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Seymour Hersh Mystery: A journalist writing bloody murder… and no one notices

March 14, 2007

by guest blogger Tom Engelhardt from Tomdispatch.com

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Perhaps two years ago, an “informal” meeting of “veterans” of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal — holding positions in the Bush administration — was convened by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Discussed were the “lessons learned” from that labyrinthine, secret, and illegal arms-for-money-for-arms deal involving the Israelis, the Iranians, the Saudis, and the Contras of Nicaragua, among others — and meant to evade the Boland Amendment, a congressionally passed attempt to outlaw Reagan administration assistance to the anti-communist Contras. In terms of getting around Congress, the Iran-Contra vets concluded, the complex operation had been a success — and would have worked far better if the CIA and the military had been kept out of the loop and the whole thing had been run out of the Vice President’s office.

Subsequently, some of those conspirators, once again with the financial support and help of the Saudis (and probably the Israelis and the Brits), began running a similar operation, aimed at avoiding congressional scrutiny or public accountability of any sort, out of Vice President Cheney’s office. They dipped into “black pools of money,” possibly stolen from the billions of Iraqi oil dollars that have never been accounted for since the American occupation began. Some of these funds, as well as Saudi ones, were evidently funneled through the embattled, Sunni-dominated Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the sort of Sunni jihadi groups (“some sympathetic to al-Qaeda”) whose members might normally fear ending up in Guantanamo and to a group, or groups, associated with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

All of this was being done as part of a “sea change” in the Bush administration’s Middle Eastern policies aimed at rallying friendly Sunni regimes against Shiite Iran, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Syrian government — and launching secret operations to undermine, roll back, or destroy all of the above. Despite the fact that the Bush administration is officially at war with Sunni extremism in Iraq (and in the more general Global War on Terror), despite its support for the largely Shiite government, allied to Iran, that it has brought to power in Iraq, and despite its dislike for the Sunni-Shiite civil war in that country, some of its top officials may be covertly encouraging a far greater Sunni-Shiite rift in the region.

Imagine. All this and much more (including news of U.S. military border-crossings into Iran, new preparations that would allow George W. Bush to order a massive air attack on that land with only 24-hours notice, and a brief window this spring when the staggering power of four U.S. aircraft-carrier battle groups might be available to the President in the Persian Gulf) was revealed, often in remarkable detail, just over a week ago in “The Redirection,” a Seymour Hersh piece in the New Yorker. Hersh, the man who first broke the My Lai story in the Vietnam era, has never been off his game since. In recent years, from the Abu Ghraib scandal on, he has consistently released explosive news about the plans and acts of the Bush administration.

Imagine, in addition, that Hersh went on Democracy Now!, Fresh Air, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer and actually elaborated on these claims and revelations, some of which, on the face of it, seem like potentially illegal and impeachable offenses, if they do indeed reach up to the Vice President or President.

Now imagine the response: Front-page headlines; editorials nationwide calling for answers, Congressional hearings, or even the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into some of the claims; a raft of op-ed page pieces by the nation’s leading columnists asking questions, demanding answers, reminding us of the history of Iran-Contra; bold reporters from a recently freed media standing up in White House and Defense Department press briefings to demand more information on Hersh’s various charges; calls in Congress for hearings and investigations into why the people’s representatives were left so totally out of this loop.

Uh…

All I can say is: If any of this happened, I haven’t been able to discover it. As far as I can tell, no one in the mainstream even blinked on the Iran-Contra angle or the possibility that a vast, secret Middle Eastern operation is being run, possibly illegally and based on stolen funds and Saudi money, out of the Vice President’s office. You can certainly find a few pieces on, or reports about, “The Redirection” — all focused only on the possible build-up to a war with Iran — and the odd wire-service mention of it; but nothing major, nothing Earth-shaking or eye-popping; not, in fact, a single obvious editorial or op-ed piece in the mainstream; no journalistic questions publicly asked of the administration; no Congressional cries of horror; no calls anywhere for investigations or hearings on any of Hersh’s revelations, not even an expression of fear somewhere that we might be seeing Iran-Contra, the sequel, in our own moment.

This, it seems to me, adds up to a remarkable non-response to claims that, if true, should gravely concern Congress, the media, and the nation. Let’s grant that Hersh’s New Yorker pieces generally arrive unsourced and filled with anonymuous officials (“a former senior intelligence official,” “a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel”). Nonetheless, Hersh has long mined his sources in the Intelligence Community and the military to striking effect. Undoubtedly, the lack of sourcing makes it harder for other reporters to follow-up, though when it comes to papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times, you would think that they might have Washington sources of their own to query on Hersh’s claims. And, of course, editorial pages, columnists, op-ed editors, Congressional representatives, and reporters at administration news briefings don’t need to do any footwork at all to raise these subjects. (Consider, for instance, the White House press briefing on April 10, 2006, where a reporter did indeed ask a question based on an earlier Hersh New Yorker piece.) As far as I can tell, there haven’t even been denunciations of Hersh’s report or suggestions anywhere that it was inaccurate or off-base. Just the equivalent of a giant, collective shrug of the media’s rather scrawny shoulders.

Since the response to Hersh’s remarkable piece has been so tepid in places where it should count, let me take up just a few of the many issues his report raises.

“Meddling” in Iran

For at least a month now, our press and TV news have been full to the brim with mile-high headlines and top-of-the-news stories recounting (and, more rarely, disputing) Bush administration claims of Iranian “interference” or “meddling” in Iraq (where U.S. military spokesmen regularly refer to the Iraqi insurgents they are fighting as “anti-Iraq forces”). Since Hersh published “Plan B” in the New Yorker in June 2004 in which he claimed that the Israelis were “running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria,” he has been on the other side of this story.

In “The Coming Wars” in January of 2005, he first reported that the Bush administration, like the Israelis, had been “conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since” the summer of 2004. In April of 2006 in “The Iran Plans,” he reported that the Bush administration was eager to put the “nuclear option” on the table in any future air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities (and that some in the Pentagon, fiercely opposed, had at least temporarily thwarted planning for the possible use of nuclear bunker-busters in Iran). He also reported that American combat units were “on the ground” in Iran, marking targets for any future air attack, and quoted an unnamed source as claiming that they were also “working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Baluchis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast. The troops ‘are studying the terrain, and giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes, and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds,’ the consultant said. One goal is to get ‘eyes on the ground’… The broader aim, the consultant said, is to ‘encourage ethnic tensions’ and undermine the regime.”

In “The Redirection,” he now claims that, in search of Iranian rollback and possible regime change, “American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the [Iranian] border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.” In his Democracy Now! radio interview, he added: “[W]e have been deeply involved with Azeris and Baluchis and Iranian Kurds in terror activities inside the country… and, of course, the Israelis have been involved in a lot of that through Kurdistan… Iran has been having sort of a series of backdoor fights, the Iranian government, because… they have a significant minority population. Not everybody there is a Persian. If you add up the Azeris and Baluchis and Kurds, you’re really 30-some [%], maybe even 40% of the country.”

Read the rest here.

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