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Monday had been thick with news on the Anat Kamm – Uri Blau front. Luckily, most of it had been in the mainstream media and has English translations, so once again, I’ll confine myself to fleshing out the gist of it.The main events were:
- Anat Kamm waives her confidentiality agreement with Blau and calls on him to return home, with the documents, as a plea bargain looms nigh. Kamm’s and Blau’s lawyers are “in consultations.”
- Justice Hammer’s receding gag order reveals the minutes of Kamm’s house arrest hearing, which includes the ideological underpinnings of her actions, as well asa first taste of Hammer’s deliberations on her case.
- According to the same, one of the copies of Kamm’s document stash had gone lost somewhere, somehow, and no one seems to know or care where it might be.
- The Justice Ministry and the IDF rehash their comments on Blau’s extrajudicial executions investigation at the heart of the affair.
- Israeli journalists are divided into two camps: Most of the grunts military correspondents on the daily beat are attacking Blau and Haaretz; most star commentators and top journos are defending him. Some even recall they’re nearly charged with the same offences he is accused of.
- Curiously, this isn’t the first time a soldier was caught passing documents to Blau. Want to know what happened to her? Read on.
Plea bargain ahoy: Kamm waives confidentiality
Kamm’s attorney, Avigdor Feldman, announced on Monday morning his client was publicly releasing Blau from whatever confidentially agreement they had between them as source and journalist. Some papers incorrectly reported it as Kamm waving her “immunity” or “journalistic privilege”; sadly, these are pipe dreams wrapped in wishful thinking, as neither the former nor the latter exist in Israeli law. What she did is formally absolve Blau of deliberations and misgivings about disclosing her as the source of his information. Considering Haaretz had claimed, though, the Blau is fearful for other documents in his possession, related to other sources, it’d dubious whether he’ll return based on Kamm’s statement alone. His lawyers are said to be consulting with Kamm’s, and it seems reasonable to assume talks with the authorities about his safe return will recommence soon.
“I did it to expose war crimes” – first details of Kamm’s motives; a word for Justice Hammer
The gradually receding gag order – partially lifted last Thursday, and to my understanding, due to fade gradually from other parts of the trial – revealed today the minutes of Kam’s house arrest hearing. It tells us significant details of Kamm herself and of the most senior judge in her trial – Ze’ev Hammer. As far as Kamm is concerned, she positioned herself clearly as someone acting out of conscience: She said she was motivated by a desire to alert Israeli public to war crimes she was (indirectly) witnessing in her work; and that she gathered the stash of documents in hope that they will serve as evidence should a real war crime investigation ever commence. Quote to remember: “History had forgiven those who reported war crimes.” She’s probably right, and one hopes she knows just how long she will have to wait to be vindicated.
I notice my earlier post about Hammer’s Mossad / Shin Bet past is the second most read on this subject, after the indictment translation, and I feel I need to stress something: At least until we know more of the hearing processes, we have no basis to conclude the judge’s past affiliations make the trial a kangaroo court. As a matter of fact, his conduct at the one hearing we know about was fairly reasonable – unless you expected him to shed a tear, dismount his bench, and crown Kamm with laurels, in which case you’re 100% bound for disappointment, no matter how the trial turns out.
Importantly, Hammer rejected out of hand the authorities’ pleas to have Kamm sequestered until further notice, ruling she clearly posed no further risk to state security, and releasing her to house arrest; curiously for a case concerned with illicitly distirbuting classified information, Kamm wasn’t at all constrained in her communications – she continued writing for a privately owned publication for 3 out of the 5 months of her arrest, and remained in contact with the outside world until at least last week, unrestricted except by fear of wiretapping.
Moreover, while Hammer rejected Kamm’s claim to being able to identify war crimes – a deplorable statement on his part, even if legally understandable – it seems most of his ire was directed at the military data security regulations: “”I was astounded by the inconceivable failure, as well the faulty and negligent data security arrangements,” he said, “”no one asked questions or showed interest in why she needed the files of secret material on disks before her discharge.” Haaretz splashed the first quote across its front page this morning, and for a fine reason: Spreading the blame around the military apparatus is good news for Kamm, even if doesn’t do justice to the war crimes she was signaling about.
Finally, a legal source of mine who declined to be named, voiced the following opinion on Hammer:
“Hammer’s past with the Shin Bet and the Mossad may well have a positive side: Knowing the system from within, he is likely be a lot more level-headed about such voodoo terms as “top secret evidence,” “classified information,” “state security” etc, which all too often dazzle Israeli judges.”
The magical disappearing CDR
One of the things that riveted media attention here on Tuesday was Hammer’s passing reference to Kamm’s negligence in actually losing one of the CDs she copied. It does Kamm no favors in the trial, and the remark gave rise to a faint treasure-hunting atmosphere in the Israeli media – but few outlets seemto have noticed her attorney’s clarification this morning that the lost CD was the one with Power Point presentations; the indictment said she only took the document CD from the office. Still, it’d be grand if some environmental lobbyist could spin it by anonymously claiming she threw the disc away- joint forces of journalists, bloggers, spies and freelance paramilitaries would lick all of Israel’s landfills clean by the weekend.
Journalists go pro- and anti-Blau
On Monday, Yuval Elbashan wrote in Haaretz:
They were supposed to be the vanguard that protects Haaretz reporter Uri Blau on his journalistic mission. They were supposed to be at the forefront of the army protecting the freedom of expression, which also includes the journalistic liberty to possess leaked documents, whatever their origin.
As such, they were supposed to be the first to condemn the heavy-handed behavior of the Israeli security services using all possible means – including illegal ones and those that may be legal but are not acceptable – to persecute a journalist solely because of his journalistic work. Their experience should have taught them that a journalist’s role is not only to file a certain number of words, but to protect the fundamental values of the journalistic method and process.
But the leading military “reporters” and “analysts” in Israel chose not to carry out their duty. Even worse, not only did they fail to defend Blau, they opted to side with the assault on their colleague, raising doubts about the way journalists work and think.
I recommend reading Elbashan’s op-ed in full, but let me just say this: In the past few days, quite a few Israelis told me that they had witnessed injustices to some degree or another in their military service, but would never think to do what Kamm has done – to shine a spotlight on it. Now, in case you were wondering, they didn’t say with with shame and regret. They spat it out with righteous indignation: How DARE she do what we didn’t have the guts to do when we were young?
I would argue the same mechanism is at work with the correspondents now attacking Blau. All Israeli military correspondents have encountered, or could have encountered, manifold injustices – from petty abuse to outright crimes – being perpetrated by the IDF against Palestinians, Israelis, soldiers, taxpayers money and the environment; most of them (with a number of honorable exceptions) chose to keep mum most of the time, whether for reasons of ideology or for fear of losing the sources that feed their careers.
Uri Blau, by contrast, had exposed a number of high profile war crime and corruption suspicions against very senior figures in the IDF. In other words, he’s making his colleagues look bad. Blau’s conduct in the Kamm affair has drawn some legitimate criticism; but when you read an anti-Blau piece, it might be a good idea to Google the author’s name and see just how critical they themselves had been of past government and military misconduct.
Quite on the other end of the spectrum stands a group of very senior Israeli journalists – Geula Even, Raviv Drooker, Emmanuel Rosen, Mickey Rosenthal, Amit Segal, Gidi Weitz, Ofer Shelach (one of the honorable exceptions mentioned) and even Ben Caspit – who signed a protest letter demanding to withdraw Blau’s arrest warrant. They urged a compromise – Blau would return all documents given to him by Kamm and will not be prosecuted. The journalists pretty courageously note:
“We are concerned the Blau case would produce a dangerous precedent… up until today, the prosecution did not press charges against journalists who held on to classified information – an offense most of us have been guilty of, in one way or another.”
Also worth noting is top military analyst Reuven Pedahtzur’s recollection how he was almost charged with espionage.
And finally, a deja-vu: Kamm 2002
8 years ago, a soldier who served as a secretary in an IDF regional HQ, handed some classified documents to (then) Kol Ha-Ir reporter (a local paper from Haaretz group), one Uri Blau. The documents had to do with a charge that was set off in Gaza and Killed 5 Palestinian children.
The army started an internal investigation and was able to trace the soldier who leaked the documents. She was tried by her CO and sentenced to 35 days in army prison.
Around the same time, an IDF Brigadier general was forced to retire from the service after leaking to reporters the content of a classified meeting with the Chief of Staff.
Read the rest here.
The army’s response to Blau’s original report on suspected war crimes merits a separate post, and I still don’t have all the material. Coming later tonight, I hope.