So, apparently George Galloway is suing NUS after it passed a motion describing him as a ‘rape denier’.
Now firstly, cards on the table. I don’t think Assange should be extradited to the US, but I do think he should be on trial. Secondly, I don’t think any formulation of the NUS motion, amended or not, was perfect. Thirdly, I don’t think politicians should be in the business of suing democratic organisations for what are essentially political views, democratically expressed. Further, I think it’s ridiculous for alleged anti-capitalists to resort to courts which are, at the end of the day, institutions of law designed to protect the powerful – especially in the case of Libel in England.
With that out of the way, a quick point: the effects of this case are potentially hilarious. Why?
Given the video evidence and the text of the resolution passed, it’s improbable that the court will examine issues of fact in any detail. Nor are there obvious areas of law in the larger sense which will be explored.
If it goes ahead, the case is likely to focus therefore on how issues of established fact fit issues of established law.
Galloway’s claim is likely to focus on whether what he said can be described as ‘rape denial’. It should be noted that the motion was badly worded, and that ‘denialism’ would have been a far better choice of words than ‘denial’ to describe what the proponents were trying to describe. But herein could lie the saving grace of the NUS case.
If Galloway is pulled into an argument about whether the facts of rape took place in Assange’s case, things could get very messy.
Firstly, in what would necessarily be a politicised trial, an English court would be given the opportunity to comment on whether what was alleged would also be rape if it took place in England. My own answer from an personal political point of view would be an unequivocal ‘yes’. But legally, there is some precedent to suggest that this is also so in English law. Does Galloway really want this said?
Secondly, Galloway could also easily be pulled into a debate about whether said incident actually took place. I must confess that I am not exactly hot on defamation law as it surrounds foreign criminal cases – but if such an examination of the facts takes place, the burden of proof is significantly lower than in a criminal case. It would come down to probability rather than reasonable doubt, if the court felt that it was within its jurisdiction to examine it. Was it probable that Assange did rape somebody? Does Galloway really want this asked?
GG thinks he is playing a deft hand by suing, and promising to donate the funds to an Assange defence fund. But firstly, this is atrocious PR that will backfire heavily, especially within the left. He should probably have just followed Tony Benn into an apology and restatement of views. We know, however, that this is a pathological impossibility for a man so arrogant – a deep and political flaw of Galloway that his followers are equally unwilling to arrest.
Secondly though, the whole thing could end up with Assange looking more guilty in the eyes of the public than he did before, if a court ends up ruling that it is likely that rape took place (and that Galloway is therefore a denier).
That way Galloway would be taking several political steps backward – as if it wasn’t bad enough suing the student movement – as well as damaging the man he is trying to protect.
It’s a risky game.