Robert Fisk: Beating about the Bush? Not with Hersh

He is about all we have left to frighten the most powerful man in the world

Share

Sy Hersh is an ornery, cussed sort of guy, not one to suffer fools gladly. As the man who broke the My Lai story and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, I reckon he has a right to be ornery from time to time - and cussed. He's dealing with powerful folk in Washington, including one - George W Bush - who would like to cut him down. And when Hersh wrote - as he did in The New Yorker this month - that "current and former American military and intelligence officials" have said Bush has a target list to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and that Bush's "ultimate goal" in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change - again! - you can see why Bush was worried. "Wild", he called the Hersh story. Which must mean it has some claim to veracity.

So when I cornered Hersh at Columbia University in New York and dropped him a note during a Charles Glass presentation asking for an interview, I expected a stiff reply. "Anything you ask," he scribbled obligingly on a piece of paper.

His own lecture was frightening. Bush has a messianic vision - and intends to go down in history (probably he has chosen the right direction) as the man who will have "saved" Iran. "So we're in a real American crisis ... we've had a collapse of congress ... we have had a collapse of the military ... the good news is that when we wake up tomorrow morning, there will be one less day (of Bush). But that is the only good news."

Hersh might have said that we'd also had a "collapse" of the media in the United States, a total disintegration of the Ed Murrow/Howard K Smith/ Daniel Elsworth/Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward school of journalism. The greying, bespectacled, obscenity-swearing Hersh is about all we have left to frighten the most powerful man in the world (save for the jibes of Maureen Dowd in The New York Times).

So it's good to know he's still doing some fighting, including other journalists on his target list. "I know some serious generals," he says. "I can't urge them to go public. They'd be attacked by Fox (TV), and the (New York) Times and The Washington Post would wring their hands. It's a mechanism. You don't get rewarded in the newsroom for being a malcontent."

Journalists on the mainstream papers are largely middle-class college graduates - not reporters who came up the hard way like Hersh's street reporting in Chicago in his early days. They have largely no connection to the immigrants' society. "They don't know what it's like to be on social welfare. Their families weren't in Vietnam and their families are not in Iraq." The BBC, too, has "fallen off the way".

So what is the Hersh school of journalism? "In my business, I get information I check it out and I find it's not true - that's what my business is. Now there is (also) stuff in the military from people I don't know - I don't touch it ... I was seeing (President) Bashar (Assad of Syria) at the time of the assassination of (former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq) Hariri. There was obviously bad blood between Bashar and Hariri. Bashar was saying that Hariri wanted to take over the cell-phone business in Damascus. To this day I don't know what happened. I saw Bashar from 11am until 1pm (on 14 February 2005). He talked about what a thief Hariri was. I didn't write it."

And there goes a scoop about bad blood, I said to myself. But on Iran, it was something different for Hersh. He was talking to a contact. "I brought up Iran. 'It's really bad,' he said. 'You ought to get into it. You can go to Vienna and find out how far away (from nuclear weapons production) they are.' Then he told me they were having trouble walking back the nuclear option with Bush. People don't want to speak out - they want the shit on my head."

As Hersh said in his New Yorker report, nuclear planners routinely go through options - "we're talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years," he quotes one of them as saying - but once the planners try to argue against all this, they are shouted down. According to another intelligence officer quoted by Hersh, "The White House said, 'Why areyou challenging this? The option came from you'." In other words, once the planners routinelyput options on the table, the options become possibilitiesto be considered rather than technical reports.

"That whole Johns Hopkins speech," Hersh goes on, referring to the address in which Bush attacked Hersh's own article, "he talked about the wonderful progress in Iraq. This is hallucinatory - and there are people on a high level in the Pentagon and they can't get the President to give this up. Because it's crazy.

"In the UK, you might have some crazy view - but you knew it was. But these guys (in Washington) are talking in revelations. Bush is a revelatory at bedtime - he has to take a nap. It's so childish and simplistic. And don't think he's diminished. He'sstill got two years ... he's not diminished. We've still got a Congress that can't articulate opposition. This is a story where I profoundly hope, at every major point, that I'm wrong."

Hersh has also been casting his wizened eye on the Brits. "Your country is very worried about what Bush is going to do - your people" - Hersh means the Foreign Office - "are really worried. There are no clearances ... no consultations."

In Washington, "advocating humanity, peace, integrity is not a value in the power structure ... my government are incapable of leaving (Iraq). They don't know how to get out of Baghdad. We can't get out. In this war, the end is going to be very, very messy - because we don't know how to get out. We're going to get out body by body. I think that scares the hell out of me."

It's all put neatly by one of Hersh's sources in the Pentagon: "The problem is that the Iranians realise that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the US. Something bad is going to happen."

What was that line from Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, when he asked Sam, his pianist, what time it is in New York? Sam replies that his watch has stopped, and Bogart says, "I bet they're asleep in New York. I'll bet they're asleep all over America." Except for Hersh.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Freeman, centre, with Lord Gladwyn, left, and Harold Wilson on the programme The Great Divide in 1963  

John Freeman was a man of note who chose to erase himself from history

Terence Blacker
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'