Winograd Teams Up With Olmert

By appointing a committee instead of a state commission of inquiry, Olmert gave the body the authority to conceal its deliberations. Now, Olmert is joining the committee in its efforts to keep its protocols closed.

Much like President Moshe Katsav, the Winograd Committee is aiming to drain its moment of judgment of all meaning. Katsav is trying to manipulate the investigation against him so that its conclusions come only after his tenure ends.

Similarly, the Winograd Committee is attempting to evade the demand that it immediately publish the testimonies of its principal witnesses. In doing so, the committee is willing to violate the directives of the High Court of Justice, as was demonstrated yet again Thursday, in the committee?s response to MK Zahava Gal-On's petition demanding it release the testimonies. The matter will appear before the court again this morning.

From its inception, the Winograd Committee has exhibited reluctance to abide by the court. One might have expected its distinguished members - among them Prof. Ruth Gavison and retired judge Eliyahu Winograd - would revere the opinion of the country?s highest legal authority. No one could have anticipated their disregard for it.

At first, it seemed the committee was unfazed by the High Court?s unequivocal reservations concerning its formation. It did not respond to the court's statement that "a lack of legal grounds to interfere with the government's decision to form the committee did not necessarily attest to the court's approval." The committee held its peace also after hearing that a minority of the judges ruled that it should be annulled due to unreasonable conflicts of interests.

This served to form a certain esprit de corps within the Winograd Committee. Its five members - Professors Winograd, Gavison and Dror Yehezkel, and Major Generals (ret.) Menachem Einan and Haim Nadal - subscribed to their own internal logic, according to which they are justified in rejecting the demands to release the testimonies, even if the High Court has called for this.

This is the basis for the committee's refusal to abide by its commitment to the court, under which it must release censored transcripts of the testimonies of the prime minister, the defense minister and the former chief of staff. It announced its refusal on March 21. The committee was unimpressed by the Supreme Court's statement that its actions bordered on contempt.

As though this weren't enough, the committee is now requesting an exemption from its pledge to publish the testimonies. However, it has already released three other testimonies - those of Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Major General Amos Malka and Brigadier General Arnon Ben-Ami, head of the Emergency Economic Authority - thereby demonstrating that protocols can be publicized without jeopardizing national security. To further delay the release, the committee is now requesting the petition be reviewed by additional judges.

This serves to void any discussion on the issue, as the committee?s interim report is due in two weeks. Given the current timetable, it matters little whether the protocols are exposed before or after the report is publicized.

Regardless, the committee's efforts to delay the release must be thwarted. The committee must be forced to release as much of the testimonies as possible, as close as possible to the report's release date. This would enable the public to inspect its conclusions in light of the testimonies it heard.

Had Olmert's government decided to form a state commission to review the events of last summer, then its testimonies would have been public by law (excluding those it may decide to censor). By appointing a committee instead, Olmert gave it the authority to conceal its deliberations. Now, Olmert is joining the committee in its efforts to keep its protocols closed.

Thus, both the prime minister and the committee are fueling the fears that they lack the proper distance between a judicial body and its investigation subject. After all, the committee's ultimate test is how much credibility the public attributes to its findings.