On May 17, the Honourable George Galloway, MP, gave a blustery and animated performance in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Pundits conceded he ran rhetorical circles around the plodding, staid Senators who couldn't quite catch him out on his relationship to the Oil-for-Food Scandal. But the Senate tortoises may yet have the last laugh. Mr. Galloway seems to have told a big, fat whopper under oath, and a tech-savvy blogger has dug up some proof.
During the hearing (which, though not released by the Senate, has been transcribed here), Senator Norm Coleman pressed Mr. Galloway about his links to Saddam crony, Oil-for-Food beneficiary, and super-rich businessman Fawaz Zureikat, who was a major donor to Mr. Galloway's Mariam Appeal charity. Did Galloway know Zureikat was trading oil for Saddam? Mr. Galloway responded that
Not only did I know that, but I told everyone about it. I emblazoned it in our literature, on our Web site, precisely so that people like you could not later credibly question my bona fides in that regard. So I did better than that. I never asked him if he was trading in oil. I knew he was a big trader with Iraq, and I told everybody about it.
On his website? Well, the Mariam Appeal site (www.Mariamappeal.com) is long gone, the domain name snapped up by Internet squatters, so we'll just have to take Mr. Galloway's word for it, right?
Not quite. There's this nifty thing called the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (here), which takes "snapshots" of websites over time. It works a little like Google's vast searchable cache, sending out an automated "webcrawler" that remembers the HTML code of the sites it encounters. Brand-new blogger George Gooding at Seixon.com used it to find the snapshots of the old Mariam Appeal site and verify whether Zureikat's identity was, in fact, emblazoned thereon.
Gooding's report says of the July 2001 snapshot "...at this point in time, there is absolutely no mention of Mr. Zureikat or any other donors to the organization at all." Zureikat does make an appearance on the Mariam Appeal site, however. He was named as a contact within the National Mobilization Committee on Defense of Iraq (NMCDI) for the "Rebuilding Baghdad Library" book drive. There is no mention made of his business relationship with Iraq. (This page was not there on April 1, 2001, but was there on a subsequent snapshot taken the next day. So we know when Zureikat's name was added to Mariam Appeal's site.)
However, there also exists a contemporaneous list of donors. (You have to follow a couple of links to reach this list from the main page.) And at no time do the snapshots of this list of "Founder Members and Supporters" include the name of Fawaz Zureikat.
So when Mr. Galloway told Senator Coleman that Zureikat...
"donated money to our campaign, which we publicly brandished on all of our literature, along with the other donors to the campaign."
...Mr. Galloway was not telling the truth, at least about his website. This was no mere oversight, because on April 2, 2001, the Mariam Appeal site already had "emblazoned" Mr. Zureikat's involvement as a representative, but not as a donor. A visitor to the site would infer that Zureikat was actually a beneficiary of the Miriam Appeal's books and donations, rather than a 375,000-pound donor.
Actually, Mr. Zureikat was more than just a contact person for Mariam Appeal. And he was more than just a major donor. In "late 2000 or early 2001," according to Mr. Galloway's testimony, Mr. Zureikat became Mariam Appeal's chairman. Funny, isn't it, how that doesn't show up on the site?
WHY SHOULD WE CARE about Mr. Galloway's website said about Mr., er, Chairman Zureikat? Because by identifying Mr. Zureikat as a beneficiary of, rather than a donor to, the Mariam Appeal's charity, it looks like Galloway knew how shady his true relationship with Zureikat was, so he tried to disguise it.
But when confronted about this by Senator Coleman, Mr. Galloway switched his story again, claiming that he had been completely open all along. George Gooding, the blogger, suspects that Galloway may have underestimated the long memory of the Internet and figured that this prevarication would pass undetected.
If this was an oversight on Mr. Galloway's part, it's a huge one. Didn't he anticipate questions about his relationship with Zureikat, and prepare for his testimony on that subject very carefully? If not, and his testimony is mistaken about this, why should we trust him to remember whether or not he has ever received an oil contract from Saddam Hussein?
In any case, when you don't know the answer to a potentially incriminating question a Senator has just asked you, you don't just make up a story. You say, "I don't know at this point, Senator, but I'll be happy to find that out for you and send you a written response to that question." Mr. Galloway, always careful with his words, later used this very tactic during his testimony when confronted with a memorandum connecting him to Zureikat.
If it was not an oversight, neither was his statement meaningless, Clintonian meaning-of-is-is bafflegab. This was a bald-faced bray about how open he had been about his links to Zureikat -- an openness that history disconfirms.
It is too early to throw around the "P-word" about Galloway's testimony. But it's fair to say that his veracity is now at issue, and Senator Coleman's committee now has a new angle to pursue. The Senators were tittered at for letting Mr. Galloway off his leash. But instead, they may have given him just enough lead to trip himself up.
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