People won't buy Olmert's ploy

Prime Minister established three separate committees with no clear links of communication.

olmert angry 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert angry 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
In opting to appoint an internal committee of investigation to look into the political decision-making process during the war, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has opted for the strategy of "divide and conquer." It is also unlikely that the public will accept his ploy of establishing such a committee, which is to be headed by former Mossad chief Nahum Admoni. The Movement for Quality Government and the head of the army reservists protest movement have already declared they will continue their campaign for an independent state committee of inquiry headed by a judge. Meanwhile, University of Haifa law professor Emmanuel Gross described Olmert's proposal as a "cover-up committee." There will be many critics, and not only from the political opposition, that will agree. The second Lebanese War raised questions regarding three major issues: the IDF's preparedness for and conduct of the war, the government's definition of its war aims and its decision-making process; and the manner in which the government and the local authorities prepared the home front for the war. Since these three issues are interrelated, the obvious and most effective thing to do would have been to examine all of them within an integrated and holistic framework. Instead, Olmert has chosen to establish three separate committees which have no clear links of communication, information-sharing or data analysis among them. The military investigation committee is to be headed by former chief of General Staff Amnon Shahak, the investigation of the political echelon by Admoni and the preparedness of the home front by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. The heads of the military and political committees were appointed respectively by the defense minister and the prime minister. The only fully independent investigator is Lindenstrauss, whose powers are defined by the Basic Law: State Comptroller. It is not known at this point whether Olmert promised that the Admoni or Shahak committees would be able to subpoena whatever witnesses and documents they wanted. On the face of it, neither Shahak nor Admoni have such powers. Indeed, both committees are not anchored in any law. In deciding to appoint an internal committee of investigation, Olmert rejected the two other options he had. The first was to appoint a state (judicial) committee of investigation in accordance with the 1968 Investigations Committee Law. In this case, the prime minister would have had no control over the choice of committee members. According to the law, he would have had to ask the president of the Supreme Court to appoint the committee. The committee would have been empowered to summon witnesses, subpoena documents and conduct searches for information. It would have been able to order witnesses to take an oath to tell the truth, as in a court of law. The committee would have also had the power to reach conclusions and recommend sanctions against those it deemed responsible for the problems that it investigated. The head of such a committee would have been experienced in questioning witnesses and processing oral and written testimony. Olmert's other option was to appoint a government committee of inquiry in accordance with the 2001 Government Law. In this case, he would have had to appoint a retired judge to head the committee. Had the government agreed, but only if the government agreed, the justice minister could have granted the committee the prerogatives of a state committee of inquiry regarding the questioning of witnesses, including the right of subpoena. The Government Law does not include a provision regarding witnesses who may be harmed by the committee's findings, an indication, perhaps, that the committee is not empowered to make personal recommendations. Since there is no law governing internal committees of inquiry, Olmert's committee has no clear powers. It does not have the right to subpoena witnesses or demand to see documents. There are no provisions for how the investigation will take place. In the final analysis, the quality and effectiveness of such an investigation is dependent on the good will and commitment of those who establish it and those who are appointed. The other members of the committee include former naval commander Yedidya Ya'ari and Professors Ruth Gavison and Yehezkel Dror. Gavison and Dror are highly regarded in the academic world and can be counted upon to be serious, thorough and objective. If the government genuinely cooperates with the committee and give it its full backing and support, it may come up with a substantial report. The question will then be whether the decision-makers will implement it. On the other hand, there is something disturbing about the protesters who are demanding the establishment of an independent public committee of inquiry and, in the same breath, the resignation of Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and chief of General Staff Dan Halutz. It sounds like they not only want a public committee of inquiry, but that they also know what its findings should be even before it has begun investigating. It should also be remembered that public committees of inquiry are not always as effective as they may appear to be on paper. The Or Commission of Inquiry into the October 2000 riots in the Israeli Arab sector conducted a serious investigation and published a tough report which included important recommendations. However, it took the committee two years to complete its work. Now, almost three years later, only a small portion of its recommendations have been implemented. Others, including the recommendation to investigate the deaths of the 13 Israeli Arab and Palestinian victims have fizzled out. And the most important recommendation, regarding the need to reconsider and improve relations between the Jewish and Arab sectors has been almost completely ignored.