In Defense of Seymour Hersh


“Seymour Hersh is one of the most outstanding investigative reporters of this generation. He has compiled a remarkable record. Anything he does has to be taken very seriously.” – Noam Chomsky, private correspondence with the author. Quoted with permission.

In the aftermath of the publication of Seymour Hersh’s ground-breaking piece on bin Laden’s execution, the flak organizations are out in force to damage Hersh’s standing as a reporter. The Policy Tensor stakes his own credibility to attest both to Seymour Hersh’s integrity, and to the unwavering reliability and high-quality of his reporting.

I have read almost all of Hersh’s impressive body of work. If you can find a single piece penned by Seymour Hersh wherein he argues for something loony, bring it to my attention. Such a claim is strictly speaking ludicrous; it can only be credible to someone who has not read Seymour Hersh. Unfortunately, public opinion is not shaped by people who actually read. It is a domain especially susceptible to the tyranny of the ignorant. 

Since he has been the premier reporter on international espionage, his stories necessarily involve facts that are shrouded in secrecy. But at absolutely no point does his reporting stretch the credibility of anyone even remotely familiar with world affairs. Apart from breaking the My Lai, Watergate, and Abu-Ghraib stories, Seymour Hersh has also done stellar work on nuclear proliferation. His book on secret French and Israeli nuclear cooperation, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, is the last word on the matter. His long-form pieces over the years in the New Yorker and the London Review of Books, two of the most reliable periodicals in the English-speaking world, are some of the best works of investigative journalism ever penned.

Much of what Hersh exposed was covered up in spin. For instance, in the public perception, the My Lai massacre was an isolated event. What Hersh showed was something considerably more damning. My Lai was just one many massacres that US forces carried out in Indochina. A similar spin was put on Abu Ghraib; which was again seen as an isolated phenomena in the public eye. The truth, which Hersh exposed to anyone who cares to read, is that it was just the tip of a very sordid iceberg. Indeed, the full extent of prisoner abuse carried out by US forces in Iraq is still to be reckoned with in the public sphere.

None of these propaganda achievements are surprising in light of the political economy of US mass media. This is standard fare: Intrepid reporter breaks an embarrassing story; the crime is conceded and then immediately covered up in spin; usually the along the lines of it being one bad apple; when the truth of the matter is that it was the entire basket all along. 


Let me debunk a specific piece attacking Hersh’s credibility. 

Max Fisher launches a lengthy ad hominem attack on Hersh; basically saying that Hersh has recently become a conspiracy theorist (boo hoo). In support of this ludicrous claim, Fisher offers these bits of evidence that I will debunk in turn:

…the Opus Dei special forces cabal, the terrorist training in Nevada, the American plan to nuke Iran, the Turkish false flag in Syria, even the American-Pakistani bin Laden ruse.

The Opus Dei special forces cabal

This is a soundbite taken out of context from a speech that Hersh gave at Georgetown’s Qatar campus. You can see what he was talking about here. Go find out if it looks unreasonable.

The American plan to “nuke Iran”

This was Seymour Hersh’s excellent reporting on the neocons’ hardly-secret plan to bomb Iran. The question of the use of nuclear weapons is hardly surprising in light of the United States’ war aims. An important mission in any American military action against Iran would involve an attempt to destroy Iran’s hardened and deeply buried nuclear enrichment site at Fordow. The only way of ensuring Fordow’s destruction is to conduct precision strikes using cruise missiles tipped with tactical nuclear warheads. Conventional warheads require multiple strikes that may or may not be effective in a contested airspace.

The use of nuclear weapons, even if only tactical ones, cannot be undertaken lightly. But the other option, gaining air supremacy deep inside Iran, required significant air combat. It is hard to see how Iran could be defanged with (conventional) surgical strikes alone. But an air invasion of Iran demanded domestic and international mobilization; a prospect that became more and more unlikely as the US got bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire. This is why the neocons never managed to carry out their nefarious plans.

Terrorist training in Nevada

Go read the excellent New Yorker piece from which this bit is taken and find out for yourself if it is unreasonable.

The Turkish false-flag operation

Contrary to Fisher’s claims, no one has debunked Hersh’s report in the London Review of Books. Moreover, what he said is not unreasonable at all. It is now well documented that Turkey actively supported Jabhat al-Nusra and friends. The question is not whether Turkey has been arming and supporting odorous Salafist-Jihadist groups in Syria. That is common knowledge among informed observers. The question is also not whether Assad used chemical weapons. He did; often; but in small quantities so as not to trigger Obama’s red line. The only question is whether the weight of evidence shows that that specific attack was a Turkish false-flag operation or not.

The nature of evidence and the burden of proof: Due to the nature of the business, there is unlikely to ever be sufficient “proof” of the theory. More generally, theories cannot be proven by evidence. What evidence can do is debunk theories. Seymour Hersh has done a good job of showing the holes in the standard (official) narrative. No one has debunked Hersh’s theory. The authors that Fisher cites are others in the flak-echo chamber; all of them pulling a Fisher themselves.

To the Policy Tensor the story makes sense. The theory explains why the administration backed out of the promised barrage of cruise missile strikes intended to punish Assad’s insubordination. There was always something fishy about the White House’s shenanigans (the sudden, inexplicable turn to Congress; Kerry’s “gaffe” which was clearly intended to elicit the Russian proposal). That Assad would so blatantly cross the red line so explicitly marked out by a sitting US president was always difficult to reconcile with the facts.

The operation, an attack on civilians, had very limited military-strategic value to the Assad regime. Moreover, Assad understood that a large-scale use of chemical weapons was the one thing that could trigger the wrath of the Boss. To Assad’s adversaries on the other hand, engineering a US military assault on Damascus made imminent sense. Whether or not the false-flag theory is right, it is not unreasonable at all. 

Fisher makes much of Hersh’s “preoccupation” with false-flag operations. Well, duh. States conduct plenty of false-flag operations. Global Research lists fifty-three where government officials admitted to carrying them out. If you don’t think false-flag operations are common in the murky world of international espionage, your picture of the world around you is distorted.

The American-Pakistani bin Laden ruse

Including the story under consideration in the case against Seymour Hersh’s credibility on the story itself is Fisher’s way of spuriously beefing up his case. If you shouldn’t believe story because Seymour Hersh is a conspiracy theorist, only the looniness of stories 1,2,…,n-1 can be presented as evidence. Only a weak mind would allow the inclusion of story n itself in the chain of evidence.

Fisher’s claim that Seymour Hersh has become a loony is baseless.


At one point, Fisher claims that Hersh suggests that the Seals carried out a macabre dismemberment of bin Laden’s body. This is nonsense. The previous ten paragraphs of Hersh’s report are dedicated to the question of bin Laden’s body. Hersh makes it very clear that he does not know what precisely happened to bin Laden’s body. Since bin Laden was likely executed with machine guns, Hersh was merely talking about the possibility of there being lopped-off parts of the body as the Seals stuffed the remains into a duffel bag; an event that is not unlikely when a bunch of machine-gun magazines are emptied at a man’s body, whether he is 6-4 or 5-3. It is enough to make your stomach churn. But then again, this is the nature of the business. 

You know how the Policy Tensor keeps mentioning Chomsky’s remark on the need for intellectual self-defence? Now would be a good time to exercise independent judgement: The flak machine is in high gear trying to discredit an honest reporter; a man of impeccable integrity.

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