Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Seconds away... Round two

A new twist in the tale concerning George Galloway and the allegations that he benefitted illegally from the Iraqi oil-for-food programme. The Senate Committee in the US investigating this scandal - before which Galloway has already performed, to startling effect (see my post here) - has now directly accused him of "lying" to them in his earlier hearing, claiming to have seen "new evidence" that constitutes a "smoking gun" in terms of Mr Galloway's involvement in the affair. If this is correct, it is bound to make a lot of people very happy; Mr Galloway is undoubtedly better at influencing people than he is at making friends.

However, the Senate Commission got such a humiliating roasting from Galloway last time around that you'd expect them to be perhaps a little more careful. Galloway, it must be remembered has been investigated for this on several occasions - not least of which was a libel case with the Daily Telegraph, in which he was awarded some 150,000 pounds in damages - and has always come up remarkably clean. One of the points on which he was able to criticise the senate commission was on the manner in which they had gone about business - effectively holding him guilty before he'd even had a chance to be heard, let alone a fair trial. Which makes the current allegations all the more curious.

Firstly, it seems that the actual, concrete allegations concern money paid into the accounts not of Mr Galloway himself, but of his estranged wife (who worked as a research scientist inIraq at the time) and one of his spokesmen (a journalist). Galloway has simply denied any knowledge of or responsibility for the business transactions of these two. Hardly, at first glance at least, a smoking gun.

However, the Senate Commission seems to have made the same mistake - if, indeed, it was a mistake - again. They have published these allegations as truth all over the international media - without forewarning Galloway, or giving him any chance to respond to them. Thus, the public perception, once again, will be that he is guilty, regardless of the fact that the evidence may not be quite as conclusive as is being suggested. It is difficult here to shake off the impression that the Commission, determined to make up for its humiliation some months ago, is seeking to have the "last laugh" on Galloway by publishing accusations from a position of privilege that would not stand up to scrutiny in a libel court. Exactly the abuse of process that Galloway got so much mileage from in his earlier appearance before them.

If they thought, or hoped, that this casual smear would be the end of the matter, they appear to have been very much mistaken. Galloway's response has been typically bullish; not content with restating his view that the Commission has been "cavalier" with notions of process and justice in this affair (an accusation that it is hard to disagree with, whatever your view of Galloway), he has gone so far, in an interview with the BBC's Today programme, as to demand that he be charged with perjury before US courts, so that this new evidence, and allegations, can receive the formal scrutiny that they deserve - and, indeed, that justice demands. If the Senate Commission is to dispel the impression - and it may well be entirely unfounded - that this is a fairly cynical abuse of process in order to exact revenge for their humiliation of a few months ago, they absolutely must call his bluff on this one; the time for trial by privileged insinuation and unchallengeable accuasation is well and truly over.

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