Bolstering Turkel

Retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel has confronted the prime minister and justice minister with a firm demand to turn the informal panel he heads into a governmental inquiry committee as defined in the Government Law. Better late than never.

For the change to be significant, the justice minister would have to give the committee full investigative powers, identical to those of a state commission of inquiry established under the Commissions of Inquiry Law. Only if the cabinet approves this would the inquiry committee be authorized to subpoena witnesses and demand to see any relevant documents, even if they are classified.

At first glance, this would seem to be a necessary and positive change from the present panel, which is nothing more than a "council of sages" with clipped wings, entirely dependent on the full cooperation of those who testify before it. Only full investigative powers - like those given to the governmental inquiry committee on the Second Lebanon War, headed by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd - would enable the Turkel Committee to function as an independent body.

But even if the Turkel Committee is granted unlimited investigative powers, it will remain a lame and limited committee if the government does not give it broad powers to investigate every aspect of May's botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, including the government's preparations for the flotilla's arrival and the conduct of at least the senior ranks of the army.

When the government decided in September 2006 to establish the Winograd Committee, it authorized the committee to examine "the preparations and conduct of both the government and the defense establishment" with regard to "every aspect" of the war in the north that began on July 12. The wording of this writ of appointment was broad and comprehensive. Only a similar writ of appointment would grant the committee investigating the flotilla affair authority and status.

Any attempt to restrict the committee's authority and the list of those it investigates, from all the relevant ranks, would turn the committee into a body that lacks real significance. Thus Turkel must demand not only investigative powers, but also the power to determine factual findings, draw conclusions and make recommendations about both the conduct of the government and the preparations of the military establishment. Otherwise, the new committee will also be a waste of time.