Winograd to issue cautionary letters

C'tee to allow criticized officials to receive warnings and defend themselves before final report released.

The Winograd Committee told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday it would grant most of the protections included in the State Commission of Inquiry Law to those who may be harmed by the contents of its final report. The committee's lawyer, Zvi Agmon, said: "The committee promises to give notification to anyone who stands to be hurt by the report and to explain the nature of the harm; to give anyone who receives such a letter the right to investigate the material relevant to the possible harm; and to give him the right to defend himself before the committee. The right to defend himself will include the right to be represented by a lawyer and to bring evidence [before the committee]." The committee refused to commit itself to allow witnesses to question other witnesses before the committee as part of their defense. Agmon said this would depend on the response of each person who received a letter of notification. He promised, however, that any request by such a person would be considered on an individual basis. "The committee is aware of the rights of those who stand to be harmed," he said, "and is also aware of the need for the investigation to take place speedily. It will determine its path taking both factors into account." Agmon's statement came in response to petitions filed by the military defender in the Military Advocate-General's Office and former interior minister Avraham Poraz. The petitioners had demanded that the Winograd Committee provide all of the protections included in Article 15 of the State Commission of Inquiry Law to those who stood to be harmed by its findings. The protections listed in the law include all of those mentioned by Agmon plus the right to question witnesses. The petitioners charged that the Winograd Committee had indicated in its interim report that it would not abide by Article 15. In that report, they maintained, the committee had declared it had already informed those who stood to be harmed by its findings in the letters inviting them to appear before the committee, had informed them what they would question them about, and therefore made clear what they were suspected of, and had given them as much time as they wanted to explain their positions to the committee. When this argument was raised by attorney Yossi Bankal on behalf of the military defender, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told him that what counted was the commitment Agmon had given to the court at the beginning of the hearing. "Everything else is history," she said. One of the crucial elements raised by Bankal during the hearing was the definition of what qualified as "causing harm" to a person. Did "causing harm" only occur when the committee recommended that punitive or disciplinary measures be taken against him? What if the committee did not make recommendations but repeated over and over again in its description of the facts that a certain person had failed at his job. What if it included such assertions in its conclusions without recommending taking measures against them. Bankal wanted to know what kind of action on the part of the committee toward someone would constitute "harm" that would warrant sending a letter of notification to that person. Agmon agreed that Article 15 (d) of the State Commission of Inquiry Law would apply. According to that paragraph, "The commission of inquiry is permitted not to send a letter of notification to a given person so long as it is convinced that there is nothing in the investigation that could hurt him and that the commission's report will not include findings or conclusions and will not make recommendations regarding him." The petitioners accepted the committee's statement and agreed to withdraw the petition.