Winograd Panel May Petition High Court Over Testimony Order

The Winograd Committee is considering appealing once more to the High Court of Justice to postpone or revoke its order for the publication of the transcripts of testimonies by the prime minister, defense minister and former chief of staff on the Second Lebanon War. Committee officials and the Justice Ministry met yesterday to discuss such possibility.

Justice Ministry sources said yesterday that there had been a general discussion and that a serious legal evaluation of the issue had not been made.

It is therefore possible that the Winograd Committee will not pursue the option of appealing to the High Court and allow the publication of the transcripts, scheduled for Sunday.

The committee argued before the High Court that the publication of the transcripts may undermine state security and also the panel's work as it prepares to publish its interim report on its findings on the Second Lebanon War. The report is due in late April.

However, in two separate decisions, the justices decided that the importance of having a public and open debate supersedes other considerations and that it was possible to check the problem of security leaks through censorship of critical information.

The High Court was scathing in its criticism of the committee, once it felt that the Winograd panel was unduly delaying the publication of the transcripts.

Even after the publication of the first transcripts of testimonies by Vice Premier Shimon Peres, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Malka and the head of the Emergency Economy Administration, Arnon Ben-Ami, the members of the Winograd committee continued to express their reservations about the release of the transcripts.

Attorney Dafna Holtz-Lechner, who filed a petition on behalf of MK Zahava Gal-On, said yesterday that the chances for more deliberations before the High Court were limited.

"The decision is final, and it was possible to request that the panel of justices deliberating the case be broadened, but even that can be done under very specific circumstances, when it is a very fundamental legal issue. But now, after two rulings were passed on the issue, by a panel headed by the president of the High Court, it is not logical. It seems that there are forces at play, if such a legally theoretical possibility is even being raised," she said.

Attorney Holtz-Lechner added that there is a possibility that the Winograd Committee is trying to use a legal ploy in order to delay the publication of the transcripts until the end of the Pesach holiday.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also opposed to the publication of the testimonies made before the Winograd Committee, and is of the opinion that the High Court of Justice erred in its decision to order that transcripts of the sessions be made available to the public.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said yesterday that Olmert was not opposed to the release of his testimony to the public, "which only presents his version to the events of the Second Lebanon War," but is concerned that the release of testimonies of officers and senior government officials will cause political and security harm to Israel.

According to the sources, "we did not wish to censor anything, but only to ensure that the details on sensitive meetings with foreign countries are not made public."

Other criticism that emerged from Olmert's bureau had to do with the release of the transcripts one at at time, and not at once.

"The way selected to do this, each testimony immediately becomes a leading headline and there is no balance," the sources said.

In an official announcement yesterday, the Prime Minister's Bureau officially slammed the publication of the testimonies, charging it caused "damage to essential interests of the state. This involves real and present danger ... to the security of the state, in its foreign relations and its ties with various individuals and organizations who dealt, and continue to deal, with its security interests."

The Winograd Committee refused to respond to the statement from the Prime Minister's Bureau, but it drew a great deal of criticism from the political arena.

Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On said that "the prime minister is the first person who leaked his testimony in a biased fashion to the press, and he is now trying to prevent public discourse."

Likud faction leader, MK Gideon Saar said that "today, exactly a year since the elections, it is possible to say definitively that the continued rule of Olmert, Livni, and Peretz, undermines the security of the state and its foreign relations. Olmert continues to spend most of his energy in failed attempts to prevent the truth of the failures of his government to emerge in order to keep his job."