Wednesday, May 18, 2005

And in the red corner...

“A blistering attack on US senators rarely heard” on Capitol Hill. This was how CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (his real name, believe it or not – I checked) described the new UK Respect MP George Galloway’s performance (and this seems to be the most appropriate term) in front of the Senate Committee looking into the Iraqi Oil-for-Food scandal yesterday. The Guardian reported that he had used the occasion to “unleash an indictment of the war with a stunning ferocity”. Galloway had come before the committee to contest the accusations that it had laid against him previously that he had personally profited to the tune of millions of dollars from abuses of the Iraq Oil-for-Food programme; and he did so, it seems, with all guns blazing.

Those familiar with Galloway’s style will perhaps not be surprised by this. Indeed, he was the highlight of the recent UK elections for many of us who struggled through the night following the live television coverage. After turning a 10,000 labour majority into one of over 1000 for himself, essentially by standing on an anti-war ticket, his acceptance speech was in stark contrast to the decidedly bland fare that had been served up by most others earlier in the evening. “Mr. Blair” he intoned, “this defeat is for Iraq; and the other defeats that New Labour has received this evening are for Iraq. All the people you have killed and all the loss of life have come back to haunt you; and the best thing that the Labour Party can do is sack you tomorrow morning.” Even at 4.30 a.m., this is pretty riveting stuff.

So it is only to be expected that Galloway would be something less than deferential when facing the US senate committee. No-one, however, particularly not in the United States, seems to have expected his opening salvo, aimed at the Republican Senator Norm Coleman: “I know that standards have slipped in Washington in recent years, but for a lawyer, you're remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice”. And he may well have had a point. Galloway has already forced an apology from the Christian Science Monitor and won a libel case against the Daily Telegraph for publishing similar claims; and, although the accusations of the Senate Committee were made public worldwide last week, the Committee had made no attempt to interview or even contact Galloway before they published them. Even more oddly, they are apparently not supported by any hard evidence at all, but by testimony, the authors of which the US is in many cases seeking to keep secret. It is these two failings that seem to have given Galloway the upper hand, and enabled him to put his remarkable brass-neck to striking propaganda effect during the hearing. Best, perhaps, to leave it to his own words:

As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times that Donald Rumsfeld has met him. The difference is 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 to try and persuade him to allow doctor 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.

You have nothing on me Senator, except my name on lists of names in Iraq, many of which were drawn up after the installation of your puppet government in Iraq…

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives -- 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies, 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever, on a pack of lies.

Senator, this is the mother of all smoke screens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth…

There are, of course, many more where these came from. For those who missed it, a video archive of the full Senate hearing can be found here - and it's well worth a look (the fun begins at 1:58…). It is certainly true that Galloway was more concerned with point-scoring and grand-standing for a wider audience than he was with the truth of the allegations laid against him; and the hearing itself has shed little or no light on these matters. This, however, as he noted himself in an interview with CNN afterwards, was exactly what Galloway was aiming at:

Well, frankly, I wasn't here to melt the hearts of the two members the committee that turned up for the hearing. I was speaking beyond these walls to the watching television audience at home. And I came not as the accused, but as the accuser.

So I don't suppose I did much beyond embarrassing the Sen. Coleman with the absurd thinness of what he had to put on the table. But I hope that I reached a broader public, with my broader case, against the war, against the sanctions, and against the mother of all smoke screens, which is what this Senate committee on investigations is engaged in.

All things considered, it is difficult to disagree with the Guardian’s summary of the event: “Whatever else you made of him, when it came to delivering sustained barrages of political invective, you had to salute his indefatigability.” Quite.

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