PM: Let me defend myself to Winograd

IDF Advocate General's Office petitions High Court demanding c'tee issues cautionary letters to army personnel.

By DAN IZENBERG
August 1, 2007 13:58
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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert turned to the Winograd Committee on Wednesday with a request to allow him to defend himself following criticism of his management of the Second Lebanon War. Olmert asked to be allowed to appear before the panel again and to cross-examine witnesses, Channel 10 reported. Earlier Wednesday, the defense section of the IDF Advocate General's Office petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that the Winograd Committee examining the decision-making process during the war issue cautionary letters to IDF personnel likely to be hurt by its findings and give them the chance to defend themselves before the recommendations are finalized and published. The High Court petition was filed after the defense section, headed by Col. Orna David, tried unsuccessfully to extract a clear statement from the panel promising to do so. The petition called on the Winograd Committee to "explain why it would not state in writing to any IDF soldier or officer who might be hurt by the full and final report in what way he might be hurt and (a) also allow him to study and copy the evidence presented to the committee, including documents, transcripts of oral statements, testimony, etc, which he has not yet seen; (b) question witnesses before the committee and (c) complete his arguments before the committee in person or in writing, and all of this before the committee publishes its final conclusions." The petitioners said that the Winograd Committee maintains that since it is a government-appointed committee of examination rather than a full-fledged state commission of inquiry, it is not bound by Article 15 of the State Commission of Inquiry Law. The article grants the rights being demanded by the petitioners to those who stand to be hurt by a commission's findings. According to the petitioners, the Winograd panel's position contradicts a promise made by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to the High Court in response to a previous petition, to the effect that the committee would "establish an arrangement similar to the one called for in Article 15." The petitioners called on the court to issue a "clear, explicit and unambiguous ruling and state in a loud and clear voice that the committee does not have the freedom to decide for itself about sending notifications to those who stand to be hurt by the investigation, and that it does not have the freedom to decide about whether to grant the rights contained in Article 15 to anyone who receives such notification. Those rights are automatically guaranteed." In its first round of public hearings, the Winograd Committee took testimony from more than 60 witnesses. The position of the committee is that when it summoned witnesses who stood to be hurt by its final report, it told them specifically what it would ask them about, thus making clear the issues that required explanations on the part of the witnesses. The committee also maintained that it gave the witnesses the opportunity to talk as much as they wanted about these matters and to explain and defend themselves. The petitioners strongly disagreed with the committee's position. They wrote that every witness in the first round of hearings had received a preliminary summons that was worded in very general terms. The letter outlined the committee's mandate and then asked the recipient to describe his job and the institution or unit he was commanded. The letter ended with a general statement saying that "the committee attributes great importance to the things you can tell us and the answers to the committee's questions on this matter as well as other topics that were part of your job or that you know about." Some of the witnesses received a second letter before addressing the panel, the petitioners continued. These letters were more specific with regard to the topics the witness would be asked about. However, they were also worded in general terms and referred to questions on topics such as "preparedness vis-à-vis the threat from Lebanon [or] the conduct of the campaign beginning on July 12." "In neither of these letters, the first nor the second, did any soldier receive notification according to the wording of Article 15," the petitioners wrote. "It goes without saying that none of them were allowed to see the evidence or bring a lawyer along when they testified." According to the petitioners, the Winograd Committee intimated in its interim report published on April 30 that it might reconsider the rights that would be granted to those who stood to be hurt by its final conclusions and recommendations. Therefore, on June 28, the petitioners wrote to the committee asking it to act in accordance with Article 15. The committee replied on July 8, saying it would provide "an opportunity to anyone who might be hurt to defend himself before the report is published." On July 10 ,the petitioners asked the committee to clarify its position and called on it to immediately announce the arrangements it would make to allow soldiers to review the material and to question witnesses. In its reply of July 18, the panel wrote: "Obviously we will apply the principles of natural justice to anyone who stands to be hurt, in such a way that he will be able to defend himself before the final draft of the report is prepared." The petitioners said they regarded this answer as satisfactory until the committee issued a press release later the same day clarifying that it would grant this right to those "who had not already received it." In other words, the committee maintained that those witnesses who had been questioned in the first round of testimony had been given the chance to defend themselves and that it could publish its recommendations regarding these people without further ado. The opportunity to defend themselves will apparently be granted to those who had not yet testified but who might be questioned during a second round of testimony, or who had testified in the first round before the committee had considered the possibility that they might be hurt. These people would have the same rights as those questioned in the first round. The petitioners came to the conclusion that the committee had refused to abide by Article 15 and, therefore, decided to petition the High Court.

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