Thursday, October 14, 2004

Sy Hersh: "I Get Horrified" 

Despite the generally breezy tone, there are several intersting nuggets in this S.F. Chronicle feature on Sy Hersh's whirlwind tour of the Bay Area last week:
"I just found something great, you want to see something great?" He's clutching a cache of documents, recently procured in London -- internal memos from March 2002 warning British Prime Minister Tony Blair against invading Iraq. Seeds of a forthcoming Hersh investigation? "Shut off that tape recorder" . . . .

"I get horrified," he said in San Francisco last week. "Because if Bush is re-elected, he's going to bomb and bomb and bomb, and that's what scares me. What else can he do? The only way he can hold [Iraq] together is with force."

On Tuesday, he continued the dialogue -- giving a noontime talk at the Commonwealth Club, taping an on-camera interview for local news, giving an interview to The Chronicle -- and then attended an evening fund-raiser for Mother Jones magazine.

"Bush believes it's America's mission -- our manifest destiny -- to bring democracy to the Middle East," Hersh said. "There's nothing more frightening than a president who believes he's doing the right thing in Iraq."

"It's my thesis that Bush didn't go to war for Israel or oil. He went to war because he wanted, through democracy, to make Iraq 'safe' as a collateral issue," Hersh explained. "Once we democratize Iraq and Iran and Syria, the people who support the Palestinians and the Palestinians will see the futility of protest and stop. That's his plan. It's completely mad!" . . . .

Ask him why the Abu Ghraib scandal is important, and you'll get an earful. "Why are you asking me that question? Are you trying to torture me? Is that a torture question? If you can't answer that question, I'm not going to answer it." He's picking up speed. "Why is it important? It's important because -- let me tell you why it's important, in a nutshell! It's important because it's a symptom of a lack of care by the people at the top," he said.

"The president and (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld dehumanized the opposition from the beginning -- out of fear, out of anger, out of want of payback."

A disastrous consequence of that dehumanization, Hersh says, was a tacit agreement to overlook the Geneva Conventions.

"You don't mistreat people for the simple reason that you don't want to ever treat a soldier any different than you want your soldiers treated.

"People say Abu Ghraib was just horseplay, what am I worried about? But it's a symptom. When we learn about Guantanamo, we're going to be shamed. It's as bad as Andersonville," he said, citing the notorious Civil War prison where soldiers were starved.

"Let me put it in My Lai terms," he said. "In My Lai, soldiers executed three to five hundred people, cold-bloodedly, and in the middle stopped and had their C-rations for lunch.

"This wasn't that. But in terms of the consequences, the damage to America's reputation -- particularly in the Middle East -- it's every bit as devastating," Hersh said . . . .

Early this year, reports of abuse were all over the Internet. Some newspapers picked up the story, Hersh said, "but the government always denied it." The story became undeniable only when digital photographs of the abuses surfaced.

"CBS had the pictures and I knew because I'm sort of tuned in. I was glad for them. But when they didn't run the story the first week, even before the second week I said, 'The hell with it.' I knew where to get the stuff, so I got it.

"They didn't run the story, by the way, not because Dan Rather didn't want to run it, but because the corporate suits at CBS stopped it. The White House said, 'Don't run it.'

"Let me tell you something," Hersh says, leaning in close. "Pictures like that, you could die for."

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