LAST WEEK AT WASHINGTON COLLEGE, I WAS TREATED TO A PRETTY EXTENSIVE meeting with journalist Seymour Hersh — followed by dinner and a public lecture that followed. This Hersh extravaganza ended just before the third presidential debates began — and I was among a couple of people who helped Hersh rush to his car so that he could listen while driving back to Philadelphia.
I realize that to many Hersh is one of the most controversial journalists in America and is still harrangued for being duped by a forged note from Marilyn Monroe to JFK (to his credit, Hersh readily admits he was duped and did not use the material in his book, The Dark Side of Camelot).
However, I am convinced that America does not have enough hard-working investigative journalists like Seymour Hersh, James Fallows and Ron Suskind. Josh Marshall and some bloggers are picking up some of the slack left in a mostly complacent media today — but it occurred to me that Hersh is the kind of guy who develops vast human networks, digs into issues that no one else will touch, and takes the kinds of risks serious journalism rarely takes any more.
It should be a national priority — in order to promote and protect the checks and balances in our civil society — to cultivate a hundred more Seymour Hersh type journalists. Clearly, if Congress will not play its oversight function over the Executive Branch, the media have to weigh in, highlight, and embarrass what Members of Congress have been unable or unwilling to do.
I am going to link Seymour Hersh’s comments on October 8th from UC Berkeley because they track almost identically with his talk at Washington College the other evening. His talk is well worth reading.
But here’s the scary part — which he shared with Andrew Oros, Christine Wade, and me privately but did not mention in his Washington College address. Fortunately for this blog, Hersh did publicly share this anecdote at UC Berkeley about a frustrated and angry soldier who wants to report a potential war crime but is being advised by Hersh to wait and keep his powder dry.
Bonnie Azab Powell reports:
There was more — rumors of atrocities around Iraq that to Hersh brought back memories of My Lai. In the evening’s most emotional moment, Hersh talked about a call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be “cleared.” Another platoon from the soldier’s company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.
“He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts,” Hersh said quietly. “He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, ‘No, you don’t understand, that’s a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don’t you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?’
“It’s shades of Vietnam again, folks: body counts,” Hersh continued. “You know what I told him? I said, ‘Fella, you blamed the captain, he knows that you think he committed murder, your troops know that their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Complete your tour. Just shut up! You’re going to get a bullet in the back.’ And that’s where we are in this war.”
I have spoken to some family members with brothers or sisters stationed in Iraq — and I have heard rumblings of the same kind of brewing tension among the ranks.
When you add Hersh’s frustrated soldier to the recent refusal to carry out orders by 18 men and women in the 343rd Quartermaster Company, one sees at minimum the beginning of a pattern of discord and tension among our own troops that ought to give us all serious concern.
— Steve Clemons