Shameful celebration

The police belatedly nabbed serial rapist Benny Sela, whom they shouldn't have lost in the first place.

benny sela capture (photo credit: Channel 10)
benny sela capture
(photo credit: Channel 10)
With so much egg still on their faces for serial rapist Benny Sela's escape, the police had no business patting themselves so vigorously on the back in front of the cameras and effusively hailing themselves as superheroes when Sela was recaptured on Friday. They most certainly are not superheroes; they belatedly got their man, whom they shouldn't have lost in the first place. This entire sequence of bungles and blunders should have produced a rueful, chastened, reserved and restrained police force. But instead of appropriate contrition and introspection, we were treated last Friday night to a boisterous festival of crowing and self-congratulation, combined with an objectionable spectacle of humiliation for the apprehended convict. Despicable and reprehensible as Sela's record is, there's no excuse for parading a wretched shackled captive before the media, with throngs congregating outside the station house, exuding a voyeuristic frenzy. To physically coerce Sela to raise his head for the cameras, as he screams with pain and then sobs uncontrollably, does nothing to serve justice and manages to galvanize sympathy for someone who least deserves it. The primitive and distasteful swagger further tarnished the police's reputation and puts its judgment, sense of proportion and reliability yet again into question. We are entitled to a force which conducts its affairs with due humility and a modicum of respectability and respect for human rights. The rush of police commissioner Moshe Karadi and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter to bask in the media limelight and take credit neither they nor the police deserve was no less than embarrassing. If left to their own devices, it is not clear that our lawmen would ever have succeeded in returning Sela to his cell. They failed to take even rudimentary precautions like putting all Sela's known relations and possible contacts under surveillance. They had no inkling of the whereabouts of the prisoner, who had disappeared due to the gross negligence of Tel Aviv's escort unit. Had the fugitive not erred in his decision to visit family and had that family not informed on him, he might still be on the loose. Had the police not been tipped off - to the very last phase of the pursuit - by the public, the runaway would have kept running. Worse yet, it now transpires that previous reports of sightings which the police dismissed were correct and reflected Sela's actual escape route. The cops simply were not on the ball, arrived late and let Sela slip away. Indeed, despite all the oversized wanted-posters everywhere, the arresting officers were unsure of whom they had seized. The delayed identification was confirmed sometime after Sela was in custody. At this rate it is perhaps better for police that Sela continues to keep mum and does not detail how he got away from the Tel Aviv court complex. What he might reveal could prove even more discomfiting to the police than what is known thus far. Most distressing, however, is that the powers-that-be just fail to get the point. Hence they concentrate on the erroneous court summons that took Sela to Tel Aviv, where he absconded. It wasn't the superfluous outing that caused the fiasco but the fact that as dangerous an offender as Sela wasn't properly guarded. It is preposterous for Dichter to suggest the problem be solved by arraigning detainees via video-conference hearings. This would make a mockery of due process and negate the notion of open public legal procedures. Judges would be unable to form direct impressions and even evaluate for themselves if, for instance, a detainee had been roughed up or in any way mishandled. Securing the rights of even the least savory members of our society is essential for safeguarding the rights of all the rest of us. Instead of trying to keep defendants from court, Dichter would do much better by focusing on improving vigilance and imposing strict discipline on careless law-enforcers under his authority. The remedy must fit the affliction. Most of all, Dichter, Karadi et al owe us all a genuine mea culpa along with a great deal more modesty and decorum henceforth. Sela's capture does not remedy the negligence that led to his escape, and should not short-circuit the reforms and basic accountability measures that were rightly demanded while he remained at large.