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'Bad manners' but 'not rape': UK politician's defense of Julian Assange sparks storm

Goodnight with George Galloway

George Galloway talks about the Julian Assange case during one of his regular video podcasts.

LONDON -- As U.S. Congressman Todd Akin fights for his political life over his "legitimate rape" comments, a high-profile British politician has ignited a storm on the other side of the Atlantic over the definition of rape.

George Galloway, a member of the U.K. parliament and former leader of the left-wing Respect Party, waded into the debate around the allegations faced by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.


During a 31-minute podcast, Galloway discussed the claims made by two Swedish woman against Assange in graphic detail, claiming that his alleged behavior was at worst "bad manners" but "not rape."

The colorful Galloway -- who has been dubbed "Gorgeous George" by some U.K. tabloids  -- is no stranger to controversy. He grabbed headlines around the world after he shook hands with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1994 and praised him for his "strength, courage and indefatigability." He also appeared as a contestant on "Celebrity Big Brother" -- where he famously pretended to be a cat.

Ina / INA via AP, file

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein receives visiting MP George Galloway on Aug. 8, 2002, in Baghdad.

This week's "Goodnight with George Galloway" video podcast put him back in the spotlight.    

"Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them," Galloway said, gesticulating emphatically. "It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said: 'Do you mind if I do it again?' It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning."

Cue gasps all around.

May 17, 2005: British lawmaker George Galloway rejects a Senate subcommittee's claim that Saddam Hussein awarded him lucrative allocations under the U.N. oil-for-food program.

His comments provoked a furious response on Twitter and were blasted by women's groups and newspaper columnists.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, British broadcaster and journalist Christina Odone said that Galloway "should be punished at the ballot box" for his views. "When it comes to rape, misogyny is rife in politics," she added.

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Scotsman columnist Emma Cowing wrote that Galloway's comments were "about men redefining serious crimes against women to suit a political agenda."

"Rape victims have a history of being ignored and accused of lying," she added. "They have a history of feeling terrified of speaking out in case they are not believed, or are ridiculed, or have to face their attacker and relive the crime. This is why so many rape victims never report their crimes and why so many find it difficult to speak out in court."

Telegraph assistant comment editor Tom Chivers wrote that "the situation Galloway has just described is absolutely, 100 per cent, no-ifs-or-buts definitely rape."

He added: "Listen, George: it is possible to think that WikiLeaks have done some good things without believing that Assange can do no wrong, or that all attempts to make him face trial are some sort of grand conspiracy."

From the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange asked the U.S. to "renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks." NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.

Galloway is not the first British politician to get himself into hot water over the issue of rape.

A year ago, U.K. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke kicked off a similar controversy when he differentiated date rape from "serious rape."  Calls for his resignation came in fast, but the storm settled after he clarified the comments.

'Both have acted like fools'
It remains to be seen if the same will be true in the U.S. for Rep. Todd Akin. 

Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who launched a firestorm of controversy after his use of the phrase "legitimate rape" and then ignited further criticism with his comments Tuesday, has said he's going to stay in the race. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

An editorial in the left-leaning Guardian newspaper compared Akin and Galloway. "They have three things in common. Both are men. Both encourage rape deniers. And both have acted like fools."

NYT: Akin controversy may endanger GOP chances in the fall

The messages about rape from the highest echelons of political life come just after the 20th anniversary of legislation that made marital rape in the U.K. a crime. 

Victoria Derbyshire, the British radio host who took Clarke to task on his views a year ago made one point that resonates as the debate rages on both sides of the Atlantic this week.

"With respect," she told him in a flat tone, "rape is rape."

On Tuesday, the 58-year-old Galloway sought to clarify his comments and released a statement.

"No never means yes and non-consensual sex is rape. There's no doubt about it and that has always been my position," he said.

"Julian Assange, let's be clear, has always denied the allegations. And this has all the hallmarks of a set-up. I don't believe, from what we know, that the Director of Public Prosecutions would sanction a prosecution in Britain. What occurred is not rape as most people understand it."

May 17, 2005: British lawmaker George Galloway defends his opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq war.

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