(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus announced Monday he is establishing a special team of investigators from all five departments in his office to investigate the conduct of the war against Hizbullah, including the preparedness of the home front.
Lindenstraus said he had ordered the heads of the departments - who will investigate the defense establishment, including the IDF, the local authorities and the various government ministries - to select candidates for the special team.
It is unlikely, however, that the state comptroller's decision will impact on the growing demands for an independent state commission of inquiry headed by a judge.
According to the law, the state comptroller has no power to enforce his conclusions. All he can do is publish a report of his findings and recommendations and hope that public opinion, with the help of the media, will force the executive branch to implement them.
On the other hand, he is an independent official who is not dependent on the government for his position. Furthermore, according to the law, he is authorized to demand answers from anyone to questions he raises during the investigation.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is waiting for the results of an examination by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz about what possibilities are open to him to investigate the failures that were revealed during the war in the North.
According to constitutional expert Dr. Susie Navot of the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion, there are several basic tools for conducting investigations into the functioning of the government or other bodies.
The first two, which do not apply to the scope of the war in the North, include military investigations and military commissions of inquiry.
The third, which is not a statutory institution, is an internal committee of investigation. This is the type of machinery that Defense Minister Amir Peretz established to investigate the military operations. Peretz appointed the chairman and the members of the committee. The committee is not empowered to summon witnesses or demand to see documents. Its conclusions and recommendations are not binding on anyone. In fact, the committee is only obliged to present its findings to Peretz and they will only be published if Peretz agrees to publish them.
The next step is a government committee of investigation, in accordance with the Government Law. Here too, the government, or more specifically the justice minister, appoints the members of the committee, which is answerable to the government. However, the government may decide to appoint a judge to head the committee, in which case it will assume the prerogatives of a state committee of inquiry with the right to summon witnesses and demand documents.
The Zeiler Committee, established to investigate the failures of the police and prosecution in the Perinian affair, was established in that manner. As a result, it was also empowered to issue cautionary letters to some of the figures involved.
The Knesset can also establish an investigation committee of its own. A regular Knesset committee that declares itself a parliamentary committee of investigation may summon witnesses. However, it is not a very serious body since it is influenced by political considerations.
There is also, as previously mentioned, the possibility of investigation by the state comptroller.
Finally, there is the possibility of establishing a state commission of inquiry. According to the Commissions of Inquiry Law, the government must decide to establish such a commission. It then asks the president of the Supreme Court to appoint its members. The head of the commission must be a Supreme Court justice or District Court judge or someone who served in either capacity.
The commission is an entirely independent body and, although the law does not specify that the government must accept its recommendations, these recommendations are almost always implemented. This, for example, was the case in the 1982 Kahan Commission of Inquiry, which recommended that Ariel Sharon step down as defense minister. Sharon left the post and never held it again.
The disadvantage to Olmert of such a commission is that he would have no control over it and his political career could be hurt by its findings. Olmert has also said that such commissions usually take too long to complete their work.
By the same token, those demanding such a commission want it precisely because it is independent and because of the public status it enjoys.