BANGKOK – It appears that nothing can legally be done to prevent the reentry to Israel in a few months of convicted murderer Eli Cohen. He cannot be incarcerated, retried or even denied parental rights. He gallingly beat the system, barring some legislative amendments that would anyhow not be instant and not redress the basic injustice.
What Cohen, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen, did to his ex-wife, the mother of his children, in Thailand in 2004 is the stuff of horror movies.
He lured Carol Amsalem to Bangkok, tortured her with acid and a hot iron, gruesomely butchered her, dismembered her, stuffed some of her hideously mutilated remains in a suitcase and dumped them. Not all the remains were recovered.
This was not a crime of passion but a premeditated atrocity. The couple split up after Cohen demanded they move to Australia. Carol Amsalem refused but, by all appearances, their divorce was amicable.
Cohen was sentenced to 150 years. Prison conditions in Thailand are notoriously harsh yet occasionally, especially on royal birthdays, the king grants pardons.
As a result of the latest round of reprieves, Cohen is to be set loose in mid-May. This is not the first time he benefited from unaccountable leniency. Cohen’s sentence had recently been reduced, leaving him with only three more years to serve. Hence the pardon merely hastened his early release.
This is where the typical Israeli phenomenon of seeking someone specific to blame and vent anger upon comes to the fore. Carol Amsalem’s justifiably shaken and outraged relatives are more than understandably up in arms. They point fingers at Interior Minister Eli Yishai as someone who effectively sprang Cohen.
Yishai hotly denies this and says he knowingly never dealt with this particular case. What he did do is intercede on behalf of assorted Israelis in general who find themselves behind Thai bars. Yishai has on occasion been active in efforts to transfer Israeli prisoners from what is indeed durance vile in Thailand and have them do their time here.
There is nothing wrong with this; many countries try to move their nationals to their own penitentiaries.
Conditions here and elsewhere in the West may be more humane than in Thailand, but at the same time inmates are not likely to walk out for no compelling reason other than the arbitrary mood of the monarch.
It is imperative that the good deed of looking after Israelis trapped in appalling circumstances not be abandoned because of the utter travesty of the Cohen case. Most of the Israelis sentenced to hard time in Thailand were prosecuted for drug trafficking. The problem is that not all are guilty. Some were set up or were unwitting accomplices.
Thai justice is not pedantic in protecting defendants’ rights, and the prisons are survival of the fittest nightmares in which abuse, malnutrition and disease proliferate.
One wrong should not be allowed to spawn more but unrelated wrongs. It is wrong to let a monster like Cohen out. It will be wrong to punish gullible young couriers or accused couriers because of the unthinking compassion bestowed on the incontrovertibly undeserving Cohen. We need a sense of proportion. Yishai is not the villain of this piece.
Unfortunately, Yishai cannot even keep Cohen out of Israel. Legally speaking Cohen is free to head to either Australia or Israel, but here is where he has family.
In strictly legal terms he has paid his dues and concerns of double jeopardy prevent his retrial here.
Infuriatingly, there are no grounds for imprisoning him.
The only move that could be taken against Cohen would be to revoke his parental rights, but that would hinge on new legislation. At present a released felon, no matter how heinous his crime, cannot be prevented from raising his children, much less from seeing them. This is a dreadful legal loophole that ought to be plugged, although even the swiftest efforts in that direction are unlikely to be of much use in this shameful case.
This is a tragedy not of our making – a glaring instance where our intuitive sense of right and wrong and the dry letter of the law do not mesh.