this dichotomy exits between foreigners and Israelis. It means that it is not about secrecy but about something else.”

    The “Something Else”

    In 2004, Yossi Melman wrote for Haaretz:

    “This is the secret that hasn’t yet been told in the affair: the story of the security fiasco that made it possible for Vanunu to do what he did, and the story of the subsequent attempts at cover-up, whitewashing and protection of senior figures in the defense establishment, who were bent on divesting themselves of responsibility for the failure.

    “The 18-year prison term to which Vanunu was sentenced is almost exactly the same period as that in which Yehiel Horev has served as chief of internal security in the defense establishment [who has been] involved in the affair as deputy chief of security at the Defense Ministry, and also after Vanunu’s abduction and arrest, as a member of an investigative commission.”

    Melman described Horev as devoted to duty and bland, petty and acutely suspiciousness, but also a man of personal integrity with a desire to expose corruption and failures coupled with a penchant for vengefulness.

    “The affairs of the secrets that leaked from the two places considered Horev’s holiest sites – the Biological Institute, which produced a senior spy in the person of Prof. Marcus Klingberg, and the Dimona nuclear plant, about which secret information was revealed through Mordechai Vanunu – were formative events in the development of his world view. Shortly after taking office as chief of security at the Defense Ministry, Horev began to take punitive measures to hobble Vanunu. He is responsible for the harsh conditions in which Vanunu was held, which included years in solitary confinement, and the sharp limitations on the number of visitors he could have…[and has fought] a rearguard battle to prevent Vanunu from leaving Israel and to place him under supervision and restrictions that will be tantamount to house arrest. Horev has always been considered the strictest of all the security chiefs in Israel, especially in regard to the protection of institutions such as the Dimona facility and the Biological Institute. He is apprehensive that if Vanunu goes abroad, he will continue to be a nuisance by stimulating the public debate over Israel’s nuclear policy and the nuclear weapons he says Israel possesses…all the hyperactivity being displayed by Horev and those who support his approach is intended only to divert attention from what has not yet been revealed: the security blunders and their cover-ups.”

    In 2003, BBC documentary Peter Hounam stated, “Vanunu told the world that Israel had developed between one hundred and two hundred atomic bombs [in 1986!] and had gone on to develop neutron bombs and thermonuclear weapons. Enough to destroy the entire Middle East and nobody has done anything about it since.”

    In 2005, Vanunu told me:

    “President Kennedy tried to stop Israel from building atomic weapons. Kennedy insisted on an open internal inspection.

    “When Johnson became president, he made an agreement with Israel that two senators would come every year to inspect. Before the senators would visit, the Israelis would build a wall to block the underground elevators and stairways. From 1963 to ’69, the senators came, but they never knew about the wall that hid the rest of the Dimona from them.

    “Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation. As a result, Israel increased production. In 1986, there were over two hundred bombs. Today, they may have enough plutonium for ten bombs a year.”

    On March 26, 2006, Vanunu told me:

    “Many journalists come here to the American Colony, from CNN and NY Times. They all want to cover my story, but their EDITORS say no…CNN wants to interview me; but they say they can’t do it because they don’t want problems with the Israeli censor. BBC is doing the same thing.

    “Sixty Minutes from the United States from the beginning they wanted to do a program, but because of the censor situation they decide not to do it. Also big media from Germany, France, Italy, Japan. None of them wants problems with the Israelis.”

    I began the taping of “30 Minutes with Vanunu” with this question:

    “If the British Mandate has expired why not the British Mandate’s Emergency Defense Regulations?”

    Vaunu replied, “The reason given is security but it is because Israel is not a democracy unless you are a Jew. This administration tells me I am not allowed to speak to foreigners, the Media, and the world. But I do because that is how I prove my true humanity to the world. My freedom of speech trial began January 25, 2006 for speaking to the media, the same day as the Palestinian elections.”

    See that interview and learn much more @
    THE VANUNU SAGA 2005-2010

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