Just before my last exchange with George Galloway, which occurred on the set of Bill Maher’s show in Los Angeles in mid-September, I was approached by a representative of the program and asked if I planned to repeat my challenge to Galloway on air. That challenge—would he sign an affidavit saying that he had never discussed Oil-for-Food monies with Tariq Aziz?—I had already made on a public stage in New York. Maher’s producers had been asked, obviously by a nervous Galloway, to find out whether I had brought such an affidavit along with me. I replied that this was not necessary, since his public denial to me was on the record and had been broadcast, and since it further confirmed the apparent perjury that he had committed in front of the U.S. Senate on May 17, 2005. I added that I wanted no further contact with Galloway until I could have the opportunity of reviewing his prison diaries.
That day has now been brought measurably closer by the publication of the report of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. This report, which comes with a vast archive of supporting material, was embargoed until 10 p.m. Monday and contains the “smoking gun” evidence that Galloway, along with his wife and his chief business associate, were consistent profiteers from Saddam Hussein’s regime and its criminal exploitation of the “Oil for Food” program. In particular:
1) Between 1999 and 2003, Galloway personally solicited and received eight oil “allocations” totaling 23 million barrels, which went either to him or to a politicized “charity” of his named the Mariam Appeal. 2) In connection with just one of these allocations, Galloway’s wife, Amineh Abu-Zayyad, received about $150,000 directly.3) A minimum of $446,000 was directed to the Mariam Appeal, which campaigned against the very sanctions from which it was secretly benefiting.4) Through the connections established by the Galloway and “Mariam” allocations, the Saddam Hussein regime was enabled to reap $1,642,000 in kickbacks or “surcharge” payments.
(For a highly readable explanation of how the Oil-for-Food racket actually worked, see the Adobe Acrobat file on the site www.hitchensweb.com prepared by my brilliant comrade Michael Weiss and distributed as a leaflet outside the debate in New York.)
These and other findings by the subcommittee, which appear to demonstrate beyond doubt that Galloway lied under oath, are supported by one witness in particular whose name will cause pain in the Galloway camp. This is Tariq Aziz, longtime henchman of Saddam Hussein and at different times the foreign minister and deputy prime minister of the Baathist dictatorship. Galloway has often referred in moist terms to his friend Aziz, and now this is his reward. I do not think—in case anyone tries such an innuendo—that there is the smallest possibility that Aziz’s testimony was coerced. For one thing, he was confronted by Senate investigators who already knew a great deal of the story and who possessed authenticated documents from Iraqi ministries. For another, he continues, through his lawyers, to deny what is also certainly true, namely that he personally offered a $2 million bribe to Rolf Ekeus, then the head of the U.N. weapons inspectors.
The critical person in Galloway’s fetid relationship with Saddam’s regime was a Jordanian “businessman” named Fawaz Zureikat, who was involved in a vast range of middleman activities in Baghdad and is the chairman of Middle East Advanced Semiconductor Inc. It was never believable, as Galloway used to claim, that he could have been so uninformed about Zureikat’s activities in breaching the U.N. oil embargo. This most probably means that what we now know is a fraction of what there is to be known. But what has been established is breathtaking enough. A member of the British Parliament was in receipt of serious money originating from a homicidal dictatorship. That money was supposed to have been used to ameliorate the suffering of Iraqis living under sanctions. It was instead diverted to the purposes of enriching Saddam’s toadies and of helping them propagandize in favor of the regime whose crimes and aggressions had necessitated the sanctions and created the suffering in the first place. This is something more than mere “corruption.” It is the cynical theft of food and medicine from the desperate to pay for the palaces of a psychopath.
Taken together with the scandal surrounding Benon Sevan, the U.N. official responsible for “running” the program, and with the recent arrest of Ambassador Jean-Bernard Mérimée (France’s former U.N. envoy) in Paris, and with other evidence about pointing to big bribes paid to French and Russian politicians like Charles Pasqua and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, what we are looking at is a well-organized Baathist attempt to buy or influence the member states of the U.N. Security Council. One wonders how high this investigation will reach and how much it will eventually explain.
For George Galloway, however, the war would seem to be over. The evidence presented suggests that he lied in court when he sued the Daily Telegraph in London over similar allegations (and collected money for that, too). It suggests that he lied to the Senate under oath. And it suggests that he made a deceptive statement in the register of interests held by members of the British House of Commons. All in all, a bad week for him, especially coming as it does on the heels of the U.N. report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, which appears to pin the convict’s badge on senior members of the Assad despotism in Damascus, Galloway’s default patron after he lost his main ally in Baghdad.
Yet this is the man who received wall-to-wall good press for insulting the Senate subcommittee in May, and who was later the subject of a fawning puff piece in the New York Times, and who was lionized by the anti-war movement when he came on a mendacious and demagogic tour of the country last month. I wonder if any of those who furnished him a platform will now have the grace to admit that they were hosting a man who is not just a pimp for fascism but one of its prostitutes as well.