A flood of leaks

If the premier can be unfairly treated, what protection do the rest of us have?

olmert paris 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert paris 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as he himself acknowledged in a candid speech early in his term, is not popular. Indeed, this newspaper has repeatedly called for his resignation - not over his unpopularity but because of his glaring failings in conducting the Second Lebanon War. But even an unpopular Ehud Olmert deserves fairness, and he's not getting it from police and prosecutors. Should he eventually be indicted, it is of paramount importance for us all to feel comfortable that due process was strictly adhered to. Whatever the future moves of the legal system, they must be ethically unimpeachable. An unbiased prosecution, conducted with meticulous attention to legal propriety, is essential. It would counter the insinuations by Olmert's attorneys and publicists that there is a plot to depose him via a legal coup. Precisely because such provocative charges are being leveled - and because it is unclear to the average citizen how the legal system operates, why charges seem to pop up out of nowhere, and why some then simply fade away without further explanation - the system must operate on a level beyond reproach. UNFORTUNATELY, the conduct of the police and legal apparatus in leaking to the press is scandalous. The dramatic disclosure of yet another probe against Olmert involving multiple billing of airfares is an example: One tabloid featured a front-page curtain raiser which declared that following the anticipated revelations, "Nothing will be the same in this country. The ground will shake under our feet." If there is a case to be made, it must be made in the courts, not in the press. We can, in truth, no longer speak of leaks. A flood of confidential police transcripts has been making its way into the public domain for months on end - most recently, long-time Olmert lawyer Uri Messer's testimony regarding the Talansky affair, and Olmert's own version of events, as well as the results of police investigations conducted in New York. There is no public need to know, in real time, what police investigators are uncovering. The absence of confidentiality corrodes the prosecution's position, and our sense of fair play. As a disincentive to leaking by the state, perhaps judges should consider barring material that appears in the media before it reaches the courts. We are appalled by the recurring spectacle of testimony leaked while interrogations are still in progress. The police and Olmert's lawyers blame each other. The fact is that leaks are unconscionable regardless of the leaker's identity or motives. It is hard to escape the impression that neither the police nor the prosecution come out of this with clean hands. Often we learn who did - or didn't - "cooperate" with investigators at a point that is far too early, or useful, for the defense to exploit. And bellicose threats to "take off the kid gloves" - in response to defense accusations of police bullying - are intolerable. Even the semblance of police vindictiveness must be avoided. The prosecution and police represent "the people" and thus need to be especially wary of getting dragged into unprofessional exchanges of accusations. SUSPICIONS of tendentious leaks are further heightened by troubling past experience: We have seen former president Moshe Katsav subjected to information manipulation over the past two years. If leaks help to secure convictions, why is Katsav still a free man? Almost every premier since Yitzhak Rabin has been similarly mistreated, most notably Binyamin Netanyahu. The pre-dawn "surprise" police raid on his home, before his young children had left the house - and in full view of summoned TV crews - is memorable. The controlled innuendos in that case, moreover, never even yielded charges. If we do not respect the elementary rights of our politicians, much as they may antagonize us, we will encourage a negative selection of future leaders and deter talented young people from entering the political arena. Our concern, it need hardly be said, is not for Olmert's political survival but for the legitimacy of the legal system and the rule of law. If the premier can be unfairly treated, what protection do the rest of us have? The adage that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done has never been more applicable.