Until a couple of days ago I hadn’t heard of Greg Palast in years, the man who claims to have been pursuing me with questions for two months. He has never phoned, written, emailed or made any other contact with me, which is curiously reminiscent of the behavior of the US Senate committee. Having now forced myself to look at his pernicious writing, it seems like the deranged ramblings you might expect to find pushed out from under the door of a locked ward. He claims to be a journalist. He clearly doesn’t get much work.
Palast conflates meetings, truths and half-truths, statements taken out of context to produce a toxic smear which would be actionable in the country he claims to work in, my country. How many times do I have to respond to the ravings of guttersnipes? I met Saddam twice, the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld. The difference is that I wasn’t trying to sell him weapons and guidance systems. The first, and infamous time, my words were taken out of context. The second, where Saddam revealed his favorite confectionery, I was trying to persuade him to let the weapons’ inspectors back in. A vain mission, of course, as the US and UK had already decided to illegally go to war whatever he did.
The Mariam Appeal, which Palast drags in to allege I benefited financially from its work, was not a charity. It was a political campaign. Its primary function was not to provide medicines for Iraqi children, although we did, but to highlight the political conditions which were killing them. Sanctions! The largest donor was the ruler of the UAE (who gave approximately £500,000), followed by Fawaz Zureikat’s £375,000, and then the now king of Saudi Arabia (a regime I loath) with £150,000. The donations of these three represented 99% of the campaign’s total income. These donors were prominently identified at the time, there was no attempt to hide them, as this palooka claims. None of them have complained the money was ill-spent. Palast might take the view that finance should not be taken from such sources. Sorry, but needs must.
Among the works undertaken by the appeal was a daily newsletter on sanctions, a sanctions-busting flight into Baghdad, the Big Ben to Baghdad trip in a red London bus, countless meetings and conferences, posters and flyers, the projection of an anti-war slogan on the House of Commons, the first time that had ever been done — and the facilitating of trips to Iraq by dozens of journalists, many of whom sat in on my meetings with Tariq Aziz. And virtually all of whom were conducted around Baghdad by Fawaz Zureikat, openly introduced as the Mariam Appeal’s chairman, as well as a businessman trading with Iraq. We brought Mariam Hamza to Britain for treatment — immodestly, but factually, I claim that we saved her life — where she remained for half a year, sent back cured. I could go on and on but my enemies would surely claim I was blowing my own trumpet.
But what I will not tolerate — and will sue in any territory where it is possible to do so — is the lie that I personally benefited financially from the campaign. The Charity Commission inquiry Palast refers to was occasioned by a referral from Tony Blair’s Attorney General. The commission are in possession of every receipt of funds and every cheque issues or bank transfer ever made. They satisfied that there was no malfeasance and closed the case without further action, no doubt to the disappointment of Mr Blair’s Attorney General. Charities in Britain cannot campaign politically, which was the prime function of the appeal and in their judgment the commission said that the operation should have been split in two, one arm of which, the one which provided the physical aid, should have registered as a charity. Well, sorry, but that’s poppycock.
The stumblebum then drags in Hitchens — perhaps it’s two bums finding mutual support — a man I recently debated in New York. For what seems like the ten-thousandth time let me try to finally nail the canard that I benefited through the oil-for-food programme, an allegation at the time of writing which has netted me at least $4 million in libel damages and costs. Of course, when I talked with Tariq Aziz, I talked about the programme, but only in respect of the effects it was having on Iraq. I did not request or receive oil vouchers. I did not benefit financially. Not by one thin dime! I said voluntarily and on pain of prosecution under oath to the US Senate committee — another body which doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good smear — and I say it again. If I had been guilty of what Palast alleges I’d be sitting not in the House of Commons but a prison cell! Let that be an end to it because I’m sure the public is even more tired and bemused than I am.
Crawl back under your rock, Mr Palast!
George Galloway MP