Justice on furlough

Bitter experience ought to teach our law enforcement and legal system that it's better to err on the side of caution than treat certain prisoners with a charitable indulgence they don't deserve.

CIA prison 88 (photo credit: )
CIA prison 88
(photo credit: )
It's facile for local law enforcement authorities to point accusing fingers at Argentina for having allowed fugitive Israeli murderer Moshe Ben-Ivgi to abscond right under their noses. True, this latest twist in the bizarre story which began with the senseless 1994 murder of taxi driver Derek Roth arises from an inexcusable slip-up in Buenos Aires. But this doesn't mitigate the series of eminently avoidable blunders made here, which facilitated Ben-Ivgi's initial flight and the subsequent failure to extradite him. This has to be judged as one of the more dismal episodes in Israel's judicial history. Most disconcerting is that it's not unique. The Roth murder - by two Herzliya 14-year-olds looking for kicks - shook the country to the core. Ben-Ivgi and Arbel Aloni were each sentenced to 16 years. Despite all the markers of extreme sociopathic behavior, both youths were granted furloughs from prison. During a 1998 break from prison they jointly held up a grocery and badly injured its proprietors. Though sentenced to five more years, and while prison authorities thereupon ruled against further furloughs, the violent robbery didn't suffice to sow doubt in the mind of one judge who granted Ben-Ivgi leave. During a May 2004 furlough, Ben-Ivgi fled abroad under a false passport, despite undertakings that he'd stay home in parental custody. Like other convicts, Ben-Ivgi knew that Israel had no treaty with any Latin American country to routinely facilitate extradition (most countries don't), and eventually made it to Buenos Aires. After Israel tipped the Argentineans off, they arrested him. At first they agreed only extradite him for robbery, since the murder was committed while Ben-Ivgi was a minor. Israel refused. Subsequently, extradition was denied because the request wasn't signed by a judge. After Argentina's Supreme Court afforded Israel a chance to file another extradition request, Israel - incredibly - managed to miss the 30-day deadline. In March 2007, Ben-Ivgi was released from his South American jail, but was soon rearrested and then allowed bail. Under a new surname - Sagui - he married, had a child and lived well in Argentina... until his disappearance. THE succession of Israeli bureaucratic bungles is indefensible. But worst is the initial leniency that prescribed vacations for a dangerous convict like Ben-Ivgi after he had already exploited one furlough to commit crime. No plausible reason existed to give him the benefit of the doubt. His escape was no bolt from the blue. Such lackadaisical attitudes have ended horrendously in other cases. In July 2004, lifer Rafi Nahmani murdered Judge Adi Azar while on furlough. In a country with no capital punishment, Nahmani clearly had nothing to lose. Common sense should have denied him leave. In May 2005, 15-year-old Ma'ayan Sapir was raped, sodomized and murdered near her Rehovot home by a juvenile delinquent with a particularly nasty record. He had been freed on regular furloughs every few weeks from a super-security closed correctional facility. Given his ultra-violent past, he should have never been let out. Often, "vacationing" prisoners don't return of their own accord. "Southern rapist" Meir Assur, who once terrorized the Negev, was allowed time out too, despite the nature of his crime and the high recidivism rate of sex-offenders. He disappeared and for a long time eluded capture. Furloughs are even granted to habitually abusive husbands convicted of severe domestic violence. Not a few return home to kill. The emphasis in such cases mustn't be on rehabilitation, as opposed to punishment, but on public safety. Dangerous offenders should, first and foremost, be removed from society so ordinary citizens aren't imperiled. According to Israeli law, furloughs aren't a right, but a privilege. Not all prisoners should be entitled to perks - unquestionably not those with unabated aggressive tendencies. Bitter experience ought to teach our law enforcement and legal system that it's better to err on the side of caution than treat certain prisoners with a charitable indulgence they don't deserve. As these cases show, judicial gullibility can have devastating consequences. Isn't it time for the courts to contritely reexamine their values? A timeless Jewish adage teaches: "He who is merciful to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the merciful." It has been proved over and over.