Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June, 2010, Pages 52-53

Waging Peace

Is Obama Afraid, Cowardly? Asks Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh speaking at Iowa State University. (Photo M. Gillespie))

SEYMOUR Hersh, perhaps the most accomplished and renowned investigative journalist working in the United States today, spoke to an overflow crowd at Iowa State University (ISU) on March 9.

Hersh began his presentation on "The Crisis in American Foreign Policy" by ladling out criticism of presidents past and present.

"Oh God, just when we desperately need an angry Black man," quipped the reporter who stunned America and the world with the story of the My Lai Massacre in November 1969, during the Vietnam War.

"Obviously talking about our president," said Hersh over the laughter of members of his audience.

"But that isn't fair to him. It's a little quick. Maybe he has a plan—I'm talking about his foreign policy. I know he's immersed. The dweebs that preceded him left him with terrible problems, economic problems, jobs problems obviously, the collapse of the economy. I'm not sure he did the right thing about it," Hersh opined, "but that's not what I'm interested in.

"Of course the foreign policy, about which he's been negligent, and I don't know, afraid, cowardly? Afraid to take 'em on, take on the Pentagon and take on the establishment? But he's riding it out. He may have a master plan, I'm told by a lot of people," he said.

Nevertheless, Hersh's critique of the Obama administration's foreign policy was blunt and harsh. "It's a year and two months in," he noted. "Let's see: We're still torturing, no question...basically there's an understanding on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the order is, essentially the rule is that, if you capture a suspect, somebody that you think is a Taliban...you have 72 hours tactically—the point being any real intelligence you're gonna get is what you get tactically immediately: Where are they? When are they going to hit you? Where are they hiding? And the abuses that take place in those 72 hours transcend—this is from inside—anything we have seen before. And the kids suffer.

"Maybe I'll talk about that later," Hersh said, "because the victims also—you can't do it and not become a victim, too. So, we still torture. It goes on."

Hersh was especially critical of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

"We still rendition, we still grab people, you know, without any due process, we go into a country where we have a diplomatic relationship, we have an ambassador, we have a CIA chief of station, we still have teams, high-value target teams, many of them working for something called the Joint Special Operations Command, which I have been screaming for years is basically Murder Incorporated—though I don't fault the guys who do the killing. These are SEALS, Delta Force, some of the best, most honorable people in our military and the most well-trained," he explained, "who are under orders to go and take out high-value targets. It's just a question of, Are they targets? Are they suspects? The evidence is flimsy, so a lot of wrong people get hit, which is inevitable," Hersh said.

"Our Joint Special Operations Command—we have a man running the war in Afghanistan, General [Stanley] McChrystal, who ran the Joint Special Operations Command for Cheney and Bush. He went from colonel to two-star general faster than anybody in history," observed Hersh. "This guy may be a fine guy, but he's an apparatchik, in my mind. He was put into the Joint Chiefs with the understanding at the time—I remember being told this by people in the Army—that the understanding was he would not get a fourth star. Well, he's got his fourth star and he's now running the war in Afghanistan. He's talking an awful lot publicly about how we don't want to kill civilians, and meanwhile we're killing civilians."

Hersh later returned to the subject of the psychological damage that soldiers experience as a result of the horrors of war, speaking at length about his work on the My Lai massacre story and some of the soldiers and family members he interviewed for articles about the massacre.

Following his prepared remarks, the reporter took questions from the audience. His presentation, part of the World Affairs Series, was funded by the Government of the Student Body at ISU.

Michael Gillespie

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