am not, nor have
ever been, an Oil Trader'
by journalists and politics students, Respect MP turns Washington
hearing into an indictment of the invasion of Iraq
Galloway confronted his accusers in the US senate last week,
denying any involvement in Iraqi oil trades and using the
occasion to unleash an indictment of the war with a stunning
ferocity. Galloway, the newly elected MP for Bethnal Green
and Bow, was appearing before the senate investigations
sub-committee examining sanctions-busting oil deals in Iraq
before the war.
lengthy preamble before his appearance, senate staff presented
a series of documents, enlarged and printed on huge white
boards, which they said were Iraqi government memoranda
naming Galloway as the recipient of highly lucrative allocations
of cheap Iraqi oil under the UN-administered Oil For Food
Norm Coleman, the Republican committee chairman who has
taken the lead in making allegations against Galloway, repeatedly
insisted that the hearing was "not a court of law".
But the early stages were nothing if lawyerly, with Coleman
very much in the role of chief prosecutor. In a low businesslike
voice, the senator from Minnesota read out an indictment
of Galloway running through the evidence against him.
Iraqi officials have confirmed that you, in fact, received
oil allocations and that the documents that identify you
as an allocation recipient are valid," Coleman said.
"If you can provide any evidence that challenges the
veracity of these documents or the statements of former
Iraqi officials, we'd welcome that input."
it was the Respect party leader's turn and any sense of
judicial propriety was instantly shattered. The courtroom
became a vaudeville theatre, as the MP lampooned his interrogators,
accusing them of making "schoolboy howler" mistakes.
insisted that he was entirely innocent. "Senator, I
am not now nor have I ever been an oil trader and neither
has anyone on my behalf," he declared, in language
that deliberately echoed that of Joe McCarthy's anti-communist
witch-hunt conducted half a century ago just metres from
the chamber used for the hearing. "I have never seen
a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither
has anybody on my behalf," he said.
wide, wood-panelled room was packed with journalists and
spectators. A group of politics students stood at the back.
The turnout among senators was less spectacular, however.
Only four appeared for the start of the hearing. By the
time Galloway took the microphone, there were only two left,
Coleman and Carl Levin, the leading Democrat on the panel.
in this august setting, a little below and surrounded by
the horseshoe bench of powerful senators, are usually awed
and almost always on the defensive. Galloway was on the
attack from the first moment. He entered the hearing room
with guns blazing, telling journalists his inquisitors were
"crazed", "pro-war", "lickspittles"
of the president, and predicting he would turn the tables
on them. "I want to put these people on trial. This
group of neo-cons is involved in the mother of smokescreens,"
was the common theme in a feat of bare-knuckled rhetoric
not often witnessed by the senators, who are accustomed
to considerably more reverence for their positions that
the CNN called a "blistering attack on senators rarely
heard or seen on Capitol Hill".
deflected every charge against him and flung it back at
the Bush administration and the US congress. For example,
he denied the committee's claim that he had met Saddam many
times, claiming there had only been two such meetings -
and that the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had
met the then Iraqi president the same number of times, to
sell arms, Galloway said.
you have nothing on me, senator, except my name on lists
of names from Iraq, many of which have been drawn up after
the installation of your puppet government in Baghdad."
senators mostly soaked up the punches, reserving judgement
until a press conference later, when Mr Coleman claimed
Galloway's credibility was "very, very suspect".
In the hearing, however, the senators struggled to pin Galloway
down with Iraqi oil sales documents with his name on them.
counts is not the names on the paper; what counts is where
is the money, senator?" Galloway said. "Who paid
me hundreds of thousands of dollars of money?
answer to that is nobody. And if you had anybody who ever
paid me a penny, you would have produced them here today."
Galloway later told an American television interviewer that
it marked a victory for the "British parliamentary
style" over the more sedate senate.
used anti-war rhetoric far more raw than most politicians
are accustomed to in America, where shared patriotism normally
that 100,000 people had paid with their lives for false
assumptions on Iraq, "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".
cross-examination, the senators focused on Galloway's relationship
with Fawaz Zureikat, a Jordanian businessmen with extensive
dealings in pre-war Iraq who served as chairman of and as
principal contributor to Galloway's charity, the Mariam
Appeal. They suggested Zureikat had been oil trading in
his name, and the MP must have known about it.
more, the accused sought to turn the tables on his accusers.
When Coleman asked how he could have failed to be aware
of Zureikat's oil deals, Galloway turned the attention to
Coleman's campaign fundraising.
"Well, there's a lot of contributors, I've just been
checking your website..."
many at that level, Galloway," the senator interjected.
"No, let me assure you there are," Galloway went
on. "I've checked your website. There are lots of contributors
to your political campaign funds, I don't suppose you ask
any of them how they made the money they give you."
stuck to his task. "If I can get back to Zureikat one
more time, do you recall a time when you specifically had
a conversation with him about oil dealings in Iraq?"
already answered that question," Galloway replied.
"I can assure you, Zureikat never gave me a penny from
an oil deal, from a cake deal, from a bread deal or from
around many of the questions, frequently responding, "I
can do better than that" and answering a slightly different
question. His biggest stumble came when he mistakenly assumed
Levin had backed the war.
investigation of the US government's own failure to police
sanctions provided Galloway ammunition for his counter-attack.
But he made no more headway than his Republican counterpart
in his cross-examination of the witness.
Levin invited Galloway to say whether he was alleging the
documentary evidence was forged, the British MP replied:
"Well, I have no way of knowing, sir."
fine. So you're not alleging," Levin persisted.
"I have no way of knowing."
"Is it fair to say, since you don't know, you're not
"Well, it would have been nice to have seen it before
today," Galloway said.
The minuet of exchanges played on for another few minutes
before the senators gave up frustrated.
had come equipped for a trial and found themselves in the
role of stooges for a man accustomed to playing to the gallery.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005