AG eyeing alternatives to probe
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is to present the government by Thursday with several options for how to investigate the war in Lebanon, at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's request.
In private conversations with Olmert, Mazuz has opposed the idea of establishing a state commission of inquiry - the most powerful and authoritative type of investigatory body. However, he said, this is a personal opinion, not a legal one, and there is no legal barrier to establishing such a commission.
"The question of establishing a state commission of inquiry is at the authority and discretion of the government," he explained.
Mazuz's current assignment is to provide the cabinet with a list of the available options for examining various aspects of the war, along with an explanation of each option's legal implications. He may also decide to recommend a particular course of action.
If the cabinet decides to establish a state commission of inquiry, it has no flexibility: Such a commission's powers and procedures are set by law. For instance, the members of the commission are chosen by the Supreme Court president; it must be headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court justice; and the commission is authorized to subpoena witnesses and documents.
However, should the cabinet instead establish a less powerful governmental inquiry committee, the prime minister would be the one to determine the committee's composition and numerous other parameters: how long it has to do its work, whether it is authorized to subpoena witnesses, whether it is authorized to collect evidence independently, whether testimony and evidence is confidential, whether it has the power to warn witnesses and senior officials that its findings could damage them, whether it is authorized to recommend or even mandate the resignation of officials whom it finds to have been derelict, whether it can work simultaneously with other investigative committees, whether the evidence it gathers can be used in criminal proceedings, and what subjects it is authorized to investigate.
Senior government officials predicted that Olmert would ultimately opt to establish a governmental committee rather than a more powerful state commission of inquiry. The committee would be headed by a retired judge, they added.
The officials said Olmert is reluctant to establish a state commission of inquiry both for fear that it would issue a harshly critical report of the government's decision-making processes, and because the proceedings of such commissions are often very drawn-out, while Olmert prefers a quicker investigation.
At yesterday's cabinet meeting, Olmert promised to announce the format of the inquiry within a few days, following his consultations with Mazuz. He has also consulted Defense Minister Amir Peretz about the format, and intends to consult Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and other government officials as well.
Several ministers agreed that such an inquiry was necessary, though some said they favored a government committee rather than a state commission.
Halutz, who also addressed the cabinet, acknowledged, "There is much to investigate," but warned that the inquiry must be concluded and its conclusions implemented quickly, "since we are still in the midst of the incident. The idea that everything is behind us is incorrect and out of place."
Moreover, he said, "The inquiry must not castrate the IDF's ability to examine itself." The IDF's internal investigation, he said, is to be completed within three months or less.
Later this week, the High Court of Justice is slated to hear a petition by a nonprofit organization, Ometz, demanding the establishment of a state commission of inquiry.