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The Winograd Committee, for all the indignation and sarcasm contained in its response on Sunday to a petition filed by the Military Defender's Office last month, has no one to blame but itself for the fact that the petition was filed in the first place.
From the beginning, the members of the committee treated the High Court of Justice like some sort of nuisance that kept getting in the way of their vital work. The committee gave the impression that it did not like anyone questioning their decisions or telling them what to do. In fact, in Sunday's response to the military defender, the committee's attorney, Zvi Agmon, went so far as to accuse Military Defender Col. Orna David of petitioning the court for the sole purpose of discrediting it in the eyes of the public.
It should have been no secret to the members of the Winograd Committee that officers, and perhaps soldiers, were deeply concerned that it findings would harm their reputations, block promotions or even make them lose their jobs. Back in March, the military defender and OC Home Front Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon petitioned the High Court against the state comptroller's intention to give a brief statement to the Knesset State Control Committee on the interim findings of his investigation into the government and the army's handling of the home front before and during the war. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had intended to do so before receiving the explanations of those who stood to be hurt by the report's allegations.
Despite the forewarning, the Winograd Committee was utterly insensitive to these concerns. In April, when it published its interim report, it explained that it regarded those who had testified before it in the previous months, and whom the committee regarded as potentially responsible for failures in the conduct of the war, to have already been warned. It also regarded the testimony of those witnesses as being their defense to any allegations against them.
Therefore, the committee argued, there was no reason to issue cautionary letters and to allow those under suspicion to hire lawyers and to defend themselves before the panel.
After the interim report was published and the committee began work on the final version, the military defender demanded to know whether the committee intended to send cautionary letters to those who stood to be harmed. On July 18, the committee issued a letter saying it would "send appropriate notification to those who might be hurt and allow those who receive such notification to defend themselves before the committee." Later that day, however, the committee clarified the earlier statement, saying it applied to anyone who had not been questioned in the first round of testimony. In other words, they would receive the same "warning" given to those who appeared before the panel the first round of testimony.
It was this clarification that rekindled David's fears and persuaded her to petition the High Court.
During the hearing, the committee promised that it would send out cautionary letters to anyone who stood to be hurt by its presentation of facts, conclusions and recommendations. It refused, however, to say whether there would be any such people.
Then, on October 18, the committee announced that it intended to publish the final report on its findings by the end of the year. This meant by definition that it could not send letters of caution, because it would take many months for the recipients to respond. Even at this late date, however, the committee refused to address the fears of the military defender by stating clearly and openly that it would not include material of any kind that could cause harm to individuals.
The military defender petitioned again, fearing that perhaps the panel would publish such material without issuing letters of caution, despite its promise to the court.
In its response on Sunday, the Winograd Committee acted as though it could not understand why the military defender was making such a fuss.
It both insulted her and treated her with scorn. But the truth is that only now, in its response to this latest petition, did the committee at long last say what it should have said long before. Had it stated many weeks (or months) ago that it did not intend to publish material that could harm individuals, it would have allayed the fears of the military defender on the spot. There would have been no need for another petition, or for the brazen response it elicited from the committee.