The Galloway Papers
Parliament's damning report about Saddam apologist George Galloway.
The mills of justice grind with maddening slowness, but they do at least grind. In October 2005, my friend Denis MacShane, the radical Labor member of Parliament for Rotherham, rose on the floor of the House of Commons to demand a joint inquiry by the British parliament and the U.S. Congress into the financial relationship between George Galloway and the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. This followed the report that month, by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, that presented persuasive evidence showing that Galloway's front organization, a "charity" known as the Mariam Appeal that campaigned against the sanctions on Iraq, had in fact received direct Iraqi subventions from the proceeds of the U.N.-sponsored "Oil for Food" program. Bank records established that Galloway's former wife had been paid at least $150,000 in this way. A completely separate U.N. inquiry chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker * identified another "Oil for Food" payment to the same lady, this time in the sum of $120,000.
MacShane's intervention was important, not least because the House of Commons requires its members to declare all sources of outside income. An inquiry was set up, by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, to investigate. It has now produced its report, along with a recommendation that Mr. Galloway apologize to the House and be suspended from Parliament for 18 days. And the findings of the report are even more damning, if that is possible, than the conclusions reached by the Senate and Volcker investigations. In particular, they make reference to the transcript of a meeting between Galloway and Saddam Hussein on Aug. 8, 2002. On that date, Galloway complained to his political master—the man he had saluted in public for his "courage" and "indefatigability"—that certain problems with oil prices were affecting "our income" and "our dues."
This raises two quite serious questions. The first is the extent to which the Iraqi Baath Party was able to purchase direct influence among Western politicians: George Galloway has been a hysterically extremist political thug for a long time, but others more supposedly "respectable," including some important Russian and French politicians and diplomats, may have been sweetened and suborned in the same way. The second has to do with a purely moral issue. The "Oil for Food" program was the means by which the most vulnerable people in Iraq—the children, the sick, and the aged—were supposed to be protected from the effect of sanctions aimed at the regime. To have profited from its abuse or its diversion is therefore somewhat worse than to have accepted a straight-out bribe or inducement from Saddam Hussein. It is to have stolen directly from the neediest and the weakest, in order to finance a propaganda campaign that in turn blamed the West for the avoidable sufferings of Iraqis between 1991 and 2003.
The "anti-war" movement is not blameless in all this. When Galloway came to testify before the Senate and delivered a spittle-fueled harangue instead of answering the direct questions posed to him, he became a populist hero on the Left, was rewarded with a moist profile in the New York Times that praised his general feistiness, and was invited back to the United States to mount a speaking tour in which he repeated his general praise for the heroic "resistance" in Iraq, adding a few well-chosen words in support of the Assad regime in Syria. Praise was showered upon him in the Daily Kos, by columnists in The Nation, and elsewhere. Now we have the sober words of Sir Philip Mawer, the parliamentary commissioner for standards among elected members, who adds to the existing reports and evidence by saying that however much Galloway may have "prevaricated and fudged," the evidence against him is "now undeniable."
I do not think that an 18-day suspension from the House of Commons is anything like enough punishment for what Galloway has done, first on behalf of a sadistic and genocidal megalomaniac and second to steal food and medicine from the mouths of desperate Iraqis. We ran into each other a few times on his debate-tour, and on the last occasion on which we exchanged views, when he told me that he would never debate with me again (which he has since consistently refused to do), I told him that we were not done with each other. I would, I told him, be waiting to write a review of his prison diaries. The Senate subcommittee referred his "false and misleading" statements under oath (a crime under 18 USC Section 1001) to the Department of Justice in November 2005. Prosecutors in Manhattan (location of the banks through which some of the shady transfers were made) have also been handed the relevant papers. And the evidence adduced by the House of Commons must necessarily be considered by Scotland Yard, because it goes far beyond the damage done to the honor of Parliament. In the meantime, it will be interesting to discover whether Galloway's former wife, or the associates of his campaign who also received "Oil for Food" money, ever declared the income or paid any tax on it. And if I was the editor of the Daily Telegraph in London, whose printed documents about Galloway appear to have been vindicated by the parliamentary inquiry, I would want to revisit the judgment for libel that Galloway astonishingly managed to win, even under a notoriously oppressive law, in an English court. His troubles are only now beginning.
Just look at the gang that strove to prevent the United Nations from enforcing its library of resolutions on Saddam Hussein. Where are they now? Gerhard Schroeder, ex-chancellor of Germany, has gone straight to work for a Russian oil-and-gas consortium. Vladimir Putin, master of such consortia and their manipulation, is undisguised in his thirst to re-establish a one-party state. Jacques Chirac, who only avoided prosecution for corruption by getting himself immunized by re-election (and who had Saddam's sons as his personal guests while in office, and built Saddam Hussein a nuclear reactor while knowing what he wanted it for), is now undergoing some unpleasant interviews with the Paris police. So is his cynical understudy Dominique de Villepin, once the glamour-boy of the "European" school of diplomacy without force. What a crew! Galloway is the most sordid of this group because he managed to be a pimp for, as well as a prostitute of, one of the foulest dictatorships of modern times. But the taint of collusion and corruption extends much further than his pathetic figure, and one day, slowly but surely, we shall find out the whole disgusting thing.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of George Galloway by Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images.