Winograd Commission Convenes for First Time

The Winograd Commission convened this morning (Monday) for the first time to set the operating parameters by which it will conduct its investigation into the war in Lebanon.

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Yechiel Spira, | updated: 07:25

The commission was established on Sunday, at the behest of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, by a 20-2 Cabinet vote. Only Ministers Ophir Pines and Eitan Cabel of the Labor Party objected, and Kadima's Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz abstained.

Pines told the media on Sunday afternoon that the board of inquiry established by the prime minister will not satisfy public calls for an independent probe into the war. Mofaz, a member of the prime minister’s party, concurred, explaining the only true investigation can be carried out by an independent body.

On the other hand, Olmert announced that the commission will receive essentially the same authorities that a higher-level commission would have received. The implication is that it will be able to subpeona witnesses and make weighty recommendations regarding the dismissal of officials from their positions. Acting Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said he will make sure the new commission has "teeth."

The commission appointed by Prime Minister Olmert is headed by retired Justice Eliyahu Winograd. The other committee members are Prof. Ruth Gavison, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, and retired IDF Major-Generals Menachem Einan and Chaim Nadel.

The commission of inquiry is responsible for investigating the government’s handling of the war in Lebanon. The appointment of the committee is the result of mounting public pressure, compelling Olmert to take action to investigate alleged government mishandling of the war.

With public sentiment calling for the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry headed by a retired Supreme Court justice, Olmert hopes his commission will satisfy calls for a fair inquiry.

The Movement for Quality Government (MQG) continues to spearhead the public effort calling for the independent inquiry. It is backed up by IDF reservists, including senior officers who accuse the government and General Staff of doing a poor job. Many are calling for resignations of senior officials, including the prime minister, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz.

The Movement for Quality Government (MQG) announced in response to the prime minister's decision to put retired Judge Eliyahu Winograd at the head of a commission of inquiry to investigate the war in Lebanon that "Olmert continues the battle of delaying and withdrawing."

"Only a commission of inquiry headed by a judge with legal jurisdiction appointed by the president of the Supreme Court, not by the prime minister, is the solution," MQG announced last week.

During recent meetings between Halutz and reserve duty IDF major-generals and brigadier-generals, there were calls for Halutz to step down. Many accused him of doing a poor job as the number one military commander during the war, attributing this to his lack of field experience. Halutz came from the ranks of the air force, which he headed, and not the regular army.

Minister Peretz has already stated unequivocally that he will not step down from office, adding confidently that he will cleared of any wrongdoing. He said he would have resigned if he would have thought it would bring benefit.

Seeking to deflect the continued high media profile given to the post-war criticism, Vice Premier Shimon Peres called on fellow ministers to now focus on running the country and permit the Winograd Commission to probe the war. Peres spoke of the “burning issues” that demand the cabinet’s full attention, seeking to spark a new national momentum.

MQG officials and the reservists leading the protests vow they remain undeterred, promising to continue their protests and actions until such time the prime minister agrees to authorize the formation of the independent commission of inquiry.