British Labour MP George Galloway has vowed to sue The Daily Telegraph for libel after it accused him of being on Saddam Hussein's payroll.
The anti-war campaigner has dismissed claims that he was paid at least £375,000 a year by Saddam's Iraqi regime as "black propaganda" and "intelligence hocus pocus".
Speaking to Albawaba, Galloway disclosed that a pan-Arab movement mobilizes for his defense.
Galloway rose to Parliament from humble beginnings as a general labourer in the parks of Dundee.
He went on to become a production worker for Michelin Tyres, becoming an active trade unionist and rising to be a labour organiser in the late 1970s.
By 1983, he had secured the position of general secretary of War on Want - a third world charity - and just four years later he defeated the then SDP member for Glasgow Hillhead, Roy Jenkins to become a Labour MP.
The 48-year-old, whose second wife is a Palestinian scientist who works at Glasgow University, has remained a Labour MP in Glasgow ever since.
In Parliament, his opposition to the first Gulf War, his support for Palestinian causes and his opposition to Iraq sanctions raised his profile.
His campaign to raise money for a young Iraqi girl, Mariam Hamza, to fly her to the UK for treatment for leukaemia won him a rather better press than some of his other activities.
Following is the full text of the interview conducted with him by phone.
Q. There has been a report in the Observer about a lawsuit by the British prosecutor general against you. They are considering prosecuting you for your alleged attempt to hinder the prime Minster’s efforts in the war. What are your comments on that?
A. I think the government would be making themselves a laughing stock, an international laughing stock if they were to try to prosecute an MP and a citizen of a free country for words spoken on the television. I actually said that the British soldiers should refuse to obey illegal orders. In fact this is a slight tautology because since the Nuremberg and the war crimes’ tribunal after the Second World War, this is in fact a legal duty of every government in the world and every soldier to refuse to obey illegal orders. What I said is incontestably correct but the fact that any government involved in logic called an ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ which should actually prosecute the freedom of its own member of parliament who opposes the war, would make that government a laughing stock. So I think you should understand that this is a private prosecution that requires the permission of the government to go ahead. The private client seeking to mount the prosecution is the Sun Newspaper that branded me as a traitor in its front-page article some weeks ago now. So this is not a move by the government to prosecute me but the government has to give its permission if such a prosecution was to go ahead and I will be extremely surprised if the government did that.
Q. But they are considering it now?
A. They are bound to consider it…they have a legal duty to consider it…but my guess is that they are going to refuse it. But if the government goes ahead, they will make themselves an international laughing stock.
Q. So you think that the allegations brought against you by the Daily Telegraph [that you were getting money from Saddam Hussein and his regime] are baseless?
A. I would like to say that I am being punished not just for my opposition to the war, which most people would say, was highly effective. It helped to build a huge movement of millions of people in Britain that put the Prime minister’s position in doubt. He himself has admitted he told his children and his officials that he might well have to leave the office of Prime Minister. Contingency plans we now know were drawn up to bring back the British forces from the [Persian] Gulf which is why Rumsfeld was forced to say before the war began that they may have to fight the war without Great Britain. I was part of the leadership of a worldwide movement that on February 15, at its highest point, with tens and tens of millions of people around the globe. So, I have been punished not just for that but also for 30 years of faithful devotion to Arab causes. When I was a teenager I began my work for Palestine…I served the Palestinian cause and the broader Arab cause for 30 years of my life. I have many cuts and bruises from that period. But I have never for a second doubted that it was the correct thing to do.
Q. Do you still think after the accusations brought on you that it is still a viable cause for you to fight for the rest of your life?
A. Well. I do not have any alternative. I was driven by my conscience in the early 1970’s to take up this sword and I cannot put it down while there is a breath in my body. Now I will carry my sword and fight with it inside parliament or outside parliament, inside the Labor Party or outside the Labor Party, inside Britain or outside Britain. As long as there is breath in my body and God spares me, I will never put down this sword.
Q. Are your voters quite happy in supporting you on this?
A. They have faithfully returned me to parliament four times for four parliamentary terms and I have been receiving great deal of support over the last few weeks when I was under really quite awesome attack. I mean you would have to be in Britain…you have to standing here with me on the receiving end of this in Britain to know how awesome this particular attack is. This libel against me may be the gravest libel ever faced by any politician in British history. Obviously in any democratic society, there will be people of different points of view. But I feel that I have the support of my comrades and the Glasgow Labor Party and I believe I have the support of the majority of my constituents. I think I have retained the loyalty of the regions and the majority of my constituents and will see when the next election comes.
Q. Why do you think you have been singled out amongst the voices opposing the war before it broke out? You had the majority of Labor MP’s in the British parliament opposing the war…
A. No, we didn’t, we had 139 MP’s and we would have needed 211 to have a majority Labor MP’s. 139 were still the biggest ever parliamentary rebellion in British history, so it is very significant number of Labor MP’s. Well, I am not entirely singled out. The leadership of the Stop-The-War Coalition has been under attack in the right wing Zionist press…attacked and smeared in ‘McCarthy-ite’ terms. Communists have been attacked for some weeks. France itself was publicly warned by Collin Powell on TV, the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen. One friendly government says to another that they would pay price for opposing America over Iraq. So if France can be warned that it is going to be punished, what about the rest of us. I have some idea [why I have been targeted] that because of the effectiveness of the work I have done and because of the length of time over which I have been doing it and because of my deep immersion in Arab issues and in Arab siding…by the grace of God and the support I have amongst Arab people in all Arab countries. I know that because they write to me, they e-mail me, and when I go to their countries they tell me. Because of all these reasons, I think I am a particular target. I am not the only target, not singled out but I am a particular target.
Q. Didn’t you (Labor) constitute a majority of opposition to the war in the parliament?
A. It is not quite right. There are 650 members and we would have needed more than 200 Labor MP’s to rebel. But Mr. Blair believed that there was a chance that more than 200 would have rebelled. Perhaps if Claire Short had joined Robin Cook in resigning that day, the 139 would have gone over 200 but it is not true that the government in the end relied on conservative support…I wish it were.
Q. How is the relationship between you and Robin Cook since he resigned?
A. I have not had a conversation with him since he resigned because he no sooner had resigned when the war began and the parliament has been in recess. But we were once close, we broke away very firmly in 1998 when he justified bombing of Iraq in ‘Operation Desert Fox’ and then of course the Yugoslavia war and Afghan war, all of which he supported.
Q. So you were opposed to all of these?
A. Yes, and I was glad that he resigned. He gave a very powerful resignation speech.
Q. I want to move on to the allegations brought on you by the Daily Telegraph. As you may be aware, I had a conversation with Fawaz Zureikat and he was actually able to shed a bit of light on what happened with him over the course of the past month and a half since March 3 since being taken in, which he refused to admit. Can you talk about the campaign you led while he was in custody in Jordan?
A. We have never received any explanation as to the reasons for Fawaz’s arrest and incarceration. We bombarded the Jordanian embassy in London with demands for his release or an explanation for his arrest…me and a significant number of MP’s and senior journalists he has helped over the years especially in relationship to their work in Iraq and members of the House of Lords and British personalities all demanded of the Jordanian embassy Mr. Zureikat’s release. I can honestly say that I actually neither receive an acknowledgement nor an answer to my pressure and of course we were relieved when ultimately he was released. I am not sure he wants to talk about what exactly happened to him inside and I certainly have not talked to him about it. When I eventually meet him I will be interested to know what all this was about.
Q. Why do you think he was singled out?
A. He is one of the leaders of the pro Iraq movement in Jordan. He is a significant player there and elsewhere in the Middle East. He is very well known. He was close ally and financial supporter of my campaigns and one must assume that these things may have had something to do with what happened to him. But I have no explanation either from him or the Jordanian government.
Q. Would you think it is fair to accuse him of trading with Iraq against 661?
A. Well, I have got no idea about Mr. Zureikat’s business. You really have to ask him about that. I know that he was trading legally in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and that he had been very successful. I was very grateful that he generously supported our campaigns.
Q. Throughout the period prior to the war you showed a lot of support to the Iraqi regime, you were very much anti sanctions, you were very much anti war and you really worked very hard to lift sanctions even though you were not successful. Now that the war is over and the regime has been toppled, do you think that you still have credibility amongst the Iraqi people?
A. I have always said publicly and privately and the public records are there to be inspected that millions of Iraqi people hated Saddam Hussein. Millions did not although these millions were always invisible in western propaganda but amongst the millions who hated Saddam Hussein, they would hate the idea of a foreign invasion, occupation and looting of their country even more. I am absolutely convinced that everything that happened since the war began has proved the correctness of that analysis. Of course Saddam’s regime and indeed all the Iraqi regimes have been brutally centralist and crushed all opposition to them. That kept the country together as one entity but at a tremendous cost in human rights and in personal liberty. Now of course the centralist regime has been smashed and atomised and the country is spinning perhaps out of control and perhaps into disintegration ultimately…no one can tell exactly how that will develop. I feel that the Iraqi people know that I was a friend of theirs and that I was always doing what I could to come to their aid and support. When our ‘Big-Ben to Baghdad’ red bus arrived three million Iraqis came onto the streets to welcome us and I can tell from the light in their eyes and the joy on their faces that they were sincerely and genuinely glad to see us. A group of British people who had driven across three continents, 11 countries and 15,000 kilometres to try to come to their aid.
Q. Do you think your efforts after all what happened was just a waste of time?
A. If you ask me did I fail, of course I did. On the first night of the war I said on Al Jazeera TV from the bottom of my heart how sorry I was to all my friends in the Arab world that my long campaign to lift sanctions and stop war had failed and this barbarism had not been stopped. I failed to defeat the most powerful and richest countries in their determination to invade, occupy and break an Arab country. And I am very sorry for that but I don’t regret a single moment of my efforts. I would do the same again and just because I failed does not mean that the other side succeeded. I believe that I failed but I believe that the other sides have not succeeded and events already are developing and which will develop further I believe will drive them from the country. I believe the American occupation will be driven from Iraq. I am absolutely convinced about that.
Q. In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
A. Only fools have no regrets and I am not a fool. There were things I could have said differently, approaches I could have taken differently. Of course, only an insensitive and foolish man would think that everything he said, every approach he took was the best that could have been taken but I gave my political lifeblood for this cause. Now as you can see I am facing total destruction and…I have not much blood left! But I gave it and would give it again and I am hoping that people who have admired or supported the work I have done over these 30 years will come over for my defence. I am hoping that they will support my legal fund financially so that I can fight these legal cases, which as you know these cases in Britain are very expensive and arduous undertakings. And I hope people above all more than any of these two things will keep the faith because the enemy wants to divide us…wants to turn us against each other…wants to weaken us…now is the time to be one hand!
Q. Can you elaborate on this defence campaign shedding light on efforts we have been hearing involving lawyers from Lebanon, Jordan and the GCC?
A. Honestly, I cannot because I have just had a telephone call that Arab National Congress meeting in Beirut was setting up such a campaign and Dr. Ma’an Bashour I think is the driving force behind that. I also understand that there are such campaigns now beginning to be formed and I am very very humbled and moved by that. I hope that they will try to raise the issues and the consciousness of people about why these attacks are taking place. I won’t be the last…let me predict confidently to you. One country after the other, the local George Galloways who fought this fight will likely be subject to the same kind of smears and the same kind of attacks. So these defence campaigns can be a means by which we all stay together and face this difficult future together. I would like to say that if anyone would like to contribute to my legal fund, they can send cheques or payments to the George Galloway Legal Fund, C/o Davenport Lyons Solicitors, 1 Old Burlington Street, London W1. United Kingdom. This is a fund that will be administered by my lawyers to help fund the legal actions that I have embarked on to try to defend myself. Any finds raised will be spent exclusively on the legal costs, if we have a victory inshallah (Arabic for God willing) in the courts, the costs will be awarded we hope to our side and therefore any monies given would be returned to the donors because the loser of the case has have to pay all of the costs. So I suppose I am asking my friends to advance to my lawyers the money that I will need to fight this case.
Q. As you are very familiar with Saddam Hussein, what do you think would have happened if none of the conspiracies theories that we keep hearing about did not happen?
A. I am cut off from all these conspiracy theories because I am in Portugal and do not have access to the Arab stations and my wife is in London and obviously distracted by my own problems. But I believe when I saw the collapse of Baghdad so swiftly that there were really only two likely explanations. One is that the Iraqi leadership had been killed and the army had felt released from its obligation to defend the capital, and second was as you described the army commanders had betrayed the country to the invader. Between these two possibilities, I really cannot at this stage choose. It is interesting that Tariq Aziz has now ended in custody and he of course is quite likely to know the truth of what happened. I presume that the top leadership were together at the end, and although even that may not be entirely true because the bombardment and the destruction of Baghdad before the fall was very considerable.
Q. So you think the leadership, specifically Saddam and his two sons are still in Iraq?
A. No, I think they may have been killed and that would be one explanation for the swift collapse of the resistance in Baghdad by the armed forces, or they may have been betrayed by the leadership of the armed forces and that second possibility of course leaves open that the top leadership is still alive. I am really in no position to say which of these possibilities or any other option is accurate. If the Iraqi leadership had remained alive and if the armed forces had continued to fight, then it seems obvious that the conquering of the centre of Baghdad would have been a very much more difficult task and I am sure we would still be looking at fight going on now.
Why were the bridges not blown? These bridges were left so that the armoured columns of the invaders could penetrate the capital with the greatest ease and this tends to indicate to me either I say that the leadership was killed in the bombing or that the top military leadership had betrayed the country.
Q. What are your comments on the allegations that money was transferred by Saddam Hussein to your accounts?
A. They are preposterous. I am the most scrutinized and observed political figure in Great Britain. The idea that the most scrutinized and observed state in the world run by Saddam Hussein was transferring money to my bank accounts and nobody knew about it. The British security services did not know about it, did not highlight it during all my 10 years of campaigning is simply ridiculous.
Q. So where did the money to fund the campaign come from?
A. We must be very careful with this language. You said transfer to my bank accounts. This is very different from funding for our campaigns. This is a very important distinction and the one which this legal action will turn. Our campaign was funded principally by, the government of the United Arab Emirate through Sheikh Zayed who gave more than half a million pounds…Fawaz Zureikat, a businessman trading across the Middle East including Iraq and Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. These are three principle ‘funders’ of the campaign…they funded the campaign and not me. They did not send me any money to me. They sent money only to the campaign. I was not beneficiary of the campaign in any way. I was not a signatory on its checks. I did not receive money from it. This is very crucial distinction.
Q. And this distinction was not obviously made by the Daily Telegraph?
A. No of course not. On the contrary they explicitly stated that I personally was in the pay of Saddam Hussein.
Q. How much did Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia contributed to the campaign?
A. Around 100,000 pounds.
Q. Not a lot of money?
A. I was very grateful to that. It was in fact the first donation we got in and it rescued us because the girl [Miriam] was already being treated in Britain when we got the money and we had no money to pay for that. And given that the very deep rift between Saudi Arabia and Iraq at that time…it was very generous of Abdullah. I wouldn’t criticize him in any way for the relative smallness of that. He had a very different political view from Sheikh Zayed who was openly against the sanctions…openly against war with Iraq…trying to lead the Arabs to turn a new page. He said that to me many times, that all wars had to end at some time, and it was time to end the war with Iraq. So he was more politically sympathetic to our campaign. I think Prince Abdullah was moved by the suffering in Iraq rather than the political platform that we had.
Q. Was this just for the ‘Miriam Appeal’ and not for lifting the sanctions?
A. Miriam Appeal was a campaign to lift the sanctions and that what exactly it was for. It had a dual purpose, to save the life of one child and illuminating the tragedy of millions of children in Iraq, to lift the embargo which we believe was the core reason for the suffering of the people in Iraq.
Q. How long did Miriam Appeal last for?
A. It lasted from 1998 until late last year.
Q. But you were also a very loud voice prior to Miriam’s name emerging…
A. Well here is the chronology of that…I never visited Iraq ever until May 12, 1993, and prior to May 12, 1993 I had never met any Iraqi political leader at all. This is very important because in the Christian Science Monitor, which is also now of course being sued by me, they said that in June of 1992 I was already on the payroll Saddam Hussein. This before I have been to the country or ever met any Iraqi politician. I have not been in Iraq in 2003 at all, but according to the Christian Science Monitor I received 3 million dollars in cash on the 14th of January 2003 from the son of Saddam Hussein whom in fact I never met. I haven’t been in Iraq since last year and on the 14th of January, 2003 I was in front of thousands of people online at Guardian Unlimited in my office in the House of Commons. This and the other absurdities in the so called documents in the Christian Science Monitor prove beyond doubt that somebody somewhere for some purpose is forging documents about me.
Q. I am glad you said that because there was a document in the Daily Telegraph with your letterhead on it saying that you have given Fawaz Zureikat the right to represent you in Jordan and Iraq as far as Miriam Campaign is concerned?
A. When it comes to Mariam Appeal or the Emergency Committee on Iraq, it has nothing to do with me, it has nothing to do with business or me personally. It has nothing to do with my personal interests.
Q. Is that document real?
A. I gave such a document to Fawaz but how it ended up in this file of course I can’t answer. I don’t know who is forging the other documents. But I know that the contents of them are completely false, and in the libel action they will shown to be so.
Q. I would like to thank you for you time.
A. La Shukur ala wajeb habibi. (Arabic for No thanks needed for duty, my friend)
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