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In the longest testimony until now, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz answered questions for seven hours on Sunday before the Winograd Committee and presented his version of the decision-making process during the Lebanon war this past summer.
During the testimony, Halutz was quizzed about his relationship with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz during the war and regarding his ability, as a former air force commander, to command ground forces. He was also questioned about the types of operations the IDF chose to launch following the July 12 abduction of reservists, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev along the northern border.
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Halutz told the committee that all of his decisions were coordinated with the political echelon and admitted to making a mistake by not calling up reservists from the outset of the fighting against Hizbullah. Halutz defended his decision not to launch a ground operation in Lebanon until the last weeks of the war and claimed that the decision was made in coordination with other generals and members of the General Staff.
During his testimony, Halutz said that his predecessors, particularly former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon, were responsible for the lack of training and the poor level of equipment that was found in emergency IDF warehouses.
Later this week, Olmert, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky and former OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam will testify before the committee. The committee - led by Judge Eliyahu Winograd - is scheduled to present an interim report by the end of February. Halutz submitted his resignation earlier this month.
Government officials who have already testified before the committee told The Jerusalem Post Sunday, that their impression was that Halutz was being singled out as one of the key figures behind the failures of the war. "His arrogance is what led to his downfall," said one Knesset member who testified before the committee.
Meanwhile, MK Zehava Gal-On demanded on Sunday that the Winograd Committee hold at least part of its hearings in public in its final week of deliberations before publishing its interim report.
Gal-On's attorney, Daphna Holtz-Lechner, told the High Court of Justice that the last five witnesses (not counting chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, who testified Sunday) including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the head of army intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin and Deputy Chief-of-Staff Moshe Kaplinsky, should at least give a public statement before withdrawing behind closed doors to continue testifying before the committee.
Holz-Lechner also demanded that the committee release the minutes of the meetings it has held so far, even if it first must censor those parts whose publication could harm national security.
"Public confidence in the committee will only increase if it is given access to testimony of the witnesses and is able to judge for itself how the committee reaches the decisions it comes to in its interim report," Holtz-Lechner told a panel of justices including Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin and Ayala Procaccia.
Procaccia made it clear that she disapproved of the blanket refusal of the committee to hear any testimony, or any part of a testimony, in front of the public. She said that since the Winograd Committee had all the powers of a state commission of inquiry, it should be bound by Article 18 (a) of the State Commission of Inquiry Law.
According to the article, "a commission of inquiry will holds it hearings in public; however, it may hold a hearing, all or part of it, behind closed doors if it is convinced that this is necessary to safeguard national security, the state's foreign relations, a vital economic interest of the state, or any classified modus operandi of the Israeli police or in order to protect an institution or the safety of an individual." Procaccia asked the state's representative, Attorney Aner Hellman, "why didn't the committee adopt this as its norm from the start? The provision [to allow behind-closed-door hearings] must be applied on an individual basis and this would have made it possible to open some of the hearings to the public." She added that it was "problematic" that the committee had decided in advance to close all the hearings.
Hellman replied that the committee had in fact acted in accordance with Article 18, but found that every hearing included material that could harm state security and therefore had to be held behind closed doors. He also pointed out that other state commissions of inquiry, including the Agranat Commission, which investigated the failure to call up the reserves in time before the Yom Kippur War, and the Kahan Commission, which investigated Israel's role in the Phalangist massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982, had not been open to the public. Hellman added that unlike most other commissions of inquiry, the Winograd Committee had its eye on the future rather than the past. Therefore, the subjects under discussion could be especially harmful to Israel if they were disclosed.
He also said that the committee would release interim and final reports open to the public and that after completing its investigation, would also go over the testimony submitted by the witnesses and determine which parts could be made public.
He also argued that each witness called up to testify had to feel free to say everything on his mind, something he might not do if he knew his testimony would be open to the public.
Holz-Lechner argued that there was no reason parts of the minutes of each days hearings could be released at the end of the day. The Army Censor and his staff could go over the material and determine which pages of the minutes did not contain classified information and could be released immediately, and which pages required further consideration and should be withheld in the meantime.