Sy Hersh on Obama & Afghanistan: ‘The stuff that goes on in the field, is still going on in the field’

Here are a few excerpts from a speech given by award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in January 2011, as reported in Foreign Policy magazine. Hersh has a long career that includes the exposure of the Vietnam-era My Lai massacres and the Abu Graib prison-torture scandals. (That whole last link is worth a read.) A good overview of Hersh and his career is here.

Now the excerpts from the speech. Keep in mind this is a transcript, so there are a lot of retracements of thought. Unlike in his writing, Hersh is a wandery speaker. Much of this is coming from his research on an upcoming book on Dick Cheney.

First, on differences between Obama and Bush in the use of torture (my emphasis throughout):

In any case, Obama did abdicate, very quickly, any control, I think right away, to the people that are running the war, for what reason I don’t know. I can tell you, there is a scorecard I always keep and I always look at. Torture? Yep, still going on. It’s more complicated now the torture, and there’s not as much of it. But one of the things we did, ostensibly to improve the conditions of prisoners, we demanded that the American soldiers operating in Afghanistan could only hold a suspected Taliban for four days, 96 hours. If not… after four days they could not be sure that this person was not a Taliban, he must be freed. Instead of just holding them and making them Taliban, you have to actually do some, some work to make the determination in the field. Tactically, in the field. So what happens of course, is after three or four days, “bang, bang” — I’m just telling you — they turn them over to the Afghans and by the time they take three steps away the shots are fired. And that’s going on. It hasn’t stopped. It’s not just me that’s complaining about it. But the stuff that goes on in the field, is still going on in the field — the secret prisons, absolutely, oh you bet they’re still running secret prisons. Most of them are in North Africa, the guys running them are mostly out of Djibouto [sic]. We have stuff in Kenya (doesn’t mean they’re in Kenya, but they’re in that area).

On Cheney and the “whacking” in Afghanistan:

Stanley McChrystal had been in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command [see below] from ‘03 to ‘07 under Cheney. In the beginning under Cheney — what I’m telling you is sort of hard to take because the vice… In the beginning they would get their orders, they would call up on satellite phones, from the field, to Cheney’s office, and get authority, basically, to whack people. Sometimes names were given, sometimes generic authority was given. This was going on. There’s still an enormous amount of whacking going on right now. What happened is after McChrystal ran into trouble and he was replaced, Petraeus took over the war, General Petraeus — they call him King David, David Petraeus — and he has done this in the last 6, 8 months; He has doubled up on the nightly , nightly assassinations. He’s escalated the bombing. He’s gotten much tougher. His argument is: Let’s squeeze them, let’s bomb ‘em, let’s hit ‘em, and then of course they’ll be open to negotiation.

For background on JSOC, here’s Hersh from a different speech, given in 2009, as quoted in Alternet:

“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. […]

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

And finally, this — Hersh on the relationship between the military and right-wing Catholic societies like Opus Dei. Quoted without comment (though others have had much to say). This is about the “Knights of Malta” (really, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta) — a land-less state with many diplomatic privileges, by the way:

[I]n the Cheney shop — I can write about it in ways I could not then, because I didn’t want expose anybody who was there — in the Cheney shop the attitude was, “What’s this? What? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? And wait a second, Sunnis don’t like Shia? And there’s no WMD? And there’s no democracy? Don’t they get it? We’re going to change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get hold of all the oil, nobody’ s going to give a damn.” That’s the attitude: “We’re going to change mosques into cathedrals.”

That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Special Operations Command, the Joint Special Operations Command and Stanley McChrystal, the one who got in trouble because of the article in Rolling Stone, and his follow-on, a Navy admiral named McRaven, Bill McRaven — all are members or at least supporters of Knights of Malta. McRaven attended, so I understand, the recent annual convention of the Knights of Malta they had in Cyprus a few months back in November. They’re all believers — many of them are members of Opus Dei. They do see what they are doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. […] Look, Knights of Malta does great stuff. They do a lot of charity work; so does Opus Dei. It’s a very extreme, extremely religious, Roman Catholic sect, if you will. But for me, it’s always, when I think of them, I always think of the line we used about Werner von Braun [a Nazi rocket scientist brought to the US to help with the missle program] […] “Werner von Braun, he aimed for the moon but often hit London.” With his rockets.

As with my earlier Robert Fisk article, I can only present this as representing Hersh’s research, which he isn’t yet sharing. On the other hand, this is Seymour Hersh, not Swiss cheese.

There’s much more to this speech; please read it all if this stuff interests you. (And if you find an online link to Part II, please post it in the comments. Thanks.)

GP


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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