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(DV) Petersen: Presumed Innocence and Ad Hominem







Presumed Innocence and Ad Hominem
by Kim Petersen
April 24, 2003

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Things don’t always go the way you plan them. Ask US Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld: “Stuff happens.” It is axiomatic that President George Bush’s earlier pledge that the US “will respect innocent life in Iraq” is bold-faced lie.


For a long time the US and UK both insisted that the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction (WMD). President Bush and Prime Minister Blair were adamant about this. Now the heat is on. Where are the WMD? The US barring of Hans Blix’s UNMOVIC team is not a move that inspires credibility. Now any discovery of WMD is sure to be greeted with scorn and skepticism.


Scorn and skepticism also sums up how the Iraqi populace is greeting the occupation forces and their new Zionist leader, Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. Iraqis are taking to the streets in mass demonstrations calling on the occupiers to go home – a call that won’t be heeded until a compliant government is in place, oil is flowing under US aegis, and US bases are in place.


Mr. Rumsfeld recently had his post-Saddam gleefulness disrupted by questions about US intentions to establish permanent bases in Iraq. He appeared befuddled and was evasive. A simple categorical denial would have sufficed. But his failure to recall any such discussions and terming a long-term military occupation as “unlikely” said it all for most semi-intelligent people. (1)


So it was time to turn the guns the other way. The news in the UK concerned the apparent downfall of an anti-war Labour Party stalwart and MP, George Galloway. It seems some damaging documents have surfaced in Iraq that point to Mr. Galloway as being on the payroll of Mr. Hussein. The Independent journalist Johann Hari couldn’t resist and buttressed his headline with the question: “If you cheered Galloway at the anti-war rally, now is the time to pause and ask yourself: what did I do?” (2)


This is absurd. The anti-war views of Mr. Galloway do not necessarily diminish in cogency because of any alleged untoward behavior of the purveyor of the view. It also spuriously presumes that those cheering at the rally reached their formulation of pro-peace ideology dependent on the oration of another person. This is nonsense. Many of those cheering were likely doing so in support of the public expression of ideas that correspond to their own independently arrived-at views.


Then there is the matter of Mr. Galloway himself. The last time I checked, in the UK one is presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. There was no hint of such observation of legal niceties in Mr. Hari’s article. Mr. Hari built his case against Mr. Galloway based on his suspicious support for Mr. Hussein and his “ulterior, dodgy motives” according to Iraqi exiles. This smacks of jumping the gun.


In his defense, Mr. Galloway responded that: “This attack is part of a smear campaign, against those who stood against the illegal and bloody war on Iraq and against its occupation by foreign forces.” Mr. Galloway questioned the timing of the “so-called documents” and their release by a “highly partisan source” -- the Daily Telegraph. He considered that the documents were “either forged or doctored and are designed to discredit those who stood against the war.” (3)


Mr. Galloway declares his innocence. This incident highlights a grotesque form of justice that is rarely questioned. What kind of justice is it when one can be publicly charged with an offence and later exonerated in a court of law? Yet the stigma of being charged doesn’t always simply wash away with a legal victory. Mr. Galloway is also fighting for his honor. If he was indeed taking money from Mr. Hussein then by all means he should be punished in accordance with just law and perhaps with promulgation of the verdict. However now, even if Mr. Galloway is innocent, his reputation has been besmirched. Mr. Galloway is a politician; spin and image are important.


Mr. Hari also took issue with the anti-sanctions stance of Mr. Galloway vis-à-vis Iraq and suggested that Mr. Galloway was being paid out of monies from the UN Oil for Food program. Former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Dennis Halliday has vouched that no money went to the Iraqi regime. (4) Therefore this assertion is factually incorrect.


Mr. Hari expanded the scope of his attack, trying to fell two lefties in one swipe. It was pointed out that Mr. Galloway’s “friend and ally,” the journalist John Pilger, is also a critic of the sanctions against Iraq. Mr. Hari cited as proof from the writing of Mr. Pilger: "Saddam Hussein was careful to use the oil wealth to create a modern secular society and a large and prosperous middle class ... All this was smashed by the Anglo-American embargo.” Mr. Hari concluded this to mean, “Saddam was broadly good, then, before the wicked Americans came along.” (5) The logic is flawed, a non sequitur. It assumes a Manichean world whereby goodness and evil are neatly incorporated in separate corporeal entities. It may be a revelation that a man (and from what is known about Mr. Hussein, he is indeed despotic and vicious) so demonized could actually do good. However, it does not necessarily follow that to acknowledge a good act by someone presupposes the goodness of the person. Conversely neither does citing a bad act premise the badness of the person.


Nevertheless Mr. Hari saw this as symptomatic of how “deranged the far left has become.” The implication is rather obvious: guilt by association. This reasoning could apply equally so to former US and UK officials who glad-handed the Iraqi dictator when he was more obedient. It definitely would apply to Mr. Bush and his friend Kenneth Lay, of Enron infamy, who Mr. Bush referred to as “Kennyboy”.


Mr. Hari misattributes the viewpoint of Mr. Pilger. Indeed it is more sinister than that. Mr. Hari deliberately skewed the intent of Mr. Pilger’s sentence by omitting the important first phrase [italics added by author]: “No one disputes the grim, totalitarian nature of the regime; but Saddam Hussein was careful to use the oil wealth to create a modern secular society and a large and prosperous middle class.” (6) By omitting this phrase on “the grim, totalitarian nature of the regime” Mr. Hari has twisted Mr. Pilger’s writing to serve his own thesis. What does it indicate about the journalistic integrity of Mr. Hari?


But it is even worse because in the same article Mr. Pilger had warned about such logical fallacies by journalists:


I have mentioned these two men [former UN Humanitarian coordinators Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck] often in these pages, partly because their names and their witness have been airbrushed from most of the media. I well remember Jeremy Paxman bellowing at Halliday on Newsnight shortly after his resignation: "So are you an apologist for Saddam Hussein?" That helped set the tone for the travesty of journalism that now daily, almost gleefully, treats criminal war as sport. (7)


Either Mr. Hari didn’t read the entire article or he didn’t learn anything. He committed the exact same error of ad hominem circumstantial. Instead of attacking the assertion, Mr. Hari attacked the perceived relationship between Mr. Pilger and his circumstances. Mr. Hari compounded his own “travesty of journalism.”


The hawks didn’t savor long the undisturbed fruits of the blood-spilling that brought about the death knell of the Saddam Hussein regime. We weren’t supposed to fixate on the outstanding issues of the aggression. The disingenuously promulgated casus belli of possession of WMD -- the potential Achilles heel of Mr. Bush -- was rather to have been shifted to the Syrian front as the clumsy sleight-of-hand piece by New York Times writer Judith Miller attempted.


A spate of articles had appeared recently in British newspapers wondering about the WMD. As with Aesop’s twice-fooled villagers who ignored the boy who cried wolf too often, the Syria line wasn’t being bought so easily. Just as phony intelligence dossiers and falsified uranium contracts had done previously, the Galloway documents conveniently provided an outlet for the cornered pro-war coterie to attack.


The hawks attempt to evade the moral responsibility for the debacle of a murdered and impoverished people, desperate for clean water and medical care, and pillaged of their unique history as the cradle of civilization. In doing so, not only has Mr. Hari debased the rule of law in the UK but he also has engaged in the intellectually bereft tactic of ad hominem. Personalizing an attack, in this case against those on the left of the political spectrum, speaks volumes to the propounder of the attack. A section of the pro-war right is ostensibly unperturbed by the presentation of logically flawed and ad hominem innuendo posing as journalism, in apparent ignorance of individual legal civil rights, to defend its own tenuous position. This is a not so subtle journalistic artifice, which poses its own dangers.


French writer and philosopher Voltaire penned: “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.”


Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at:




(1) Reuters, Washington Post, “Permanent US base in Iraq 'unlikely,' The Straits Times, 23 April 2003:,4386,184807,00.html


(2) Johann Hari, “I'd rather it was money than belief that made George Galloway support Saddam,” The Independent, 23 April 2003:


(3) George Galloway, “George Galloway's full statement,” Guardian, 22 April 2003:,12956,941081,00.html


(4) Nyier Abdou, “Scylla and Charybdis,” Al-Ahram, 26 December 2002:


(5) Hari, Ibid


(6) John Pilger, “Tender Murderers,” Dissident Voice, 17 April 2003:


(7) Ibid