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The Winograd Committee will warn those liable to be harmed by its conclusions and allow them to respond before publishing its final report on the Second Lebanon War, Committee Chairman Eliyahu Winograd announced yesterday.

As a result, the report's publication is likely to be delayed by several months. Until now, publication had been widely expected in October.

Any delay will have far-reaching political implications. The report is expected to harshly criticize Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak had pledged before his election as Labor Party chairman to pull Labor out of the government after it was published. Thus for both of them, the delay means another several months in office.

The committee has already heard all the potential witnesses once and has begun recalling some for additional testimony. Olmert has not yet been recalled, but government sources said that Major General Gad Shamni, who was Olmert's military secretary during the war, has been summoned to give additional testimony on July 31.

The decision to allow those who might be harmed by the report to defend themselves was announced in a letter from Winograd to the army's chief defense attorney, Colonel Orna David, following several weeks of correspondence between them on the subject. Recently, David even threatened to petition the High Court of Justice on behalf of the officers who might be harmed if the committee did not allow them to respond.

David had demanded that the officers be allowed to examine all the material that might harm them, cross-examine the relevant witnesses and give the committee written and oral arguments in their defense before the final report was published. Winograd's letter did not promise to meet all these demands; it contained no details at all about what procedures the committee would permit, meaning that it might still refuse to allow such officers (or politicians) to cross-examine witnesses or examine all the material. However, he did promise that the committee would enable some kind of response.

In the interim report published earlier this year, Winograd wrote, "we explained our view of the core principles of natural justice and how these ought to be interpreted in this context. Obviously, we will apply these principles to anyone who might be harmed [by the final report], in a manner that will allow him to raise arguments before the report's final formulation and publication."

"Appropriate notices will go out as soon as the committee makes the decision that will enable a preliminary identification of those liable to be harmed by the report and of the manner in which they are liable to be harmed," the letter continued. "Currently, we are busy studying and analyzing the large amount of material we have amassed, with the goal of making those decisions. Only when we finish this task will we reach the stage of identifying those likely to be harmed. As noted, when we reach that stage, we will contact any Israel Defense Forces officers and soldiers likely to be harmed without delay."

David may still petition the High Court if she concludes that whatever procedures the committee institutes do not fully protect the defendants' rights. But even if she and the committee settle on procedures that do not include all of her original demands, any kind of response mechanism will take time. For instance, since much of the material is classified, sifting through it to determine what each respondent can be allowed to see could take weeks.

The committee also issued a statement yesterday in response to a Haaretz article on the Winograd-David correspondence and the likely delay in the report's publication.

"We never issued any estimate of when the report would be published," the statement noted. "This is because the committee cannot estimate the date, because it has not yet finished the examination and analysis stage. Before formulating the final version of the report, the committee will take care to enable anyone liable to be harmed by the report to know what he is liable to be harmed by and to raise arguments before it on those issues, if that has not yet happened."

The committee did not provide such an opportunity before issuing its interim report, even though that report contained harsh criticisms of several individuals, including Olmert, then defense minister Amir Peretz and then IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz.

Yuval Azoulay and Arnon Ben-Yair contributed to this report.