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February 10, 1989 - Image 100

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

COMMENT

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100

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 1989

Washington Could Gain
From Israel's Kahan Inquiry

BEZALEL GORDON

Special to The Jewish News

T

he recent develop-
ments that led in-
dependent prosecutor
Walsh to move for dismissal of
the most serious charges
against Oliver North should
please no one. Those who
would like to see North
punished to the full extent of
the law can only gnash their
teeth in frustration, while
those who consider the col-
onel a hero would prefer that
all the charges be dropped.
And all American taxpayers
are losers, as the
astronomical legal costs con-
tinue to soar.
Everyone understands the
need to balance legitimate
interests of national security
with constitutional rights
guaranteeing fairness in the
judicial process. But is the Ad-
ministration taking advan-
tage of its powers of classifica-
tion in order to quash the pro-
secution's case and avoid
potentially embarrassing
revelations? And, recalling
that this trial follows long
after, and covers much the
same ground as, two other ex-
pensive exercises (the Tower
Commission and Congress'
Iran-Contra hearings), is
there perhaps a better,
quicker, more efficient way of
getting at the truth, while not
letting wrongdoers off the
hook?
There is, indeed: the Israeli
model. Exactly six years ago
this month, Israel released
the final report' of the Kahan
Commission, officially known
as The State of Israel Com-
mission of Inquiry into the
Events at the Refugee Camps
in Beirut (the massacre in
Sabra and Shatilla). Like the
Agranat Commission before
it (which investigated the
debacle of the Yom Kippur
War), its conclusions were
fraught with military,
political and personal im;
plications. Both commissions
combined elements of the in-
quiries of the Tower Commis-
sion and the joint Senate-
House committee, as well as
of a courtroom trial. In Israel,
a single commission does it
all, and the country is ready
to move on to other business.
In Washington, however,
such investigations represent
a booming "industry," with

Bezalel Gordon, who now
lives in Washington, was the
official spokesman for the
Kahan Commission.

U.S. taxpayers footing the
bill. This duplication (tripli-
cation?), as well as the strain
of constant, damaging press
leaks, contrast most unfavor-
ably to the efficient and leak-
proof operation run by the
Kahan Commission.
With the activities of the in-
dependent counsel now tak-
ing center stage, the congres-
sional committee findings are
already a fading memory.
And who these days even re-
members the Tower Commis-
sion?) Yet it is the nearly
forgotten Tower Commission
that was most significant for
the purposes of bureaucratic
change (perhaps especially so
since its chairman is the in-
coming secretary of defense).
It was certainly a rare event
in American history.

The Kahan
Commission was
truly a
combination of all
the scattered
commotion that
has been
_consuming
Washington for
months on end.

Israeli authorities, on the
other hand, not only spon-
sored a soul-wrenching film
about the still fresh and hot-
ly debated Lebanon war, but
the Israeli people demanded
accountability all the way to
the top, scant hours after the
gruesome pictures from Sabra
and Shatilla exploded on tele-
vision screens around the
world. The Kahan Commis-
sion verdicts were delivered
in less than five months after
the sad event it investigated
— that includes a period of
stonewalling by then Prime
Minister Begin before he was
pressured by public opinion
into appointing the commis-
sion. .
The Kahan Commission
was truly a combination of all
the scattered commotion that
has been consuming Wash-
ington for months on end.
The same commission in
Jerusalem ran both open and
closed hearings, sometimes
on the same day, depending
on the sensitivity of the
testimony to be heard at that
session. It had the power to
subpoena the highest office-
holders in the land, and it did.
Prime Minister Begin, De-
fense Minister Sharon and

.

Foreign Minister (now Pre-
mier) Shamir all made ap-
pearances in public hearings
and in camera. Israel does not
grant the sanctuary of a Fifth
Amendment; but the provi-
sion for the option (including
at the request of the witness)
of closed hearings effectively
dispenses with excuses for not
testifying completely and
with the candor expected of
trusted government officials
and public servants.
The witnesses whose repu-
tations and careers were on
the line were treated with
consummate fairness, even
without resort to constitu-
tional protection (Israel does
not have a written constitu-
tion). When the commission
had gathered its first round of
evidence, it moved into a sec-
ond, more legalistic phase,
employing a two-pronged ap-
proach which obviated the
need for conferring immuni-
ty from prosecution. The
Kahan Commission issued
formal letters of warning to
nine cabinet ministers and
army officers, advising them
that the panel was likely to
render an adverse judgment
with regard to their roles in
the affair and urging them to
retain defense counsel. The
Israeli equivalents of Bren-
dan Sullivan were summari-
ly hired.
When all the final argu-
ments were heard, the three
commissioners retired to
deliberate, and not a word
leaked prematurely to the
media before the report was
officially released. There was
suspense, but no lack of con-
fidence in the basic workings
and soundness of the national
security apparatus.
The Kahan Commission
crafted thorough prescrip-
tions for reforming bureau-
cratic channels; it also made
operative recommendations
concerning individuals which
the cabinet adopted and
implemented quickly and
cleanly — including the re-
moval of Defense Minister
Sharon from his post. This
drastic action did provoke
street demonstrations, with
some unfortunate attendant
violence. But the interna-
tional community, in the form
of universal editorial com-
ment, reacted in the winter
and spring of 1988 with an
unprecedented outpouring of
respect and praise for a pro-
cess that sought — and
achieved — introspective jus-
tice, no matter who had to pay
the political price.

-4

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