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Daryl Mason is pretty new to Webdiary, and I hope he's with us for a long time. So far he has shared with us Whinging in Innisfail and More trouble for Howard and Downer as more Papuans arrive. Here is a candid analysis of Downer's performance at the Cole enquiry followed by a useful wrap up of the international media on the matter. It was originally published on Daryl's blog, New Reality. Thanks Daryl.
Drilling Downer - How to Dodge Embarrassing Questions Like a Professional
Hot Tips From the Australian Foreign Minister, Sensational Secrets Revealed
For the purpose of this training session, imagine you are the Foreign Minister of Australia, and you have been for almost a decade.
Now, imagine that you’re caught up in... oh, let’s say, a massive bribery and corruption scandal where an Australian company you’re very fond of greased the already greasy palms of one of the world’s worst dictators with $290 million and you’ve pretty much known all about it for getting onto eight years.
Today, you’re fronting an inquiry into the scandal, and it’s all a bit heavy. After all, you’ve practically been colluding with the enemy, even if that collusion only involved you turning many a blind eye to what was going down.
Now don’t panic. The questions will be tough, but your Prime Minister set up this inquiry, he set the terms of reference, so you haven’t got too much to worry about. The commissioner in charge can’t prosecute you. All he can do is allow you to be questioned for a few hours by a team of kick-arse lawyers and QCs.
This is the big league. It might seem like you’re being thrown in the deep end for your first lesson, but you’re going to be learning from the master blaster of obfuscation and deceit himself, the Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer.
All the responses below are taken from Downer’s appearance at the Cole Inquiry into the corruption of the UN Oil For Food program, where the Australian Wheat Board was allowed to sell billions of dollars of wheat to Iraq. The AWB is now accused of bribing the regime of Saddam Hussein in order to score the very best of the wheat contracts.
Downer was in fine form, that’s why we’ve chosen a litany of 'answers' from his testimony given on April 10, 2006, as the most perfect example for our lesson today.
Now, once the questions start rolling your way, try to avoid the simple and boring “No” answer. That kind of response quickly gives QCs the shits.
Saying “No” repeatedly makes it sound like you might be hiding something, or give the appearance that you don’t want to answer the questions honestly. After all, you’re under oath here.
Choose a favourite phrase of negative response and make good use of it.
“I don't recall.”
“I don’t recall.”
“I don’t recall.”
Three times in a row is plenty. You’ll start to look dodgy if you keep it up.
Now it’s time to shift gear. You’re still going to answer in the negative, you’re still going to avoid the question, but you’re going to alter your favourite response, oh so slightly.
“I just don’t recall.”
“No, not that I can recall at all.”
“I can't recall my state of mind when I read the document...”
“I don't recall being given that information.”
Throw in a “well” here and there, it makes you sound like you’re really trying to remember what you really don’t want to remember.
“Well, I simply do not recall.”
“Well, I can only tell you what I can recall...”
Okay, don’t overdo it with the “wells”.
“If he had told me that, I would have thought I'd have remembered it, but I don't recall.”
Now, when the questions get too close for comfort, when they’re honing in on information there is absolutely no way in the world you could possibly not be aware of, it’s time to get cute and cagey.
“Yes, it could be.”
“It may have been.”
“It could have been.”
“It might have been..”
A few “bes” and “beens” is enough. You’ve still got a couple of hours of questioning ahead. Shift back to the old favourite for a while.
“I don’t recall.”
“No, I don’t recall that.”
Careful, you’re almost repeating yourself.
“I don't recall them saying that.”
“I don't recall them saying that to me.”
“I could have done, but I don't recall it.”
“No, not that I can recall at all.”
The key is in variations.
“I can't, of course, recall.”
Next, you want to give the same response, but it’s time to take the attention off yourself and start directing it elsewhere.
“I don't recall him saying that.”
"I don't recall him saying that in the conversation.”
Too many short responses, it’s time for a bit of waffle.
“I am only in a position to tell you what I recall of the conversation, which is very sketchy...”
Good, that actually sounded like you were being honest.
“I don't recall it being brought to my attention, but it is possible it could have been.”
That made too much sense. Throw the bastards off their guard by saying something that is near on incomprehensible.
“Yes, I don't recall that being discussed, but I simply do not recall it is all I can say.”
Remember to point out the time that has elapsed since the events in question took place.
“I have only a very distant recollection, surprisingly. It's a long time ago.”
If they give you a hard time, don’t be afraid to get all poopsy about it.
“Well, my recollection is consistent with the statement that I made. I don't really have anything to add to it.”
And when they try and crank up the pressure, stick to your last answer.
“I stand by my statement.”
“Yes, I stand by my statement.”
“I still stand by my statement.”
What about when you’re specifically asked what you remember?
“I don't remember precisely...”
What if they keep pushing?
“My recollection is of a much more general nature.”
And if they keep insisting on a straight answer?
"I can’t answer that question."
Say it with authority, like you can’t answer for a reason you simply are not going to reveal. Then repeat.
“I can't answer that question.”
And don’t be afraid to then fall back on an old favourite.
“I can’t recall.”
At some point, someone is going to point out that you seem to be having recall problems, even though you’ve said the word ‘recall’ twenty or more times in an hour. Try this to throw them off guard.
“No-one's memory is perfect.”
And do it with a pout.
When you know that they know that you know they know, admit you did it, just not completely.
“I may have done.”
But did you?
“I can't tell you.”
“I have no recollection of it.”
What a brilliant student you are! Alexander will be very proud.
And, finally, when you feel as though you’ve exhausted all the variations and alternates, but you know the questioning is drawing to a close, you may choose to go back to your stand-by, but give it some added emphasis.
“I just can't recall it at all.”
And there you have it. Now you know how to avoid answering the tough questions just like Alexander Downer would.
And did, yesterday.
Your certificate of achievement is in the mail.
International Media Now Paying Close Attention to 'Wheat for Weopons Scandal'
Labor Party's Long Struggle for a Catchy Moniker for the Scandal now Becomes Entrenched
It took a while, but the international media is now closely following the Cole Inquiry into the biggest bribery and corruption scandal in Australia's history.
The Labor Party must be grinning, not only because of Alexander Downer's bumbling performance under oath - where he misled the inquiry over the misleading statements he had already made about misleading... you get the picture - but because The Australian newspaper and a host of international media is now using their 'Wheat For Weapons' slogan when discussing the inquiry and it's fallout.
'Cash For Saddam' and 'Wheat Bribes To Saddam For Suicide Bombing Compo' never really took off.
But 'Wheat For Weapons' is now claiming space in intros and occasional headlines around the world. Expect a massive increase in the coverage as Prime Minister John Howard goes under oath tomorrow afternoon.
Even after the Cole Inquiry is done with, in a few weeks time, this scandal won't be over for the Howard Government. Senators in the US are now agitating for a more involved international inquiry, and if massive corruption can be proved, and the Australian Government is deemed to be complicit, there might be lots of lawsuits where US farmers sue for being shut out of profitable wheat export deals.
Here's some of the international coverage today:
"Ridiculed in headlines as the monkeys who saw, spoke and heard no evil, Australian ministers are this week insisting that they cannot recall warnings about the conduct of the country's wheat exporter in the UN's Oil-for-Food programme." - London Times.
"Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, testifying under oath Tuesday before the commission investigating allegations that an Australian wheat company paid more than $200 million in bribes to Saddam Hussein's government, dismissed as insignificant three specific reports over the course of three years indicating that the company, AWB, had paid the kickbacks." - The International Herald Tribune.
"Top leaders of Prime Minister John Howard's government have uniformly denied having any knowledge of Iraqi oil-for-food kickbacks allegedly involving Australia's monopoly wheat exporter.
"The latest denial came Tuesday as Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told an independent inquiry he had no information on whether the Australian Wheat Board, now known as AWB Ltd, paid a suspected $220 million to Saddam Hussein to secure grain contracts worth more than $2.3 billion between 1997 and 2003 under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program." - The Guardian, UK.
"When questioned about why his department, the department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT), had not closely investigated allegations against AWB, Downer replied that DFAT had no authority to access AWB's files and did not have any sufficient evidence to refer any unproven claims to the Australian Federal Police..." - Xinhua, China.
"Downer also dismissed warnings of kickbacks by a U.S. military captain in Baghdad, contained in a June 2003 Australian cable, saying he was a junior officer and that Saddam had by then been toppled so sanctions were not as great an issue." - The Washington Post.
"AWB allegedly paid kickbacks to a Jordanian trucking company called Alia. The millions of dollars purportedly were to pay for transportation of AWB wheat in Iraq, but the company was part-owned by the Iraqi government, meaning the money went into Saddam's coffers." - The Houston Chronicle.