(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Military Defender Col. Orna David will petition the High Court of Justice next week against the Winograd Committee's decision to publish the final report of its investigation into the Second Lebanon War by the end of the year, without issuing letters of caution to those who stand to be hurt by it, attorney Yosef Benkel said Thursday.
Benkel charged that the committee had gone back on its promise to the High Court of Justice. The military defender and former MK Avraham Poraz have already petitioned the High Court once before on the same matter.
Benkel has previously argued that individuals' reputations could be impaired by the report even if specific recommendations against them are not included in it. This in itself, they argue, makes it only fair that they receive letters of warning of any such conclusions in the document ahead of its publication.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates said the decision was a double-edged sword. They were pleased that the committee confirmed that it would not call for his resignation, but they were concerned that the expediting of the report's release could cause turmoil in the coalition.
When the report is released, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will have to decide whether to keep his promise to remove his Labor Party from an Olmert-led government and potential rebels in Kadima will have to decide whether to use the report's release as an excuse to try to overthrow the prime minister from within.
"Regardless of the political ramifications for the prime minister, what is important is that the report will be released as soon as possible so the country will have closure and the lessons of the report can start being implemented," an Olmert associate said.
Benkel, who along with David is representing the Military Defender's Office, was responding to a brief letter sent by committee chairman Eliahu Winograd earlier in the day, informing them of the committee's decision.
"One important aspect of the committee's work, which was emphasized in the letter of appointment, was the need to complete the work quickly, so that the report would serve as a basis for remedying the flaws that were revealed during the war," wrote Winograd. "The committee has decided to give top priority to this requirement and aims to publish the final report in the course of 2007. Naturally, this decision has consequences for the kinds of topics and matters that will be included in the report."
In August, the petitioners asked the court to order the committee to issue letters of caution before the final report was published, in time for those who stood to be harmed by it to defend themselves. This included studying the evidence gathered by the committee, questioning witnesses and pleading their case, either in writing or in person, before the court.
During the hearing, the committee's private lawyer, Zvi Agmon, declared before the court that the committee would give advance notice to anyone who stood to be hurt by the final report, allow them to study the evidence, hire a lawyer and plead their case before the committee.
The petitioners, however, were not satisfied with the promise. Benkel and attorney Ram Caspi, who represented Poraz, argued that those who were investigated by the Winograd Committee could be harmed not only by personal recommendations or personal conclusions, but even by a description of the facts during the war.
For example, if the committee wrote that the shelters were in poor shape during the war, responsibility would automatically fall on the OC Home Front, whether the report spelled it out or not.
They also pointed out that according to the State Commission of Inquiry Law, a letter of caution was required when the commission's report included "findings or conclusions or personal recommendations" that could harm the person in question.
In other words, the fact that no personal recommendations or conclusions would be made against a given official in the final report did not necessarily mean that person would not be hurt by the presentation of the facts. Agmon told the court the committee would adhere to this law.
However, the committee's terse letter on Thursday did not address this issue, nor did it specify exactly what would be included in the report.
In theory, the report might deal only with future-oriented recommendations, such as how to improve the various systems that operated in war situations of this kind, Caspi told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. But any description of the problems that arose during the war would, of necessity, lead to criticism of those responsible for it, and that would mean that the committee was reneging on its promise to the court.
Caspi told the Post he would meet with Poraz over the weekend to decide whether to petition again.
Meanwhile, in response to Winograd's letter, Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said: "It's too bad that the committee is prepared to be satisfied with an across-the-board report on how the systems functioned during the war. Even if the report is sharp and critical, if it does not include a 'divorce order' [recommendation to fire officials or suggestions that officials resign from office], those responsible for the failures will be able to keep their jobs."
The Likud on Thursday released a statement urging Defense Minister Ehud Barak to resign from the government immediately.
"We call on Barak to make good on his promise to quit the government and work toward holding early elections following the war report's release," read the statement.
Barak has repeatedly promised Labor Party members he would quit the government following publication of the final report.
Fellow Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines also urged Barak to have Labor quit the government. He added that it was important that all those involved in failures during the war leave their posts and allow the country to heal itself.
"This is the final chance for Israeli politicians to repair the damage done, and restore the faith of the Israeli public in their elected officials," he said.
Sheera Claire Frenkel and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.