Israel lifts gag order on ex-soldier spy case

Israel lifts gag order on ex-soldier spy case Anat Kamm

JERUSALEM – Israel lifted months of censorship on a military espionage case Thursday, confirming the house arrest of a former female soldier charged with leaking more than 2,000 military documents to a newspaper.

Anat Kamm, 23, has been under house arrest since December, but the case was kept under wraps by a court-imposed gag order. The restrictions were eased Thursday after details of the case were reported by foreign media, including The Associated Press.

The indictment was released with some parts still censored and it revealed new details on the case, including allegations that Kamm copied more than 2,000 classified military documents and relayed them to the Haaretz newspaper. Some 700 were classified as “top secret.”

The indictment charges Kamm with passing information with the intent of harming national security. Her lawyer, Eitan Lehman, denied this.

“At no stage of this affair was Israel’s security damaged. Certainly, there was no intent to do so,” he told the AP.

The Justice Ministry said the gag order was necessary for security reasons and to allow officials to try to recover the classified documents. Only some of the documents were recovered, it said, in part because the Haaretz journalist who allegedly received them has left the country.

The gag order drew harsh criticism from local media because the foreign reports were easily accessible over the Internet. In some cases, local newspapers published Web sites leading readers to the reports, or even copies of foreign reports, with all relevant names and details blacked out.

Prosecutors allege Kamm was the source for a Haaretz story accusing the military of killing Palestinian militants in violation of a Supreme Court ruling.

Israel’s targeted killing policy was one of its most contentious in its years of bloody battle against a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. Critics charged it to be illegal extrajudicial killing, while supporters credit it with quashing the Palestinian campaign of suicide bombings and shooting attacks.

In late 2006, Israel’s Supreme Court set strict restrictions on assassinations in the West Bank, limiting them to extraordinary cases. Officially, the military stopped the practice following the ruling.

The Haaretz report cited a document from March 2007 that included an order from Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, then the top Israeli commander in the West Bank, permitting firing upon three top Palestinian militants even if they did not pose clear and present dangers.

That summer, one of the men, Ziad Malaisha of Islamic Jihad, was killed in Jenin. Legal experts interviewed by Haaretz said the order was illegal. Naveh told Haaretz at the time that the killing was justified and did not violate the court ruling. Naveh is now retired and refused comment.

At the time of the memos, Kamm served in Naveh’s office.

“All the newspaper stories were published with the consent of the (military) censor. If she posed a threat to national security, she would not have been allowed to stay home and continue working,” Kamm’s lawyer Lehman said.

Reporters in Israel must submit stories containing sensitive military information to the Israeli military censor, who has the authority to block publication of details deemed damaging to national security. In practice, few articles are submitted, and few changes or deletions are ordered.

The gag order in the case was issued by a court, not the military censor.

The Haaretz reporter who wrote the story, Uri Blau, recently was assigned to London and is believed to have some of the sensitive documents.

The Justice Ministry said that Blau has remained in London since December despite knowing he was wanted for questioning and that his lawyer reneged on a deal in which the journalist would return the sensitive documents in exchange for immunity from prosecution. He also would not be forced to identify his sources.

Israel’s Shin Bet security service said it began an investigation following Blau’s story in late 2008. Less than a year later he agreed to return 50 documents and have his personal computer destroyed, it said.

In a statement posted on the Haaretz Web site, editor-in-chief Dov Alfon said Blau had cooperated with the investigators last fall, and accused the Shin Bet of breaking a promise to grant immunity after the reporter returned the first batch of documents and destroyed the computer.

“Haaretz regrets the sudden change in the Shin Bet’s position and its consequences, which have resulted in threats and heavy pressure on a reporter who was just doing his job,” Alfon said.

Blau refused to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Kamm, who also declined comment, became a media columnist for the Walla Web site after completing her mandatory military service. The charges against her do not relate to her journalistic activities, but rather to being a journalistic source.

Lehman said that punishing her for this would be “a mortal blow to the state of Israel as a democratic country that believes in the freedom of the press.”

“This trial is not a trial against Anat Kamm or against this journalistic source or another but rather against the entire Israeli press,” he said.