By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2005 8:30 AM
Tuesday was a very good day for two of the fiercest foreign critics of the Bush administration, according to the international online media.
George Galloway, antiwar member of the British House of Commons, and Cuban President Fidel Castro, veteran antagonist of the United States, both succeeded in turning the tables on Washington.
Galloway transformed a congressional hearing about the U.N. oil-for-food scandal into a fierce attack on the Bush administration's Iraq policies. On the same day, Castro relished the spectacle of U.S. law enforcement officers carrying out his long-standing demand to arrest accused airline bomber Luis Posada Carriles.
Both men, say commentators overseas, successfully put Washington on the defensive over apparent contradictions in America's war on terrorism.
The British press, not always friendly to the controversial maverick MP Galloway, almost unanimously declared him the winner in his confrontation with Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.), a Republican critic of the United Nations.
Galloway, said the centrist Financial Times, "stole the show."
The hearing "had been presented as an opportunity for the committee to interrogate Mr. Galloway over his alleged involvement in Iraq's oil-for-food programme and his alleged support for Saddam Hussein. The investigators had even offered to send airline tickets to ensure his attendance," the FT reported. "But in the event it was Mr. Galloway who was on the offensive - and it was Mr. Coleman's credibility that was called into question."
Virtually every British news site quoted Galloway's riposte to the committee's published allegation that he had met "many times" with Hussein. "As a matter of fact," Galloway said according to the Times of London's transcript, "I met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns, and to give him maps the better to target those guns."
Galloway was referring to two trips that Rumsfeld made to Iraq in 1983 and 1984. As a special U.S. envoy, Rumsfeld offered financial and military incentives to Hussein to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States at a time when U.S. officials regarded Iran -- with whom Iraq was engaged in a devastating war -- as a greater threat.
(A telling difference between the British and American press: The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times chose not to mention the Rumsfeld line in their coverage. Rumsfeld's friendly overtures to Hussein 20 years ago have been reported before.)
The Guardian said "the culture clash between Mr. Galloway's bruising style and the soporific gentility of Senate proceedings could hardly have been more pronounced and drew audible gasps and laughs of disbelief from the audience."
Along the way, Galloway managed to evade some of the toughest questions, as the Daily Telegraph pointed out.
When asked about his foundation for Iraqi children, Galloway admitted that Fawaz Zureikat, a businessman who had been involved in oil dealings with the Iraqi regime, had given him £370,000. Galloway said he never asked Zureikat where the money came from. And now the BBC is reporting that British charity regulators are interested in seeing the Senate committee's evidence on Galloway.
But "the bottom line," said The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill, is that Coleman was unable "to provide any evidence in the form of bank accounts or any other pieces of paper to show that Mr. Galloway had received any money from Saddam, Mr. Zureikat or anyone else linked to Iraq."
"It would have to be an odd judge who did not score this transatlantic clash in Mr. Galloway's favour," said the liberal Independent.A Win for Castro
Castro scored an even more concrete victory when U.S. immigration agents arrested the 77-year old Luis Posada in Miami. As I reported last month, the Cuban leader had launched a propaganda campaign demanding Posada's arrest in connection with the bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in 1976 that killed all 73 people on board.
The arrest came just hours after Castro denounced Posada as a "bloodthirsty exponent" of "imperialist terrorism" in a speech to a large demonstration in Havana.
U.S. government documents unearthed by the National Security Archive, a private nonprofit group in Washington, show that Posada, a one-time asset of the Central Intelligence Agency, had reportedly participated in the planning of the airline attack in Venezuela.
El Universal, a leading Venezuelan daily, reported in its English-language edition that the government of President Hugo Chavez, Castro's leading ally, has already filed a request for Posada's extradition. The paper's Spanish-language edition described Posada as a " papa caliente" -- a hot potato -- for Washington.
The arrest, said Agence France Press in a report published by South Africa's Mail and Guardian and other news sites, puts the Bush White House "on the horns of dilemma."
"On the one hand they don't want to hand Posada Carriles over to antagonist countries, either Cuba or Venezuela," said Dan Erickson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank. "But obviously it's not acceptable to just let him remain free in Miami."
For William Rogers, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs under Presidents Nixon and Ford, the costs of not extraditing Posada "are not trivial." A refusal to extradite him "will be interpreted throughout the hemisphere as US acceptance of terrorism as long as the terrorist act was directed against a regime we don't like," said Rogers, writing in the bulletin of Inter-American Dialogue.
Which is Castro's point exactly.
Indeed, George Galloway could have been speaking for the Cuban leader when he emerged triumphant from his Capitol Hill showdown and told reporters, "I'm a politician that pleads guilty to using events like these for political purposes."