Another scoop for My Lai massacre journalist

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The Independent US

Seymour Hersh has done it again. Back in 1969, when Richard Nixon was President, he produced the scoop on the My Lai massacre which helped turn America against the Vietnam War.

Seymour Hersh has done it again. Back in 1969, when Richard Nixon was President, he produced the scoop on the My Lai massacre which helped turn America against the Vietnam War.

Now in the unlikely pages of the oh-so laid-back New Yorker magazine, he has repeated his achievement, bringing the world news of the nightmare at Abu Ghraib.

In a sense, Hersh's three bombshell reports about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers, the latest alleging that Donald Rumsfeld authorised the expansion of a secret programme that encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, are linear descendants of the My Lai story that made his name.

Back then, Hersh was a freelance journalist who received a tip that an officer was about to be court-martialled for the murder of Vietnamese civilians. He tracked down Lieutenant William Calley, commander of the company which carried out the slaughter of 500 Vietnamese villagers. Calley told all, and Sy Hersh had a scoop for the ages, and a Pulitzer prize to boot.

At 67, Hersh is enjoying a journalistic Indian summer. After My Lai, which generated a couple of books, he was hired by The New York Times, where he led the paper's coverage of the Watergate scandal.

He resigned from the Times in 1979 and produced The Price of Power, a portrait of Henry Kissinger as a manipulative, cynical courtier at the Nixon White House. The book was a prize-winning bestseller. In retrospect, however, it marked Hersh's highwater mark, until now.

Other less successful exposé books followed: on the 1983 shooting down of KAL Flight 007 by the Soviets; on how Israel built up its secret nuclear arsenal; and on the sexual excesses of John F Kennedy, The Dark Side of Camelot.

But at The New Yorker, where the editor, David Remnick, uses Hersh like a one-man investigative reporting team, he is back at the top of his game.

Since 11 September, he has broken story after story: the bungled efforts to catch Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan; the flaws in the legal case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker; and a piece on the business dealings of the neo-conservative adviser Richard Perle, which led to Mr Perle's resignation as chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board.

Hersh helped demolish the fiction about Saddam's efforts to buy uranium in Africa which found its way into President Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech.

And now the Iraqi prison abuse reports ­ a scandal that may be to Bush's Iraq adventure what My Lai was to the Vietnam War.

As journalistic second acts go, it takes some beating.

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