Saturday, May 12, 2007

People who need a good lesson in ass-kicking.

Personally, there are few things that I find more frustrating than a questioner who doesn't understand how to ask decent questions and control an interrogation, and if you need some examples, look no further than the Alberto Gonzales hearings down south, in which Alberto's talent at evading questions is matched only by the Democrats' incompetence at asking them.

Two examples can both be found here at LC's place, and we'll deal with them in order. First, we have Rep. John Conyers who opens by, mercifully, putting the outstanding issue front and centre by stating:

"I want to ask how the U.S. Attorney termination list came to be. Who suggested putting most of these U. S. Attorneys on the list and why?"

Good. Conyers starts off well by describing precisely what he's trying to learn -- Where did those names come from? Who provided them? -- so one has to give him credit for that. Sadly, though, that's only half the battle since, after asking a specific question, one must be prepared to demand that the person being quizzed answer that question, and it's here that Conyers fails miserably since, as you can see, Gonzales immediately starts babbling about how he accepts responsibility for doing an evaluation, and performance-based criteria and obligations to "good government" and getting a "consensus" and equally worthless rubbish, and it's to Conyers' shame that he allows Gonzales to yammer on this way.

(In all fairness, I'm going to admit that I didn't even watch that video all the way through since it was so maddening, I had to stop. But I'd already seen enough to be thoroughly irked with Conyers and how he allowed Gonzales so much latitude to spew irrelevancies, waste everyone's time and dodge the question.)

Quite simply, Conyers fucked up. The instant it became clear (midway through his first sentence) that Gonzales was going to free associate, Conyers should have cut him off on the spot, told him that he wasn't addressing the issue, and repeated the question. And he should have kept doing this until Gonzales was out of evasive options.

In that second video. Rep. Robert Wexler does a somewhat better job in hammering Gonzales on the same point but, in the end, there is still no answer, and it's irritating that the Dems seem to be so painfully incompetent at crowding Gonzales into a corner. If I may be so bold, I'm going to suggest that, if I was in charge, my opening statement might have gone something like this:

"Mr. Gonzales, my goal today is to determine, if we can, how Mr. Iglesias' name came to be on the list of U. S. Attorneys (USAs) to be terminated. That is to say, how his name was initially produced and who produced it. Now, before we go any further, let me ask you if you understand the question. I'm not asking you to answer that question, I'm simply asking if you understand it, nothing more, and if you're not sure you do, I'll be happy to go over it again until it's obvious that we agree on the very specific issue I'm trying to address.

"This means that I'm not interested in who eventually signed off on those names, or who takes final responsibility for them, or anything else. While those might be informative questions in their own right, they're most emphatically not the question I'm asking here today, and if you begin to address any of those other issues, I'll step in and remind you what the question is again.

"So, once again, I'm precisely interested in, and only in, the exact origin of Mr. Iglesias' name on the list of USAs to be terminated. Do you clearly understand the question as I've asked it, yes or no?"

At this point, I'm not sure how Gonzales could dodge that opening statement and its corresponding question. It's not asking him to divulge any information, it's simply asking him to agree that he understands the issue in front of him, and that's all. Frankly, I don't know how he could tap dance around that without looking completely retarded and, sooner or later, I don't see how he could avoid finally admitting that, yes, he knows what the question means, at which point, the followup question is obvious:

"All right, then, Mr. Gonzales, now that you admit that you understand the question I'm asking, I'm going to ask a simple followup -- do you know who originally produced Mr. Iglesias' name for that termination list? I'm not even asking you to supply the name of the person who did it, I'm just asking if you know who it was, nothing more. That's a simple yes or no question and I'd like you to answer it that way if you will. Are you aware of who initially came up with Mr. Iglesias' name? Yes or no."

So what are Gonzales' possible responses? If he says "yes," well, the followup is obvious, isn't it? Do I really have to belabour what the rest of that conversation would sound like?

But if he said "No," then life would get a bit more interesting:

"All right, then, Mr. Gonzales, you admit that you don't actually know how his name came to be on that list. Since you're the U.S. Attorney General who is ultimately responsible for decisions like this, I'm shocked that you admit this sort of thing but that leads me to my next question: If you don't know where that name came from, is it possible for you to find out? Again, yes or no -- do you have the ability to figure out who was responsible for that name initially being added to the list?"

Once again, each of the two possible answers suggests the obvious followup. If he says "no," well, that's an astonishingly embarrassing thing to admit for the U.S. Attorney General. And if he says "yes," well, that path is kind of obvious as well. And on and on and methodically on.

And yet, none of the Dems I've seen seems capable of hammering in like this. How is it possible that these hearings have been going on this long and no one has a clear answer to such a fundamentally simple question? Yes, Alberto Gonzales is a sleazy little douchebag, but the Dems had to expect that and take it into account and, thus far, they're just fucking up big time.

It really is some kind of aggravating.

AFTERSNARK: Rep. Wexler's interrogation is particularly annoying since he does such a masterful job of verbally beating the crap out of Abu Gonzo but, near the end when Wexler, after summarizing all of the people who apparently did not put Iglesias on the termination list, demands of Gonzales:

"So who did?"

At which point, Gonzales dodges the question with:

"Well, what's important, Congressman, is that ..."

to which Wexler should have instantly cut him off with something like:

"Don't tell me what's 'important,' Mr. Gonzales. I'm the one asking the questions, and I'm the one who will be the judge of what is and is not 'important,' and what's important to me is who is responsible for getting Mr. Iglesias' name on that list, so please don't try telling me what's 'important.' That's my job, not yours."

So close and yet, in the end, he pooches it. It's getting to be a depressing pattern.


thwap said...

Well said. Perhaps the Dems (sadly, even Conyers) are working to protect the [p]resident and give the appearance that they're going after bush II, ... in the same way that they'll give us this dog and pony show about withdrawl from Iraq when both parties support the building of permanent bases there with permanent contingents of thousands of US troops.

Anonymous said...

Gonzales would vasillate and hem and haw around any direct question he was asked, unless he's asked if maybe Dick Cheney or George Bush is responsible, then he gives direct clear denials.

Frankly, he already looks like a clueless imcompetent idiot. He has nothing left to lose. He has no credibility left, and his only purpose seems to be to take the fall without providing details. And given a choice between the two, he'll take the fall.

CC said...


It's entirely possible that Abu Gonzo will keep dodging and weaving, but if the questions he's avoiding are so clearly trivial that even an 8-year-old could understand them, that farce will get so comical that even people in the hearing room will start laughing at him, and that would be the beginning of the end.

In politics, you can survive a lot of things, but becoming the laughingstock of pretty much everyone with a functioning brain stem isn't normally one of them.

Sometimes, the object isn't to get an answer to your question. Sometimes, the object is only to ask it for the reaction.

Ti-Guy said...

This isn't particularly new. Since Vietnam (at least) the American ruling class has only one priority; preserving itself. So there is never going to be a methodological process by which common sense and simple truths are exposed because the repercussions for the ruling class are serious.

Dems and Repubs see themselves as the arbiters of global governance and order; each and every one of them believes that the reason for their existence transcends what the rest of us consider normal or noble or moral. It's a farce they will indulge in as long as possible, up to the complete ruination of the American republic, or when the Americans themselves finally engage in some substantive revolution (which is not that pseudo-revolutionary street theatre and consumer-driven dissent most of them are distracted by). It would also requuire that a decent proportion of the population actually be aware of hearings like this, of which I have my doubts.

Ti-Guy said...

"methodological" s.b. "methodical."