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secrets and lies? « Previous | |Next »
February 18, 2005

I watched as much of the Senate estimates as I could yesterday. What I saw was Rick Smith, the head of the Defence Department and Senator Hill, block, obscure, confuse, set up red herrings, procrastinate and split hairs in their responses to the probing from Senator's Faulkner and Evans. Nothing was going to be conceded under any circumstances. Any information had to be dug out

The tactic was to defend their position that no Australian defence personnel were involved in the interrogation of prisoners. They were protecting their butts, and they seemed utterly indifferent to their public image, as they sailed close to the edge of lying to Parliament. Margo Kingston has the background on this kind of strategy.

They've conceded that Australians were involved. Involved in what is the question? Interviews not interrogations, says the Defence Department.

This 'protect the Government's butt at all costs' strategy means that Senator Hill and Rick Smith hde to keep putting out on bushfires that flared up. First we had the serious allegations made by Rob Barton's, the Australian intelligence analyst, seconded to the Iraq survey Group. Interviews not interrogations says the Department, and it then tried to stay on the implausible line.

Then we have this bushfire by David Kaye, the one time head of the Iraq Survey Group on ABC Lateline:

TONY JONES: The Australian Government says that none of them did any interrogations. They make the distinction between interviewing and interrogations. Under the circumstances you're outlining, do you see that that's a real distinction?

DAVID KAY: Look, it's not a distinction I make. I assume that anyone - and operated under ground rules that anyone that was in a room with a prisoner was engaged in interrogation. You weren't playing bridge, and so you had to play by the rules that were established for interrogation. Interrogation involved interviews, involved questions, involved discussions, and I'll tell you, as someone who has conducted interrogations, if you want to get good information out of prisoners, you try to do it on the friendliest, most cooperative ground; you try to become their best friend, their only hope for gaining their freedom or whatever they're interested in - good treatment for their family, messages - you're there and you try to establish a basis of cooperation. I wouldn't tell a prisoner I was conducting an interrogation; I would say, "Let's have a chat, let's have a talk. I need to follow up on some questions raised by things you've said or others." So I actually, if I was talking to someone, would have said, "I've had an interview, I've had a discussion". I didn't often use the word "interrogation", but that's what it was.

TONY JONES: So that's a false dichotomy, is it?

DAVID KAY: Well, I don't understand the basis - I don't understand the distinction between the words.

TONY JONES: "The interrogations were taking place with some form of duress."

DAVID KAY: No, in general - well, look, if you're a prisoner, you're under duress. There was always a military guard in the room. But was the prisoner constrained? No. I mean, certainly every high-value target I talked to, you offered them Cokes, coffee, tea. They were not shackled. They were there to talk, and you would try to engage - because it's the way you elicit information - in a professional conversation with people who you thought knew something about something you wanted to learn about, and that's the atmospherics of the discussions, the way we conducted them. Remember, the high-value targets in most cases involved with the WMD program were people who had travelled extensively in the West, often been educated in the West, spoke fluent English or French or German or Russian. These were people who you wanted to establish a relationship with to get to the truth.

So we have the interrogation of high value Iraqi prisoners conducted in the style of an interview.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:00 PM | | Comments (8)


Interestingly enough the deconstructionists should appreciate the irony of the petard they are hoisted upon here. It is of course all about context. At the time they were throwing about the term interrogation, it was in the context of Abu Ghraib that they were attempting to besmirch Aust intelligence and by association the Howard Govt. Now they object to the same govt using the military textbook contextual definition of interview and interrogate. Joe Public doesn't give a damn about all this semantics. They understand that Aussies weren't involved in AG type misdemeanours and probably wish Labor had consistently taken the line with terrorists that the Beazer is taking with Habib now. ie He won't give him the time of day in the Senate.


you write:

"At the time they were throwing about the term interrogation, it was in the context of Abu Ghraib that they were attempting to besmirch Aust intelligence and by association the Howard Govt."


Funny I thought that the Howard Government and the Defence Department were hotly denying that any Australians were involved in any interrorgations. It was just the US who interrogated. As Australia was not an occupying power we handed our prisoners over to the US.

Now we know that was not true. That became clear at the Estimates hearing: seven or eight Australians, including Rod Barton, had either assisted or led in the questioning of Iraqi prisoners of war.

So Parliament and the public were seriously misled last year.
What was said before was untrue, yes untrue. Another name for untruth is lie.

It seems to me that that you are rewriting history and have dumped any conception of history being about the truth of what actually happened.

When you claim that the deconstructionists have dumped truth for context, is this not a case of you doing what you claim your opponents are doing?

Now, now Gary, the plasma screen mob watching their cop shows all understand that the coppers 'interview' suspects, as in 'interview suspended at 1800 hrs, date etc'. Now they also understand implicitly that the suspect villain is not allowed to get up and walk out, because of big burly coppers with guns and night-sticks hanging about the cop shop.

Bearing all this in mind and given the ruckus over Abu Ghraib misdemeanours, the anti-war crowd were accusing Howard's henchmen of 'interrogating' prisoners too, the inference being that they were thick as thieves with the Abu Ghraib mob. In other words 'interrogate' here was being used in a specific and accusatory context. This was refuted, albeit as we came to learn from Kaye, that some ISG Australians were involved in what Kaye himself described as friendly 'interviews' of HVTs of the cop shop variety aforementioned. Now he found no need to differentiate between 'interview' or 'interrogate' in this more benign context. Deconstructionists would appreciate this analysis perfectly, except when they want to ignore it for their own ends. ie the glass is half empty or half full, or a generation is 'stolen' or 'removed', depending on your predisposition. eg were aboriginal kids stolen or removed Gary? I have a feeling many deconstructionists at this stage of proceedings want to bail out and get all literal at this point, as we have seen subsequently in Parliament. As I said, hoisted on their own petard.

All this is crap to the flat screen mob, who now understand that Aussies didn't demean prisoners like the Abu Ghraib situation and probably couldn't care less (rightly or wrongly), if the fundies and their sympathisers were. Beazley understands all this implicitly now, which is why he is dragging Labor away from those who have cuddled up to the cuddlers of fundies, or would be fundies.

Several points. You fail to acknowledge that the Defence Department has a history of untruth about this--it started out denying that Australian was involved in any sessions with Iraqi prisoners.

If I remember correctly it was only under pressure from Faulkner in last years Senate interviews that the Defence Department backed away from its untruths and acknowledged that some Australians were involved.

Since you do not acknowledge the point you are still standing by defending untruths whilst your political friends have moved on.

On the philosophical point, my reading of the texts of Heidegger and Derrida (the two classic deconstructionists),indicates that they neither dump truth, not do they make context all in the interpretation of the meaning of texts. Which texts of theirs are you referring to when you claim that deconstructionists say context is all?

From what I see your revisionism of history operates at both the political and philosophical level.

I note that in your second post you write about "Abu Ghraib misdemeanours"--is this not yet another example of your revisionist rewriting of history.

All this revisionism and you claim to be the defender of truth. Are you not hoisted by your own petard?

Gary, thanks for retrieving the comment and I can understand the spam problemm.

I'll stand corrected if need be, but as far as I can recall the sudden, intense interest in whether or not Aust intelligece/military took part in interrogating/interviewing Iraqi prisoners was a direct result of the Abu Ghraib 'misdemeanours'(substitute torture or anything you like here) by some British and US personnel hitting the media. It seemed pretty clear to me that the anti-war crowd were intent on tarring Aus personnel with the same brush thereafter. In this regard they have failed to prove any such case to date. Well at least I haven't heard of any calls for a military court marshall of individual Aus personnel have you?

Now if the Faulkners of this world get their rocks off by playing some legal eagle parsing of every word or sentence in the bear pit of legalese, Federal Parliament, that is their business. Also if connisseurs of these mind games want to score it their way that is their business too and all good intellectual fun.

Joe Public has a much more practical approach to the real issues. When Abu Ghraib pics hit the media and anti-war pollies start throwing mud about, your average punter looks up from the cricket, tunes into the news and says ullo,ullo,ullo, what's in this then? Sounds like Fred reckons our troops are thick as thieves with the Abu Ghraib lot and the govt are trying to hush it all up. When our punter realises the accusations against our troops can't be substantiated, he flicks over to the cricket again. Basically our punter doesn't need to be an electrician, or understand Ohms Law, to turn on a light. In the meantime the really bright sparks are arguing the toss over the meaning of 'interview' or 'interrogate' from the McQuarie dictionary or DOD manuals, depending on where they're coming from.(I gather this was the bone of contention with Defence initially denying they were involved in interrogations)

Essentially Gary, if you want to score your particular prize fighter laying flat on his back on the canvas, as having morally won the fight on technical points accumulation, go right ahead.

I must admit though Gary, I thoroughly enjoyed Faulkner the other night working some yes minister public servant around to the idea that if he couldn't accept our old embassy in Iraq was disused, empty or vacant, how about settling for 'unoccupied'? Bloody priceless! Seriously though you had to ask yoursef what was the point of all this, even if he had agreed to it being empty? Perhaps I missed some other deep philosophical debate prior.

okay that makes more sense.

The problem is the form of Estimates not with the actions of Faulkner. He is only doing what is required by the Senate to make the departments accountable to the Parliament. What you see is the appearance of an intense political battle that goes way beyond the Lib Lab battle.

If Faulkner takes that amount of time and energy to get basically nowhere, then we have a problem with accountability. The Canberra bureaucracy is refusing to be accountable to Parliament.

You point the gun at Faulkner and wnat to pull the trigger. I point the finger at the Canberra bureaucracy because they are in the process of decoupling themselves from the obligations to be accountable.

Why did that Canberra bureaucrat from Foreign Affairs fight to say that our old Embassy was disused or empty? Why all the blocks? Why all the word games? Why the sheer bloody minded refusal to concede anything at all to the Senate in a public forum. What did he have to lose by saying empty?

The answer is that the Canberra bureaucrats have decided they are not going to give anything to the Senate.They are thumbing their noses at the obligations to be accountable to the people's representatives whilst appearing to be concerned about providing information.

That means they have given up being neutral in the oldpublic service sense, see their job as only defending their political masters, and have turned their back on informing the people. So estimates becomes a process to dig the information out.

It is that conflict that you see played out in the Senate estimates. But it is buried within the appearances of party politics.

Since you are hostile to the Senate trying to do its job of defending our democratic processes, how then do you propose to make the Canberra bureaucracy accountable?

Or is this not a problem for you?

Points taken Gary. I don't have a general problem with a 'keep the bastards honest' house, rather the politicisation of such a house. Faulkner is good at what he does and as you rightly point out, plays a valuable role in ensuring public servant accountability. The problem is this role is often subsumed by or muddied by party politicking, to its detriment.

My preference(nay pipe dream, given the obvious objections of the 2 majors), would be to reverse the way we elect the two houses now. This would give us political party executive power by proportional representation, with a fiercely independent group of individuals looking over their shoulders and inputting more local concerns. Also, the political parties could put their most able bodied at the head of their Reps ticket, which would negate branch stacking and marginal seat pork-barrelling, if you think carefully about it.


you write:

"The problem is this role is often subsumed by or muddied by party politicking, to its detriment."

Yes.However, a lot of that party politiking is political theatre and showed be enjoyed for what it is.