The major U.S. media have ignored for the most part Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster column April 4 reporting the Obama administration’s deceptive accounts of notorious killings in Benghazi and Syria.
Several major outlets declined to publish his column The Red Line and the Rat Line. That is their right, of course, and he proceeded to publish his source-based allegations in the London Review of Books.
But at some point, failure to raise questions to authorities and publish criticism smacks of a cowardly self-censorship, not mere fact-checking.
I have monitored reaction to his revelations, in part because I reported similar findings in my fall 2013 book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters and on this site seven months ago.
One of Hersh’s most explosive claims is that Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally in the fight to overthrow Syria’s government, helped plan a sarin gas attack Aug. 21 that reportedly caused more than a thousand deaths in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
The deaths, a war crime if proven, nearly prompted a massive U.S. bombing attack on the grounds that Syria’s government had crossed a “red line” set by President Obama against use of chemical weapons.
The silent treatment helps authorities foster secret military actions worldwide for regime changes that arguably violate international law.
Reasonable people can differ on what constitutes adequate sourcing to publish claims even by such a noted reporter as Hersh, especially if his sources are anonymous. Hersh said in an interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman that he respects a decision by the Washington Post not to publish his report that Turkey was behind the sarin attack. He is shown in a screenshot from a Democracy Now! video.
But if an iconic reporter like him cannot get his findings published in a major outlet or otherwise make a significant impact, who can? We in the public or press cannot expect an Edward Snowden to appear whenever we need a source for a big story and then have to flee the country.
Hersh cited anonymous sources, as I did in Puppetry, to describe how the infamous Benghazi attack in 2012 grew out of covert U.S. arms smuggling organized by the CIA from Libya via Turkey to NATO-supported rebels in Syria.
The smuggling violated official statements that the United States was providing merely non-lethal aid to rebels. Hersh named the smuggling route through Turkey “The Rat Line” in his column. My book described the arms and fighter smuggling as being under the command of CIA Director David Petraeus in 2012, whose role has long been obscured by both parties and the media.
On April 4, Hersh also reported that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, left, led a joint chiefs effort to dissuade President Obama from undertaking a bombing campaign against Syria beginning Sept. 2 as reprisal for crossing the president’s “red line” with sarin gas attacks two weeks previous.
Hersh reported that the evidence of Syrian complicity was too disputed for easy answers, and so the president needed to obtain congressional approval at the minimum. Hersh’s report thus amplified his column Whose Sarin? published by the London Review of Books Dec. 8.
Those findings by Hersh are congruent with those I made Sept. 3 in a report here on the Justice Integrity Project site about Dempsey’s role. My report was based primarily on anonymous sourcing. So was an independent report Sept. 1 by former Navy intelligence analyst Wayne Madsen, who broke the story two days before me.
The mainstream media did not report these matters to my knowledge.
Instead, they misled the public by portraying a White House and Pentagon unified in decision-making, albeit with bomb planning that shifted from a presidentially ordered bombing attack to a bombing plan requiring congressional approval.
InThe Red Line and the Rat Line, Hersh described the tense White House internal debates late last summer in much more detail, and confirmed that Dempsey played a key role in persuading Obama to seek congressional approval for any attack.
Support for an attack failed to materialize in Congress. Russia proposed a face-saving plan whereby Syria would destroy its chemical weapons and avoid allied bombing.
The White House photo at right shows President Obama and his top national security advisors on Aug. 30. It illustrates the seemingly united front at the White House as authorities described Syria’s guilt in the sarin attacks, and White House determination to bomb Syria in reprisal.
My column today summarizes Hersh’s findings and interprets the implications. The news blackout symbolizes the continued erosion of the media’s willingness to report government operations aside from the kind of scripted, pre-packaged announcements represented by the almost-bombing of Syria.
We have described this trend frequently at the Justice Integrity Project, especially regarding the crackdowns by authorities on government employees who communicate with the media without approval.