The political prisoner you've never heard of.
March 1, 2004 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Mordechai Vanunu: The political prisoner you've never heard of. He's spent over 11 years in solitary confinement. His treatment was condemned by Amnesty International as "cruel, inhuman, and degrading." His crime? Blowing the whistle on Israel's nuclear program in 1986. Why does America allow an ally, and a democratic one, to engage in such police state actions?
posted by skallas (54 comments total)

 
I had heard about him before, but I didn't know that he would be released soon - April 2004 - 51 days.
posted by crazy finger at 7:50 PM on March 1, 2004


Why does America allow an ally, and a democratic one, to engage in such police state actions?
I can scarcely imagine a country that, having classified information and photos on nuclear sites, would not prosecute that person. If he was American, I imagine he could have gotten the death penalty here.
posted by kickingtheground at 7:55 PM on March 1, 2004


Israel's WMD shennagans are even worse than how they treated Vanunu. They are the only nuclear power without any internation inspecters and a few years ago the US granted them a special status so that commercial satellites cannot photograph Israel with the resolution they photograph the rest of the world.

What the hell is going on here? Why does Israel get a WMD free rides, especially with its own people complaining about accidents and nuclear poisoning around the site Vanunu originally photographed.

kickingtheground, there's a difference between treason (selling secrets to the enemy or helping the enemy) and making the conscience choice to tell a London paper that the factory he works in is building the bomb. He was a conscientious whistleblower, not a spy. I think that should be fairly obvious from the context.
posted by skallas at 8:05 PM on March 1, 2004


"I have sacrificed my freedom and risked my life in order to expose the danger of nuclear weapons which threatens this whole region. I acted on behalf of all citizens and all of humanity"
Mordechai Vanunu
posted by skallas at 8:10 PM on March 1, 2004


skallas, certainly I will grant there is some difference in intent. However, there's not all tha much difference in actual results. Vanunu spilled some fairly technical details on the capabilities and layout of a very highly classified (and somewhat vulnerable) site. This was not simply "hey, Israel has nukes," this was the actual layout of the reactor and associated sites, photos of bomb models, and production numbers. While Vanunu might have leaked the information to the Sunday Times, and not directly to any foreign power (and I give him some credit for this), that doesn't change the fact that today that information is sitting in the offices of every intelligence agency and terrorist group in the region.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:17 PM on March 1, 2004


kickingtheground, it's not just that he was prosecuted:

On 30th September 1986, Mordechai was lured from London to Rome. There he was kidnapped, drugged and shipped to Israel. After a secret trial he was sentenced to 18 years for 'treason' and 'espionage' though he had received no payment and communicated with no foreign power. He was held in complete isolation for 11 years, only allowed occasional visits from his family, lawyer and a priest, conducted through a metal screen.

From Free Vanunu

posted by dash_slot- at 8:45 PM on March 1, 2004


America 'allows' allies to do all kinds of things. This is not unique.

The reality is that in most cases, an ally is one who has money, power, and similar interests. There is no moral standard and there basically never has been one.
posted by cell divide at 8:47 PM on March 1, 2004


Not to mention that it's anti-semetic to disagree w/ the Israelis-- didn't you hear?

Fortunately, the descendents of 20 million people Stalin killed don't have a nation-state to themselves, because man, they'd be able to play the guilt card three times as much.
posted by keswick at 9:28 PM on March 1, 2004


I believe kickingtheground was addressing the question of "why America would allow this." His point is valid -- any employee of the US government who divulged highly classified information on American nuclear weapons would undoubtedly face a most harsh penalty. And frankly, I believe that a state has the right to look out for its security (this is not at all meant with regard to Israel and nukes, so don't try to pin that argument on me). The man would have gotten the death penalty anywhere else, I agree.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:31 PM on March 1, 2004


Wow keswick, what you said is both pertinent AND it doesn't betray your seething hatred the least bit.

P.S. Quite a few of those 20 million were Jews.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:34 PM on March 1, 2004


It took me a while to remember where I had heard the name before -- turns out it was a Dream Academy song. Not that I can remember buying that album...
posted by kaefer at 9:50 PM on March 1, 2004


I wasn't aware all Jews were Israeli. But clearly, since I disagree with Israeli policies, I must long for the days of Kristallnacht. Man, do you have me pegged.
posted by keswick at 10:02 PM on March 1, 2004


I've heard Canada has done some seriously evil shit. I say we bomb em.
posted by shoos at 10:18 PM on March 1, 2004


The reality is that in most cases, an ally is one who has money, power, and similar interests. There is no moral standard and there basically never has been one.

Some assure us that's the way it should be.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:27 PM on March 1, 2004


i think i read some where he is moving to minnesota - perhaps i finally give him the books i have been meaning to send him since i first read about his case. the israeli goverment really pisses me off ... day in and day out.
posted by specialk420 at 10:31 PM on March 1, 2004


Actually, you are the one who makes the connection between Israelis and Jews - how else do you explain your allusion to the 20 million killed by Stalin and a nation-state, if not as a contrast to the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis? Nice try. It is that very connection, one you make in a thread about the Israeli government, that puts your credibility in question.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:38 PM on March 1, 2004


Not to mention that it's anti-semetic to disagree w/ the Israelis-- didn't you hear?

Bite me. It's only anti-semitism when you somehow manage to hold the one Jewish country on the planet to standards, scrutiny, and attacks on its legitimacy that no other country receives, including but not limited to its ultra-violent neighbors. Vanunu's fate may or may not have been deserved in a perfect and just world, but does it really deserve a call-out when he would have been put to death in not only most countries, period, but most of our allies' countries, too? I don't see the same level of concern or attention for those prosecuted or persecuted by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, or a host of other "allies" whose human rights records all make Israel look like a shiny-shiny paragon of gleaming virtue. Which it ain't. But in context and in contrast, their shit don't stink nearly as bad.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:39 PM on March 1, 2004


Okay, fine, I'm an anti-Semite. I bathe in the blood of the Christ Killers fortnightly. Happy? I'm a fiddler crab! Shoot me! It's fiddler crab season! Now that you've exposed my seething hatred to the masses, can we prevent this thread from being derailed any further?

As for the question posed by skallas in the FPP, I have no fucking clue, but I wish we'd stop. And since I'm wishing, I wish we as a nation would stop engaging in police state actions, too.
posted by keswick at 10:48 PM on March 1, 2004


can we prevent this thread from being derailed any further?

Dude, your comments in this thread were the derailment--God forbid one of us might respond to them and call you on it. It's not even the first time you yourself have brought up the dumb "critizing Israel=anti-semitism" meme:

Oh man, here we go. Anyone care to place bets on how my replies before somebody calls someone an anti-semite?
posted by keswick at 8:22 PM PST on February 16


It's getting old.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:58 PM on March 1, 2004


The man would have gotten the death penalty anywhere else, I agree.

he would have been put to death in not only most countries, period, but most of our allies' countries

Ummm, he wouldn't have been put to death in most countries, especially not your allies, because they don't have capital punishment! In 2002, 81 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran and the USA - that's the company your country keeps with that lovely form of punishment.
posted by Onanist at 11:24 PM on March 1, 2004


It's getting old.

I know it; it's getting so you can't express an opinion without offending someone... Oh wait, you were talking about something else.
posted by keswick at 11:35 PM on March 1, 2004


In 2002, 81 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran and the USA

so what's the breakdown of that peculiar ass-kicking statistic, mr masturbator?
posted by shoos at 11:46 PM on March 1, 2004


Yeah, I wondered that myself after I posted it mr frightens things away. But my point remains, I just chucked in that stat at the end because at first glance at seemed to illustrate what I was saying quite well.
posted by Onanist at 12:17 AM on March 2, 2004


Execution is allowed in the EU for treason.

And is the question really about the fact he was imprisoned for what he did, or the exact nature of his imprisonment? The psychological torture of prolonged solitary != years in normal prison.

Also I recall there were some pro-independence Puerto Ricans in US prison similarly confined.
posted by Goofyy at 12:27 AM on March 2, 2004


So. What is that breakdown? The suspense is killing me and I dare not google the answer for fear that it may lessen the dramatic - dare I say ejaculatory - impact that your framing of the facts had on me, and, without doubt, on the rest of us here at metafilter.
posted by shoos at 12:32 AM on March 2, 2004


I already said the stat was useless and extraneous, what else do you want? Or, is it the fact that I dared to criticise the US that appears to have riled you up? Try the chill pill, it goes down well.
posted by Onanist at 12:52 AM on March 2, 2004


It has long been the case that US support for Israel is seriously damaging stability in the Middle East. The Arab states will always see the US as an enemy while the US blatently supports one side in the conflict. It's not enough for Bush to invade Iraq and talk about invading Syria to try and bring peace to the region. That will never happen. The only way we will ever see peace there is if the US uses it's influence with Israel to come to some acceptable peace agreement with the Palastinians. The rest of the Western world has been trying to push the US in that direction for years.
posted by salmacis at 1:23 AM on March 2, 2004


Execution is allowed in the EU for treason.

EU policy on the death penalty.

"The European Union welcomes the entry into force on 1 July 2003 of Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.

This Protocol is banning the death penalty in all circumstances, including for crimes committed in times of war and imminent threat of war. No derogation or reservation will be allowed to Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights. As of today, 41 out of the 45 Member States of the Council of Europe have signed the Protocol, which was opened for signature by member states of the Council of Europe only a little over a year ago, in Vilnius, on 3 May 2002
."
posted by biffa at 1:26 AM on March 2, 2004


Onanist, your "point remains," yet it "was useless and extraneous." You, dare I say, are one sassy auto-contrarian! I have no choice now but to chill. Peace out!
posted by shoos at 1:46 AM on March 2, 2004


Now that I'm chilling out, I should clarify that criticizing the US is fine by me, as long as it's done in a respectable manner. I might be an ass, for example, and say, Oh, you aussies are gonna put us all on the barbie and smoke us out with your highest-per-capita-rate-of-greenhouse-gas-production lifestyle. But I wouldn't cause that's sort of gay.
posted by shoos at 2:00 AM on March 2, 2004


Solitary confinement for 11 years, that has got to be wrong.
posted by johnnyboy at 2:40 AM on March 2, 2004


Sorry I came across badly, the comments that he would be put to death anywhere else (or "most" countries as Asparagirl put it), when I believe that is not the case, just made me angry I guess. Btw, I've never been called sassy before and I kind of like it... ;)
posted by Onanist at 3:02 AM on March 2, 2004


Execution stats, 2003. US: 65. China: AI estimate a minimum of 1060 though suggest the actual figure is likely to be higher. Iran: AI estimate 113 minimum. Adding any country to the China + Iran stats will give a high figure. But still: 65.

Iraq, the Congo and Saudi Arabia have beaten the US in the recent past, though I haven't dug up the most recent stats and numbers are prone to regime change.

Apparently the US is still the winner on child offenders, with >50%.
posted by biffa at 4:32 AM on March 2, 2004


shoos

United States Leads World in Juvenile Offender Executions and Ranks Third Worldwide in Total Number of Executions

The breakdown is 1,060, 113, and 71

Want to figure out percentages against total population?

And, yes, the death penalty is despicable, pathetic and barbaric. The US standards in the matter are gutter standards. And you can throw in that pile the "security is more important than accountability" chants as well. Did you not get the memo about taking a look at what you're defending before actually putting up defenses? Otherwise, you might end up defending what you thought you were fighting.

/What's *really* gay is homophobia, BTW
posted by magullo at 4:40 AM on March 2, 2004


but does it really deserve a call-out

no it doesn't, of course. silence, silence, silence is the answer. if we criticize Israel, the terrorists have won. everybody knows that.

I don't see the same level of concern or attention for those prosecuted or persecuted by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt

or Uzbekistan, for example.
heh.
I thought that caring for human rights (like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch etc do) was inherently unAmerican and anti-Israel: you certainly didn't see many neocons screaming bloody murder when various US allies all over the world were killing innocent people (and Saddam and Osama were old anti-ayatollah and anti-Commie allies, weren't they?).
also, you know, it was usually those damn Israel-hating commies who complained about Pinochet and other various South America butchers -- not many neocons or Likudniks at those Amnesty rallies, if I remember right.
but of course the only thugs some people seem to care about are the Muslim thugs who are not momentarily American allies (I also suggest you check out this pic).

me, old Norht Korea commie that I am, I'm an equal-opportunity human rights supporter. I don't really care about who's guilty.

I'm quite saddened by the fact that you can only say "everybody does it, worse then Israel, you guys are piling on Israel". can't you really do better than that? or are you late for a Free Jonathan Pollard meeting?

the dumb "critizing Israel=anti-semitism" meme:

it sure is dumb. it is also constantly used by Israeli government and various Israel fans worldwide.
and anyway don't worry, the damn liberal US big media never really covers the Sununu thing (nor they write or talk a lot about Pollard). so your buddies won't get a lot of bad PR.
posted by matteo at 5:32 AM on March 2, 2004


never really covers the Vanunu thing


my bad
posted by matteo at 6:52 AM on March 2, 2004


First, Israel's nucke sites were know a long time ago to the Egyptians (for example). 2nd: the guy revealed highly classified ino against the law--he was given a trial and sentenced. 3rd. I am always suspicious about whatever Amnesty says--their record of who they like and dislike makes me suspicious. 3. We give 2 billion bucks per year to Egypt, so must we stop that even though the are not a democracy? 4. I worry from time to time about the poor black guy caught with some illegal drugs in this country and what his fate is and yet this seems acceptable.
posted by Postroad at 6:56 AM on March 2, 2004


Postroad, I have no idea if you're trying to be sarcastic or not. "Who cares, he was given a trial" and "I don't like Amnesty International's bias?" Two orders of excuse me, please?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:12 AM on March 2, 2004


he was given a trial and sentenced

He was kidnapped, drugged and shipped to Israel, given a *secret* trial and held in complete isolation for 11 years reloaded.

Cruel and/or unusual punishment ring a bell?


I am always suspicious about whatever Amnesty says

But secret trials are a-ok by you?


We give 2 billion bucks per year to Egypt

Compared to how much to Israel? Fair and/or balanced ring a bell?

/Additionally, the CIA just called and asked WTF?
posted by magullo at 7:21 AM on March 2, 2004


A factor in the Vanunu case that's often overlooked is the prejudice within Israel against Sephardic Jews (like Vanunu). If he were a member of the Ashkenazi elite, there's no way he would have been treated as he was. Some interesting perspectives:
Another well-known personality at the conference was Daniel Ellsberg... In his impressive appearance, he pointed to the analogy of his own role as a "whistle blower" with the case of Vanunu whose disclosures of Israel's nuclear designs were aimed solely to warn public opinion. "Vanunu proved that prophets are still alive in Israel", he stated. "Vanunu did exactly what he felt he had to do—and will be appreciated for it in future also by his own people", and "there are times you should speak out the truth, even if it brings you into jail". Vanunu was neither a spy nor a traitor to his country, as implied by the Israeli rulers. He did not sell the details of Israel's nuclear arms production in secrecy to a foreign power. Out of conscientious public responsibility and ideological belief, he brought the secret to the public eye. Ellsberg stressed that the very secrecy, applied and ordered by governments, or sometimes even only by a small clique among rulers, about political or military steps, concerning the public, is contradicting the principles of democracy. People who are asked to vote in elections their governing administration have to know all the details about the political and security programs and designs of the leaders to be elected. Secrecy and dealing behind the back of the electorate is detrimental to democracy. Therefore, "whistle blowers" who reveal designs dangerous to the public but kept classified by the rulers, and warn of these dangers, play an important role in defending true democracy. Further on, Ellsberg told of expertises which estimate that Israel has more than 200 nuclear warheads, but "only" 100 Israeli nuclear bombs of the Hiroshima type—and Israel has the option for far dangerous nuclear devices—could kill at least 10 - 20 million people in the Arab neighbor countries. "Israel has not the slightest right to play around with such weaponry that may cause a horrible holocaust to the people of the region, including Israel itself. The Israeli public has the right to know the truth, and to discuss it openly, since it should be clear that Israel cannot survive a nuclear war."...

"The first Jewish whistle blower I know of was the Prophet Jeremiah", the U.S. human rights activist Patricia Browning, wife of the well-known Bishop Edmund Browning, told the conference. She quoted from the Bible (Jeremiah, chapter 38) according to which, after he prophesied the capture of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon and the town's destruction for all people to hear, the ruling princes called for Jeremiah's death and he was thrown into a pit without food and water. Also Rabbi Philip Bentley of New York took the floor to denounce the Israeli rulers' inhuman and illegal handling of the Vanunu affair as contradicting true Jewish tradition.
I think Vanunu is a hero of peace and true Jewish tradition. But then, I'm not Israeli, and I don't live under the constant threat of Arab violence.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 AM on March 2, 2004


magullo: im definitely a serious fag-basher, and possibly homophobic
posted by shoos at 8:07 AM on March 2, 2004


There he was kidnapped, drugged and shipped to Israel.

...or basically the same thing they did in 1960 with Eichmann. Not making any value judgements on that, mind you, since that incident was also controversial, just pointing out that Israel, as with most states, does pretty much what it wants when it feels its interests are threatened.

As for why America allows such things to happen, can I ask exactly why is it that America has the right to decide what sovereign nations can and cannot do? I would like to see an American's reaction to being told what to do by another nation.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:40 AM on March 2, 2004


Why does Israel get a WMD free rides?

I think the US gov't is glad to have them there, honestly.

Why does America allow an ally, and a democratic one, to engage in such police state actions?

An American example is, ironically, someone who gave U.S. secrets to Israel: Jonathan Pollard.

Besides "we do it, too" the answer is the same reason we allow Saudi Arabia to persecute women and basically their whole population -- we don't care about morals or human rights, just pragmatism.
posted by callmejay at 8:43 AM on March 2, 2004


(By we, of course, I mean those in power, not necessarily the people. We the people care, just not enough to do something about it.)
posted by callmejay at 8:43 AM on March 2, 2004


On 30th September 1986, Mordechai was lured from London to Rome. There he was kidnapped, drugged and shipped to Israel

Well, the U.S. allows it because we do pretty much the same thing.
posted by gyc at 8:45 AM on March 2, 2004


Languagehat: I was under the impression that most Israelis these days are the products of mixed Sephardic/Ashkenazi/Mizrahi marriages, and that in sheer numbers, the A/S ratio is now close to 1:1 in Israel. I'm not saying residual antipathies between the groups don't exist, just wondering if it's as extreme as all that, that it would influence a man's sentencing for treason.
posted by Asparagirl at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2004


language hat is correct to a degree, in my opinion... but as asparagirl points out, times they are a-changin'. But still, look at the boards of major Israeli companies, look at the judges, look at the upper echelons of power, look who lives in the 'good' neighborhoods, look who makes the rich lists published by ma'ariv and you'll see who runs the country. But I don't think today it would have the same impact as when Vananu was sentenced (time moves quicker in young nations). And anyway it has more to do with connections and probably would only have affected certain measures and not the entire outcome of the case, etc. etc.
posted by chaz at 9:39 AM on March 2, 2004


Without you, there is only the precipice.

from one of his poems
posted by clavdivs at 9:43 AM on March 2, 2004


Let's spread a picnic on the precipice,
Eat, drink and be merry with our backs
to the abyss

Reuben, Reuben
posted by matteo at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2004


Bite me. It's only anti-semitism when you somehow manage to hold the one Jewish country on the planet to standards, scrutiny, and attacks on its legitimacy that no other country receives

Oh I would be so happy to see Israel held to the same standard as everyone else. I think skallas has established half a dozen ways here that they get away with special favors and unique exceptions. Meanwhile, you begin bleating about how they're targeted for higher standards than other countries. Please. Keswick's comment was off-color and not worth defending, but his point was that Israel plays the rest of us with guilt over the holocaust. If you think that unnameable guilt played no role in the establishment of the state of Israel, or its foreign policy now, you're simply in denial.
posted by scarabic at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2004


To be a political prisoner, don't you have to be in prison because of your political beliefs? This guy's in prison because he leaked state secrets.
posted by PenDevil at 12:02 PM on March 2, 2004


Which was, for him, a political act. Right?
posted by scarabic at 2:08 PM on March 2, 2004


I agree he's jailed because of a politically motivated act (but then I guess one could say the Watergate burglaries were a political act as well, right?). But he's not jailed because of his political beliefs. And is therefore not a political prisoner as the subject topic claims.
posted by PenDevil at 2:27 PM on March 2, 2004


I propose an amendment to Godwin's law:
In any discussion about Israel, Palestine or Lebanon, mentioning the holocaust or anti-semittism ends all rational debate in the thread.
posted by spazzm at 4:40 PM on March 4, 2004


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