The High Court gave Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On until April 4 to respond to the request of the Winograd Committee not to publish the censored transcripts of testimony by the prime minister, defense minister and former chief-of-staff until after it published its interim report at the end of April. The decision came in the wake of the state's request to postpone publishing the testimonies of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz, which were due to be released before Pessah.
Editorial: Release the transcripts
Earlier Sunday, a group of bereaved families demanded that Judge Eliahu Winograd, who heads the Winograd Committee of investigation into the Second Lebanon War, publish transcripts from the committee hearings immediately.
"If you don't intend to abide by this court order," the families wrote in a letter, "We call on you to resign from the committee, in order to set up a state committee of inquiry and disband this shameless government."
However, from the decision of High Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin to the state's request, it appears that the censored minutes of the three testimonies will not be released before Pessah, though Rivlin did not specifically say so.
"The committee believes that until publication of the interim report and until the committee finishes deliberating [which parts of the testimonies should be made public and which should not,] it would be unreasonable to publish segments of the" testimonies, the state's representative, Attorney Osnat Mandel, wrote in a response to the court.
The Winograd Committee's request came in the wake of a decision handed down by Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin on March 22, ordering the state to publish the testimonies of Olmert, Peretz and Halutz before Pessah. In issuing the order, Rivlin went further than Gal-On, who had only asked that the Winograd Committee publish the testimonies before it released its interim report on the state's handling of the Second Lebanese War. She argued that the public would be better able to judge the interim report for themselves if they read the testimonies of the three leaders before the report came out.
But the Winograd Committee told the court that during the past 10 days, since Rivlin issued his order, it had concluded that it would not be right to publish the censored minutes of the three testimonies until after the interim report was published.
Some of the lessons were based on what happened after it published the first three censored testimonies on March 22 of Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, retired intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Malka and the head of Melah (Economy in Time of Emergency,) Brig.-Gen. Arnon Ben- Ami. Others were derived from the current review of the testimonies of Olmert, Peretz and Halutz in preparation for their publication.
"The lessons the committee learned from the work of preparing the [three] transcripts for publication together with the immediate results of the publication of the first three transcripts caused it to reconsider and hold an intense internal discussion on the question of publishing partial transcripts of testimonies at this time," wrote Mandel.
Consequently, she continued, the committee decided to postpone dealing with the matter
until it finished writing the interim report.
Mandel then went on to list the developments which made the committee change its mind.
-The segments of the first three testimonies published on March 22 had given a distorted picture of what the witnesses had actually said.
In the case of Peres, for example, the published testimony had given the "mistaken" impression that he had not expressed doubts about the decision to go to war when it could have made a difference. "This interpretation of the incomplete material that was published caused serious and unfair harm to Peres," Mandel wrote.
-The publication of the censored and therefore incomplete testimony did not provide the
public with the information necessary to help read the interim report critically. In fact, it only served to confuse the public.
-The release of the partial transcripts could cause damage to the privacy and reputation of various people without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves.
-The publication of the testimonies at this point would harm the future work of the committee, which is still in the investigative stage. The committee intends to call up more witnesses after the interim report is published. The published minutes will help those under investigation coordinate their stories and discourage other witnesses from testifying if they know that what they say will become public.
-The question of keeping information from the public must be weighed against saving lives. Witnesses who could shed light on failures which could be uncovered and corrected if they talked, will not want to testify if they fear they or their friends can be hurt because of their testimony.
Mandel added that a great deal of time and energy goes into reading the minutes of a testimony, determining what information could harm state security, reading over what is left to publish and then determining whether the material, in its fragmented form creates a false impression of what the witness actually said. It will take a long time to work out these problems, she continued. Therefore, the committee had decided it could not deal with this matter until after it completed the interim report.