Thursday, December 02, 2004

Galloway libel case

Note: See important updates at bottom of post.

Glenn Reynolds writes on MP George Galloway's libel judgment against the Telegraph:

George Galloway has won a libel judgment against the Telegraph. Apparently his support for Saddam's regime was freely given, rather than bought.

UPDATE: Actually, it's not so clear that the charges were proved false; the question seems to have been whether the Telegraph was neutral not whether it was accurate, and truth is not a defense in British libel law if I recall correctly...

If anybody knows more about the truth issues, send me a link. I've looked at several stories and none actually says the charge was disproved.
So I (in an embarrassingly transparent ploy to gain an instalanche) have done a bit of sleuthing.

It seems that the truth of the underlying allegations by the Telegraph was vigorously challenged by Galloway, but was never defended in the case by the Telegraph, [See update below.] in part because it was irrelevant to the Telegraph's case. However, based on press reports below, it seems likely that original Telegraph articles were indeed based on bogus documents. [See update below. There appears to be no evidence that the Telegraph articles were based on bogus documents.]

Here are the details:

First, according to the judge, the defense never suggested that the allegations made in the story were true, according to The Times:
It was no part of the newspaper’s case to suggest that any of the allegations were true, he [the judge] said, or even that there were reasonable grounds to suspect they were true.
Second, according to a legal analysis performed before the trial was over, the defense case was based on an aspect of law which rendered the underlying truth of the allegations irrelevant:
The defence of qualified privilege recognises that on certain occasions a person should be free to publish defamatory matter, provided he acts in good faith, even though it may prove to be false.
This is speculation on my part, but it seems that if the underlying story were true, the defense would have claimed as much.

Third, the New York Times suggests that the source documents were admitted to be forgeries (by the Christian Science Monitor, which wrote similar stories as the Telegraph):
The Christian Science Monitor published a similar reports days later, but the newspaper issued an apology in June, calling the documents forgeries. Chemical analysis of their ink revealed that the "oldest" documents, dated 1992 and 1993, were actually written at the same time as one dated 2003, The Monitor said. The Arabic text of the papers was also inconsistent with Baghdad bureaucratic writing, according to the apology.
The BBC covered the CSM case in March of this year:

The Christian Science Monitor admitted a set of documents upon which it based its story were "almost certainly" fake.

(By way of background, I am not a lawyer and have very little knowledge of the British legal system. )

Update: The CSM story was based on different documents from the Telegraph story. (Teach me to draw conclusions from stories in the New York Times.) This casts serious doubt on the reliability of the conclusion I reached above. Here (via an anonymous commenter) is a June 20, 2003 CSM story:

However, the Monitor's documents were different in many details from those of the Daily Telegraph, and came from a different source...

After examining copies of two pages of the Daily Telegraph's documents linking Galloway with the Hussein regime, [Hassan]Mneimneh [head of the Iraq Research and Documentation Project in Washington] pronounces them consistent, unlike their Monitor counterparts, with authentic Iraqi documents he has seen.

Moreover, a direct comparison of the language in the Monitor and Daily Telegraph document sets shows that they are somewhat contradictory.

Update: Scott Campbell (a.k.a. Blithering Bunny) cites evidence that:

  • The Telegraph defended the authenticity of the documents in court, and
  • The judge thought that the Telegraph witness who defended the documents "impressive and straightforward in his evidence."

More on the topic from Harry's Place, Squander Two and Andrew Sullivan.

Update: Transparent instalanche ploy successful; thanks to Instapundit for the link. Welcome, newcomers. Click here to have a look around the rest of the blog.