GEORGE Galloway, London's newly elected Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow who won on a platform of opposition to the invasion of Iraq, last Tuesday stunned the United States Senate sub committee on investigations, which has accused him of taking bribes from Saddam Hussein.
He attended a session of the committee to refute the slanders against him and to attack the United States government for its imperialist policies towards Iraq over decades.
The accusations were a rehash of old allegations made against Galloway, on the basis of which he won substantial libel damages from the Daily Telegraph last year.
The evidence produced included his name on a list of alleged beneficiaries of Saddam’s oil vouchers arising from the oil for food programme.
But on the list George Galloway’s name has clearly been added in a crude cut-and-paste job. The name is squeezed in, in a different typeface, a smaller size and at a slight angle to other names.
The first of these lists or alleged beneficiaries appeared in January last year in the Al-Mada newspaper, published in the US-run Green Zone of Baghdad.
A month later the newspaper Al Watan published an account of Sajad Ahmad Ali, who claimed to have forged the original Arabic document obtained by Al-Mada.
He said: “I’d like to indicate here that it was us who made – that is to say we forged – this list of names and titles of people who got money from the ministry of information, the palace and the oil for food programme.”
He went on to explain how it was done by steaming bits of paper and then drying them out to make them look old.
At the Senate sub committee hearing in Washington, Galloway listened patiently to a long list of charges read out by Senator Norm Coleman and then answered, in a clear, calm voice: “Senator, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one – and neither has anyone on my behalf.
“Now I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice.
“I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever having written to me or telephoned me, without any attempt to contact me whatsoever. And you call that justice?”
He went on to deal point by point with the allegations against him. The Senate accused him of many meetings with Saddam.
“I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein,” Galloway said, “once in 1994 and once on August of 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as ‘many meetings’ with Saddam Hussein.
“As a matter of fact I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns.
“I met him to try to bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try to persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country – a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defence made of his.”
Galloway then outlined his long and consistent record of activity to oppose the Saddam regime when Britain and the US were backing it in the war against Iran.
He then dealt with the forged documents used in evidence against him and the bogus lists of people supposed to have been bribed by Saddam. These included 270 names, among them the late Pope and the former head of the African National Congress and “many others who had one defining characteristic in common: they all stood against the policy of sanctions and war which you vociferously prosecuted and which has led us to this disaster,” Galloway said.
He concluded by pointing out that the real sanction busters were not the people accused by the Senate but the US government itself.
“Have a look at the real oil-for-food scandal,” he said. “Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq’s wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Haliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq’s money but the money of the American taxpayer.
“Have a look at the oil you didn’t even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went to who knows where?
“Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.
“Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee – that the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians.
“The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own government.”
The US government is now trying to portray Galloway as a minor, unimportant figure compared to the Russians, French and others they are also accusing. But George Galloway’s remarks are likely to it much harder for them to sustain any accusation against anybody.