Posts Tagged ‘Seymour Hersh’

Seymour Hersh: a reporter of the old school

July 11, 2018

Seymour Hersh is the outstanding investigative reporter of his generation.  From the My Lai massacre to the Abu Ghraib torture center , he made a career of exposing things that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies didn’t want the American people to know.

His new memoir makes me feel I wasted my 40 years working on newspapers.  I never really got below the surface of things.  The world was a very different place than I thought it was.

He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his reporting of the My Lai massacre.  All he had to go on was a tip that a soldier at Fort Benning had been court-martialed for massacring Vietnamese civilians.  He systematically scanned microfilm records of the New York Times and found a short item inside the newspaper about a Lt. William Calley being court-martialed for the death of an unspecified number of Vietnamese civilians.

Later he was told the last name of Calley’s lawyer—Latimer.  With that to go on, he was able to locate George Latimer, a returned judge on the Military Court of Appeals now practicing law in Salt Lake City.   Latimer confirmed that he was defending Calley, but refused to help Hersh locate him.  He finally did by driving into Fort Benning and finding Calley for himself.

What Calley told Hersh was far worse than he suspected at the time, and far worse than I remember it.   The massacre was not something that happened in the heat of battle.   It was a systematic killing for more than 700 people, including women (after being raped) and babies.

In a follow-up, Hersh learned there was a soldier named Paul Meadlo in Calley’s unit who’d lost a foot to a land mine.  He told Calley that God had punished him for what he did, and would punish Calley, too.  All Hersh knew was the Meadlo lived somewhere in Indiana.  He called telephone information operators in Indiana until he found his man.

His first book, Chemical and Biological Warfare: America’s Hidden Arsenal, was published in 1968,   He reported that, among other things, there were some 3,300 accidents at Fort Detrick, Maryland, involving biological warfare research, resulting in the infection of more than 500 men and three known deaths, two from anthrax.

Fort Detrick’s experiments resulted in the deaths in experiments each year of 700,000 laboratory animals, ranging from guinea pigs to monkeys.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church supplied 1,400 conscientious objectors to Fort Detrick to do alternative service in the form of being exposed to airborne tularemia and other infectious diseases.  Hersh said that at least some of them had no idea what they had volunteered for or been exposed to.

I mention this because at the time, I was a reporter for the Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, and Fort Detrick was within our circulation area.  I had no idea that any of this was going on, and I probably wouldn’t have believed it if I had been told.

Hersh uncovered the facts by first obtaining a Science magazine article that listed all of the U.S. military’s chemical-biological warfare centers in the United States, then obtaining the in-house newspapers for these centers.  The newspapers listed retirement parties for officers leaving the service, and Hersh sought them out to interview.   Enough of them were bothered by what they had seen to provide the information for Hersh’s articles and book.

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Seymour Hersh reports from journalistic exile

June 29, 2017

Seymour Hersh, once regarded as one of the top U.S. investigative reporters, has in recent years been unable to publish his articles in the United States—only in the London Review of Books and other British publications.

But he couldn’t even get his most recent expose published even in the LRB.   The LRB commissioned, then decline to print his report on the truth behind the Assad regime’s alleged sarin attacks, and he had to turn to a German newspaper, Die Welt.

Long story short, here’s what Hersh claimed:

  • President Donald Trump was engaged by propaganda pictures allegedly showing that children were killed by a sarin attack by Syrian government forces, and disregarded intelligence reports that questioned the evidence that such an attack occurred.
  • He ordered a military attack on Syria in retaliation, but U.S. military officers, knowing that there was no good reason for the attack, conducted it in such a way that it would do minimum damage.

Note that Hersh does not claim to know what happened.  He is just saying that Trump’s claim action has no basis.

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How Seymour Hersh uncovers the inside story

May 18, 2016

Seymour Hersh’s writings always remind me of how little I know about what is really going on.

I am better informed as a result of reading his work and watching this video, and you may be, as well.

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Interview of Seymour Hersh on bin Laden killing

May 14, 2015

As I think about it, I can understand why the governments of the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia preferred to permanently silence Osama bin Laden than to question him or put him on trial.  I don’t like this, but I can understand it.

The most damning thing about Seymour Hersh’s article on the killing of Osama bin Laden was how President Obama panicked when a helicopter crashed, and broke the U.S. agreement with Pakistan on the agreed-upon cover story on the bin Laden killing.

I strongly disagree with Barack Obama’s policies and priorities, which I think are very different from what his supporters think they are, but I always thought of him as exceptionally cool and self-controlled.  Apparently not.   Of course revealing sensitive security information for political purposes isn’t new.

The video embedded above is most of an interview of Seymour Hersh by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!  Below is a link to the full interview, with a transcript.

Seymour Hersh Details Explosive Story on Bin Laden Killing & Responds to White House, Media Backlash | Democracy Now  [Hat tip to Mike Connelly]

Below is a link to an interview with Jeffrey Sterling, who either is a brave whistleblower who is going to prison because he revealed corruption and incompetence in the Central Intelligence Agency to investigative reporter James Risen, or a victim of injustice who was convicted on circumstantial evidence.

Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison | Democracy Now

Why liberals no longer believe Seymour Hersh

May 13, 2015

Bush liberals conservatives militarism

When George W. Bush was President, most liberals believed the exposes of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.  Now that Barack Obama is President, they are more skeptical.

As Espeth Reeve pointed out in The New Republic, liberals and Hersh are no longer on the same page.

militarism Obama liberals conservativesLINKS

The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour M. Hersh in the London Review of Books.

The Loneliness of Sy Hersh by Elspeth Reeve for The New Republic.

What we weren’t told about bin Laden’s killing

May 11, 2015

Almost everything we’ve been told about the killing of Osama bin Laden four years ago is a lie, according to Seymour M. Hersh.  He reported in the current issue of London Review of Books that:

  • The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound four years ago was done with the full knowledge of the Pakistani government.  Helicopters carrying the Navy SEAL team were never in danger of being intercepted as they entered Pakistan.
  • Osama bin Laden was no longer in operational campaign of Al Qaeda and the raid did not yield a trove of valuable intelligence.
  • His location was disclosed by means of a tip from someone in Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), who wanted the $25 million reward offered by the CIA.   In particular, interrogation and torture played no role.
  • President Obama broke promises to the government of Pakistan to keep the raid a secret.
  • Almost everything that has been reported about the details of the raid is untrue.   It was more like a gangland-style execution than anything else.
  • The SEAL team was ordered to kill Osama, not to bring him back, which would have been feasible.  He knew too much that the governments of the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia could not have afforded to make known.

al_qaidas_no_2_issues_eulogy_for_bin_laden-362x307How much credence does this deserve?  Hersh’s article is based entirely on information from insiders who are not quoted by name.  How can we be sure they’re telling the truth if we don’t know who they are?

It depends on how much you trust Hersh.  You have to believe that he is an honest person, which I do, and that he is an experienced and capable reporter, which he is.  I trust him more than I do the government.  You also have to believe that the people he quoted are honest people who know what they are talking about.

A great deal of leaked information is from people who have an ulterior purpose, but I can’t see how anybody who talked to Hersh has anything to gain except the desire to make the truth known or to disassociate themselves from lies.

The lesson of this is not to assume that anything the government announces is necessarily true, unless it can be independently confirmed.  This is not a new lesson, but it is an easy one—for me, at least—to forget.

LINK

The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour M. Hersh for the London Review of Books.

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Whose sarin? The truth is still in dispute

December 11, 2013

When I first read the accounts of the nerve gas attacks in Syria back in August, my first thought was that this didn’t make any sense.  Why would President Bashar al-Assad, who had been warned by the President Obama that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” he crossed at his peril, use such weapons to gain a trivial advantage?

Syrians gather to identify some of the victims of an alleged nerve gas attackMy experience of being wrong in the past should have told me that the fact that something doesn’t make sense is no proof at all that somebody wouldn’t do it.  As events unfolded, I realized that it would make even less sense for rebel groups to use sarin as a false flag operation, and I accepted the opinion of Doctors Without Borders and other impartial observers that the Syrian government, with or without Assad’s orders, is responsible for the killing.

A couple of days ago, my out-of-town friend Daniel Brandt e-mailed me a link to an article by Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books (it had been turned down by the New Yorker and the Washington Post) claiming that President Obama’s charges against Assad were not backed up by U.S. intelligence.

He quoted sources as saying that the Al-Nursa Front, one of the main rebel groups, has the capacity to manufacture sarin.  He quoted other sources as saying that U.S. intelligence services have hidden sensors scattered through Syria that would have warned of a government attack.  The inspection team that went into Syria reached no conclusion about the source of the sarin, and, as Hersh pointed out, the U.S. government’s statements were carefully worded so as not to attribute its claims to the CIA.

Then Jack Clontz, an e-mail pen pal whom I’ve never met in person, sent me links to an article by a blogger named Eliot Higgins.  Based on his Internet research, he has determined that the sarin delivery system was something called Volcano munitions, which only the Syrian government forces are known to have.

Who is more likely to have been responsible for the atrocity?  Higgins asked.  The Syrian government, which is known to have stockpiles of sarin gas and Volcano delivery systems, or the Al-Nusri Front, making home-made weapons in a secret machine shop?

Logically, both Hersh and Higgins could be correct.  Hersh could be right in saying that Barack Obama and John Kerry were ready to commit acts of war based on incomplete information, and Higgins could still be right in saying that all the evidence points to Bashar al-Assad (or maybe some unauthorized person under his command).

I think the full truth is not yet known.  For practical purposes, the issue is moot.  Agreement has been reached for removal of chemical weapons from Syria, and both the Syrian government and the rebel forces have shown they are well able to kill people on a large scale by non-chemical means.

For me the lessons are as follows:

  • Beware of confirmation bias.  More than once in my life, I’ve started to look into something, found facts that appeared to confirm what I already thought, and stopped looking.  This almost always proved to be a mistake.
  • Beware of privileging secret informationSeymour Hersh uses confidential sources to provide him with inside information.  Eliot Higgins searches the Internet to find what’s publicly know.  Public information is just as relevant, and usually more reliable, than secret information.  The principle applies to journalists as much as to the CIA and NSA.

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