Exacerbating skepticism

In the tug of war between the Winograd Committee and the Supreme Court, both sides emerged looking bad.

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April 21, 2007 22:26
3 minute read.
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Ostensibly, the Winograd Committee has won its obstinate battle against repeated Supreme Court orders to publish testimonies of key witnesses before publishing its interim report. Yet in truth, both sides have lost out. The committee had initially undertaken to do the court's bidding and release testimony transcripts, censored as deemed necessary, prior to Pessah. Nevertheless, the committee went back on its word, and post factum appealed to the court to reconsider. In the background were intimations, not denied, that some committee members would resign if forced to release Ehud Olmert's, Amir Peretz's and Dan Halutz's testimonies what they deemed to be prematurely. On Thursday, the court seemed to relent, granting the committee the right to first publish its interim report, with the stipulation that the testimonies follow "as soon as possible" and "no more than two weeks after the report is issued." While apparently yielding to the committee's unrelenting pressure, Court President Dorit Beinisch nevertheless slammed its argument that "the court's original verdict [ordering the testimonies released] was unclear." "That contention," Beinisch determined, "is no less than surprising. Needless to say, the change in the committee's position from that presented previously, in a manner that undermines the court's ruling, is unacceptable." Yet the bottom line is that the committee got away with its curious rebellion against Israel's Supreme Court, something unthinkable in its sheer temerity for any individual or organization. And when all is said and done, the incredible spectacle of the committee and the court engaged in a discreditable tug-of-war for over two months was in every way unfortunate. All sides emerged looking bad. The court appears to have succumbed to pressure from the committee and the government; it seems to have capitulated to avoid the threatened resignations. The committee appears to have championed, above the interests of the public, the interests of the politicians who appointed it. Whether or not these impressions are actually true is almost besides the point. Even if the Winograd Committee is above reproach and has conducted its business impeccably, it has nevertheless managed to make it seem that it has not. For a panel that was installed to enlighten the public about the decision making process during last summer's war and subsequently to enable vital reforms and corrections, even the remotest hint of collusion to obscure fault is detrimental. This commission was conceived under the most controversial of circumstances, with the government attempting to prevent a full investigation while the public clamored for it. Adamantly opposing a state inquiry, the prime minister instead appointed a government committee to "probe" the war. The Supreme Court approved its formation by a narrow 4-3 majority. Unlike the judicial state inquiry, the government committee can work entirely behind closed doors, which necessarily undermines the public's need for transparency and accountability. Committees handling matters no less sensitive than Winograd's brief have managed open hearings (with the exception of matters relating to military secrets and covert agreements with foreign entities). That the Winograd Committee has operated so differently from some of its predecessors lowers already compromised public trust in its workings. The rub is that this committee, because of suspicions surrounding it from its inception, should have bent over backwards to reassure the public, rather than to exacerbate skepticism. Delaying the release of testimonies isn't merely a matter of protocol but goes to the heart of the process. The public must be able to compare testimonies to available records and to the committee's conclusions. Otherwise, how can the public ascertain that the committee's conclusions are not based on partial or skewed versions of events? If politicians are embarrassed - as Shimon Peres was when his testimony came out - then so be it. The committee would have preferred that the transcripts not be released at all - which would have made an unthinkable mockery of the whole inquiry process and which the court, rightly, would not hear of. Witnesses are sworn to tell only the truth and all of it. It's their duty to disclose and the public's right to learn.

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