Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre in 1969.
He was the first to report the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison back in 2004.Hersh’s most recent break threatens to blur the boundary between investigative reporting and conspiracy theory.The story published last May in the London Review of Books alleges that Pakistan caught Osama bin Laden years ago and then kept him under house arrest in Abbottabad.Eventually Hersh writes a walk-in leaked bin Laden’s whereabouts to the CIA.The SEAL raid that killed bin Laden was military theater – staged in cooperation with the Pakistani government.
This story contradicts government accounts – as well as with the exhaustive reporting of Mark Bowden whom I interviewed for Salon earlier this year.
(Hersh and Bowden speak highly of one another).
In the unstable postmodern game of who the hell should I trust?
the fallout from Hersh’s story offers an especially vexing tableau.
There have been the condemnations from prominent writers like Bowden and scathing takedowns in Slate and Politico—but also sympathetic coverage in the New York Times Magazine and some corroborating details from veteran Times Afghanistan correspondent Carlotta Gall and from NBC News.
Earlier this month Verso Press released a collection of Hersh’s journalism titled ‘The Killing of Osama Bin Laden’.
The book includes some of Hersh’s recent reporting on Syria as well as a reprint of the LRB piece on bin Laden.
I met Hersh at his office – a two-room suite in Washington D.C.
Hersh’s desk is covered with stacks of file folders each jammed with printouts and notes on yellow legal paper and indexed with a system of his own devising.
When I walked into the room he was sock-footed and tousle-haired.
Now 79 years old Hersh is discursive intense erudite, and disarmingly casual.
It is hard to imagine him ever sleeping.
Seymour Hersh is an American investigative journalist who is the recipient of many awards – including the Pulitzer Prize for his article exposing the My Lai massacre by the U.S. military in Vietnam.
More recently he exposed the U.S. government’s abuse of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison facility.
Hersh’s new book The Killing of Osama Bin Laden is a corrective to the official account of the war on terror.
Drawing from accounts of a number of high-level military officials Hersh challenges a number of commonly accepted narratives: that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the Sarin gas attack in Ghouta – that the Pakistani government didn’t know Bin Laden was in the country – that the late ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in a solely diplomatic capacity –
– and that Assad did not want to give up his chemical weapons until the U.S. called on him to do so.
History takes no prisoners.
It shows with absolute lucidity that the Islamic extremism ravaging the world today was borne out of the Western foreign policy of yesteryear.Gore Vidal famously referred to the USA as the United States of Amnesia.The late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai put it a little more delicately – quipping ‘One of the delightful things about Americans is that they have absolutely no historical memory’.
In order to understand the rise of militant Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaida – in order to wrap our minds around their heinous abominable attacks on civilians in the U.S. – France Syria Iraq Lebanon Nigeria Turkey Yemen Afghanistan and many many more countries – we must rekindle this historical memory.
Where did violent Islamic extremism come from?
In the wake of the horrific Paris attacks on Friday, November the 13, this is the question no one is asking — yet it is the most important one of all.
If one doesn’t know why a problem emerged – if one cannot find its root- one will never be able to solve and uproot it.
Where did militant Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaida come from?
The answer is not as complicated as many make it out to be — but to understand we must delve into the history of the Cold War – the historical period lied about in the West perhaps more than any other.
How the West cultivated Osama bin Laden
We needn’t reach back far into history – just a few decades.
A much-circulated photo of an article published in British newspaper the Independent in 1993 exemplifies the West’s twisted hypocrisy.
Titled ‘Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace’ it features a large photo of Osama bin Laden – who at the time was a close Western ally.
Bowden considered for a second and decided he would write a book instead. In some ways it was a perfect match of author and subject.
Bowden specializes in chronicling covert operations. In addition to ‘Black Hawk Down’ which told the story of a 1993 raid in Somalia by U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force teams that went disastrously awry –
– he has written books about the failed mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran in 1980 and the long manhunt for the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
His method in those books was to combine exhaustive reporting with vivid storytelling.
It helps that Bowden tends to write about historical events a long time after they take place.
People are typically eager to sit down with him and they are usually able to speak freely.
One interview subject leads to another – who leads to another and so on.
It’s a process that can take years.
The bin Laden book proved to be a very different sort of undertaking.