John Plunkett / The Guardian (UK) – 2004-03-28 09:00:22
LONDON (March 19, 2004) — The controversial anti-war MP George Galloway demanded a government inquiry today after a US newspaper which falsely accused him of accepting $10 million from Saddam Hussein apologised and paid undisclosed damages.
The article in the Christian Science Monitor was based on documents given to a journalist by an Iraqi general. But tests showed that the documents, dated between 1992 and 1993, were in fact only a few months old.
Mr Galloway, who was expelled by Labour after remarks interpreted as inciting Arabs to fight British troops, said the forged documents were evidence of a dirty tricks campaign against him and other anti-war campaigners around the world.
A Crime Has Been Committed and the General ‘Is Known’
“A crime has been committed against an elected British member of parliament,” said Mr Galloway. “The general who passed on these documents is known. I want the British embassy to launch an investigation to find out why he did it, on whose behalf, and what other documents he has forged. They are very elaborate documents and were not cooked up in someone’s kitchen. It is a systematic conspiracy.”
The Christian Science Monitor, a newspaper based in Boston, wrongly claimed that Mr Galloway had received payments of more than $10 million in return for his support for Saddam Hussein’s regime. The article alleged the payments pointed to a concerted effort by the Iraqi regime to win western friends who would promote Iraqi interests.
One of the documents was reported as stating that payments were made to Mr Galloway in return for his “courageous and daring stands against the enemies of Iraq, like Blair, the British prime minister, and for his opposition in the House of Commons and Lords against all outrageous lies against our patient people”.
High Court Apology Called ‘Complete Vindication’
Mr Galloway said today’s apology in London’s high court was a “complete vindication”. The MP’s solicitor, Mark Bateman, told the court the allegations were “false and without foundation”.
“The allegations contained in the Christian Science Monitor‘s story that Mr Galloway opposed the UN-imposed sanctions on Iraq and, thereafter, opposed the recent conflict in Iraq because he had been paid by the Iraqi regime are false and without foundation,” said Mr Bateman.
“The allegations were highly defamatory of Mr Galloway. Understandably, they caused immense distress and anxiety to Mr Galloway, his family, his constituents and supporters. Mr Galloway was not willing to let his reputation be impugned in this way.”
Galloway Sues Telegraph for Libel
Mr Galloway also launched high court libel proceedings against the Daily Telegraph after it made similar claims last April that he was in the pay of Saddam Hussein. The action is ongoing and is due to be heard in the high court in November, according to the MP’s spokesman.
The Christian Science Monitor originally apologised to Mr Galloway last July after it was revealed the documents were fake. “At the time we published these documents, we felt they were newsworthy and appeared credible, although we did explicitly state in our article that we could not guarantee their authenticity,” said Paul Van Slambrouck, the editor of the Monitor.
“It is important to set the record straight: we are convinced the documents are bogus. We apologise to Mr Galloway and to our readers,” he added.
But the apology was rejected by Mr Galloway. “This newspaper published on its front page in every country in the world that I had taken $10 million from Saddam Hussein,” he said.
“That was a grave and serious libel. Of course, the documents were a forgery and a newspaper of that importance ought to have made the effort, both morally and legally, to establish the authenticity of those documents before they published them.”
Mr Galloway now stands as an Independent MP for Glasgow Kelvin, and launched a new political party, Respect, after he was thrown out of the Labour party. He plans to run in the European elections on June 10.
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