Ithaca College Quarterly 2005/1
South Hill Today

 

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Links to writings by Seymour Hersh:

Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, HarperCollins 2004.

The Gray Zone: How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu Ghraib, in the New Yorker issue of May 24, 2004

Chain of Command: How the Department of Defense mishandled the disaster at Abu Ghraib, in the New Yorker issue of May 17, 2004

Torture at Abu Ghraib: American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go? in the New Yorker issue of May 10, 2004

As I said -- I don't mean to lay a big trip on you, but -- I don't think we can hold him. We can't do it. This is not Lyndon Johnson worried about the antiwar movement or Richard Nixon being terrified not only about impeachment but also about the things he was doing and the antiwar movement. This guy is not affected by it.

We have a different creature. We call it neoconservatism. One of the people involved once said to me (before it went bad), bragging, that when they began the war on the basis of all those phony stories about WMD, he said that someday people will understand how eight or nine people changed the course of America and the world.

They see themselves as virtuous. Remember [army general Eric K.] Shinseki? What I'm going to tell you is not literally, necessarily true, but it has a point of view. General Shinseki's the guy -- the army chief-of-staff, Hawaiian -- who, before the Gulf War, testified that it was going to take 200,000 or 250,000 troops to win the war, at a time when everybody in the White House and the neocons were saying, Oh my God, it's going to be much less. And Wolfowitz and everybody got very angry, and the next thing you know he was basically humiliated by Rumsfeld. A year before his term of office was due, they announced his replacement. You know, they basically just shoved him off the stage.

And so, it's easy to think, Oh, they were mad at him for telling the number. Somebody involved said to me, You've really got to understand these guys. They weren't mad at Shinseki because he used a much bigger number than they ever wanted to suggest -- a quarter million people, 300,000, which of course turned out to be right -- here's their thinking: Didn't he get it? Hadn't he gone to all those meetings with Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith and their other neocons at the tank with the JCS [joint chiefs of staff], the four service chiefs and the chairman? Hadn't he gone to all those meetings and listened to us explain how we can do it with 25,000 troops, that this is going to be a "lay down"; we're going to go into Iraq, Saddam's going to give up, democracy's going to flow like water from fountains, it's going to spread across the country, the Iranians will have a revolution because of the democracy there, we'll have democracy in Iran, democracy in Syria.

That's what they believe.

And when Shinseki challenged it, it wasn't a question of numbers. It was almost as if he'd been deprogrammed -- somehow they got into the cult, and they were de-programming him. He'd broken ranks in a way that nobody did. And so it's a way of thinking that we haven't had in public life with this much power, this much authority. We haven't. And how it plays out -- I don't have an optimistic scenario for you. I think they're dead set in doing what they're going to do.

 

There are some realities. The war is going very badly. You don't know it because this government has taken the notion of telling lies -- or propaganda or mistruths -- to its own people to a level that's never been told before. We've never had this kind of systematic distortion of the facts. Some examples?

Fallujah. Remember the invasion of Fallujah? Most people don't know that Fallujah is very important historically. It's a town of 300,000 in the "Bad Lands" -- what we call the Sunni-dominated part, the four provinces of Iraq that are out of our control. That is, not Shiite, not Kurdish; they're old Baathists. And Fallujans, when the Ottoman Empire broke up -- in 1920, 85 years ago -- held out the longest against the British, and they were sort of famed in Iraqi lore. There's a lot of nationalism in Iraq -- just as there's a lot of nationalism everywhere. And they held out. And not only that, in the Sunni religious world, some of its mosques and minarets were 800 years old -- and incredibly, enormously, valued and respected. And so before the operation began and we went into Fallujah, there was all this talk in the press about how we were going to do urban bombing, we were going to be careful; we weren't going to systematically destroy. Then the war took place, this hellacious war, in which we basically destroyed the city; nobody gets there now because it's impossible to move around simply because to do so risks death. There's so much distrust of anything Western, particularly American, around the country, particularly in the Sunni populations.

Let me tell you something about our government. There are people in the FBI, the CIA, and the military who care as much about the Bill of Rights and the Constitution as anybody here; who really care, who have really devoted their lives. I can't tell you why more people don't speak out. There's a lot of fear. I think [it's] the same thing we see in the American press corps -- sort of a fear after 9/11, a fear of looking like you're on the wrong side of the American goliath. So guys on the inside maybe don't speak out as much as they [might].

This war has some very curious sociological stuff for some of us who have lived through the horror of the Vietnam War. We were mad at the kids who fought that war. They came back, we were angry at them; we dissed them. They couldn't wear their uniform in public. They were spat upon -- not literally sometimes, but certainly figuratively. There's no similar anger at the American men and women doing the war now. Even after Abu Ghraib, there's sort of a collective sense -- and I don't quite know how it works, but it does work -- that everybody who's there is there not because they want to be, but because they have a president who has pushed them there, and they're as much victims as the people they sometimes have to kill. As you know, we don't have any accounting of the civilian casualties. One British medical journal [The Lancet] estimated five or six months ago that it was at 100, 000 -- just no counting. We don't have an accounting. This government isn't interested in having an accounting.

Anyway, Fallujah. So, I've got this colonel buddy of mine, who's a good guy, who was given this assignment. One of his [areas of] expertise is urban bombing -- sort of an oxymoron. Three weeks after the war, I called him at home on a Sunday because I'd better not call him at his office, and he obviously had caller I.D. And so he picked it up and said: "Welcome to Stalingrad. Because we just took the place down. Down. Took it down. And so, we're now doing the same thing at a town called Ramadi." Another town.

What have we learned? No reports; no embedded journalists; no coverage; no talking. The way you hear about it is in this way: the military command. There's absolutely no media coverage outside of Baghdad; they can't get out. If they do, they're risking their lives. Occasionally, we'll see deaths of marines in a province, Ambar Province. The marines are in there doing what they did in Fallujah.

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