The Prime Minister's Office came out Wednesday squarely against publishing minutes from testimony to the Winograd Committee investigating the Second Lebanon War, just prior to the expected release of the protocols of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's testimony. The High Court of Justice, following a petition by Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On, ordered the publication of minutes from the testimonies as long as they were first screened by a special team of censors and intelligence personnel who would remove any classified information. "Our position is to refrain, at this stage, from releasing testimony heard by the Winograd Committee because this would result in real damage to Israel's vital interests," the statement read.
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"This is a tangible and immediate concern to the country's security, foreign affairs and to people and bodies which dealt - and continue to deal - with these concerns."
This statement was issued as a denial to a Yediot Aharonot report that quoted a source in the Prime Minister's Office as saying that the committee was "amateurish." The statement said that in addition to harming national security interests, the releasing of testimony "would result in future witnesses being reluctant to freely and openly testify before similar hearings," something that would curtail the committee's effectiveness.
"Even if it is decided to release testimony heard before the committee, it would be prudent to limit it only to the testimony of political figures involved in the public arena, and not to that of other witnesses such as military personnel, clerks, etc." the statement read.
The statement said that no one in the Prime Minister's Office has made "any such criticism about the work of the Winograd Committee whatsoever. Specifically, no criticism was made pertaining to the committee's hearing witnesses' testimonies behind closed doors. On the contrary, this was proper and justified."
The publication of Vice Premier Shimon Peres's testimony last week caused an uproar because he told the committee that Israel should not have gone to war against Hizbullah and that the IDF was unprepared to fight.
The protocols of Peres's testimony were published along with those of former OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. (res) Amos Malka and the head of Melah (Economy in Time of Emergency), Brig.-Gen. Arnon Ben-Ami.
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On, who has led the charge to make the Winograd proceedings public and was the one who originally petitioned the High Court on the subject, declared the Prime Minister's Office statements "chutzpah as well as scandalous." In an interview with Army Radio, Gal-On said that "we need to recall that the first one who leaked his testimony tendentiously and piecemeal to Haaretz and Ma'ariv was the prime minister, who wanted to create a public display to serve his own interests."
She maintained that Olmert was trying to throw sand in the public's eyes by attempting to hide his own testimony. "When the prime minister appointed a government inquiry committee, he said its authority would be like that of a state inquiry commission," she said. "Based on this, all of the testimonies must be published, and the discussions need to be public and open."