Thursday, October 15, 2009

Civilian Investigation: Pros and Cons

According to Haaretz, the Americans, British and French are pressuring Israel to launch a civilian investigation into the events of the Gaza operation.

Such an investigation would likely to be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice - Aharon Barak is the obvious candidate - joined by a prominent academic figure and a retired general. It would sit for six months or a year, and eventually submit a thick report in two sections. One would be for public and international consumption, and would address all the issues relevant to the public, political and international discussions. The second, classified, section would focus on the minutiae of military practice; it will remain classified for decades, for obvious reasons. So far as I know, the classified section of the Agranat Commission's report, submitted in 1974, is still not open.

There are pros and cons to such a move.

The most obvious reason not to set up such a commission is that it would seem to vindicate the Goldstone Commission's findings, at least until the results are published. Given the degree to which the Goldstone Report really and truly is an unaceptable document- a very large degree - this is a legitimate consideration.

The second reason not to have a civilian investigation is that the international practice in democracies is not to have them. The investigations Israel is already holding are as professional and legally sound as those the Americans and Europeans hold, and their pressure on Israel to do more is hypocrisy (or power politics, which is similar). Remind me who headed the civilian investigation into the battles of Faluga, say?

The pros are more numerous. First, once the Barak Commission refutes the main findings of the Goldstone report - and it will, there can be no doubt about that - the world will have to divide itself on this matter into two clear camps. The one that accepts Israel as a democracy fighting an ugly enemy with reasonable measures and some room for improvement; and the one that uses whatever tools it can to attack Israel, irrespective of facts or rationality. True, the existing investigations should be enough, but for some people, Aharon Barak's presence will be reassuring.

This consideration also touches the whole issue of international law; a Barak Report will bolster the saner of its advocates and proponents.

Next, Israel has held such investigations for all its wars since 1973, and for various less-than-war cases in between. None of them have ever damaged us, and they've all strengthened us. There really is eternal room for improvement, and serious investigations by serious professionals always find valuable things.

Further, the reading of the Goldstone Report is uncomfortable. Yes, it's biases are outlandish, its methods are worse than primitive, and it's riddled by factual mistakes. Yet it's impossible not to read the litany of horrific things it describes and remain untouched. A civilian investigation would have the tools and the time to do what the individual reader cannot: sift through the endless details and do its best to reach the truth.

So, will there be such an investigation? I'd hazard the guess there won't. I don't see the Netanyahu government setting it up right now, since they've correctly decided to lambast the Goldstone Report with everything they've got; this, in spite of the fact that it wasn't them, it was the previous government (which contained the same minister of defense, that's true).

Should there be such an investigation? I think it would be the grown-up thing to do, yes.


Anonymous said...

maybe the grown-up thing to do, yes!

but as Israel has done her normal investigation I'd vote for rightful indignation

how long and how often will you have to submit to being the accused and to prove that you are alright - you think anybody is going to change his or her mind once you have let yourself be forced into doing something no other state is ever asked to do?

I liked Netanyahu's behaviour at the UN very much for the reason that it showed me how much I longued for rightful indignation coming back on the world stage - from anybody whether Israeli or not - at the insults thrown at "us" without the other side never ever confessing to even the tiniest of their own wrongdoings
if I sound pitchforky in this, that's because how I feel about it but I remain open to resign myself to diplomatic horsetrading anytime nonetheless because it probably is the grown-up thing to do

Richard said...

Richard Landes has advocated a report investigating the methodology and biases of the Goldstone commission. Here's an idea. Perhaps Israel could set up a civilian commission with three mandates: (1) Investigate charges against the IDF contained in the Goldstone report. (2) Investigate (and in the process futher document) charges against Hamas contained in the Goldstone report (e.g. use of civilians as shields, rocket launches against civilian Israeli targets, etc.). And (3) Investigate the biases and methodological errors that led the Goldstone commission towards its unwarranted condemnations of Israel and its underplaying Hammas war crimes. The purpose of (3) would not only be short-term defense against the Goldstone commission's excesses. It would also be a step towards generating "best practices" for commissions investigating armies fighting insurgents and terrorists who hide among civilians.
Yours, Richard

aiwac said...

Richard has a point here - if we do nothing but investigate OUR actions, then we'll be perpetuating the idea that we are the only one ever accountable in this mess. Hamas would continue to get a free ride.

Victor said...

Yaacov, I also agree that doing a civilian investigation has few drawbacks and opportunity costs, with significant benefits, both in practice and perception. I'd like to recommend something, however...

If the Americans, British and French are so interested in an Israeli civilian investigation, perhaps they TOO should be represented in the Israeli civilian investigative commission? Why not? Let's invite an entire international component, Germans, Norwegians, Chinese, Brazilians... serious professionals who have a reputation for non-political competence.

That would lend true international credibility to the findings, while solidifying modern democracies behind just war against Islamic extremists. It would provide the intellectual basis for legitimizing future wars by establishing an agreed precedent within international law for nations battling irregular combatants who hide within civilian populations.

Furthermore, it would help to solidify Israel's relationships with the world's leading powers.

What do you think?