Guardian : Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media

Friday, September 27, 2013

Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media

Pulitzer Prize winner explains how to fix journalism, saying press should 'fire 90% of editors and promote ones you can't control'

Lisa O'Carroll | September 27, 2013

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

It doesn't take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist".

He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.

Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends "so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would" – or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an "independent" Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. "The Pakistanis put out a report, don't get me going on it. Let's put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It's a bullshit report," he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

"It's pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama]," he declares in an interview with the Guardian.

"It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn't happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.

He isn't even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.

Snowden changed the debate on surveillance

He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden "changed the whole nature of the debate" about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government's policy.

"Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we've all written the notion there's constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it's real now," Hersh says.

"Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn't touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game," he adds, before qualifying his remarks.

"But I don't know if it's going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters 'al-Qaida, al-Qaida' and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic," he says.

Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London's summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.

Hope of redemption

Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption.

"I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it's not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity."

His story of how he uncovered the My Lai atrocity is one of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism and doggedness. Back in 1969, he got a tip about a 26-year-old platoon leader, William Calley, who had been charged by the army with alleged mass murder.

Instead of picking up the phone to a press officer, he got into his car and started looking for him in the army camp of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he heard he had been detained. From door to door he searched the vast compound, sometimes blagging his way, marching up to the reception, slamming his fist on the table and shouting: "Sergeant, I want Calley out now."

Eventually his efforts paid off with his first story appearing in the St Louis Post-Despatch, which was then syndicated across America and eventually earned him the Pulitzer Prize. "I did five stories. I charged $100 for the first, by the end the [New York] Times were paying $5,000."

He was hired by the New York Times to follow up the Watergate scandal and ended up hounding Nixon over Cambodia. Almost 30 years later, Hersh made global headlines all over again with his exposure of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Put in the hours

For students of journalism his message is put the miles and the hours in. He knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it, having been tipped off by a senior Iraqi army officer who risked his own life by coming out of Baghdad to Damascus to tell him how prisoners had been writing to their families asking them to come and kill them because they had been "despoiled".

"I went five months looking for a document, because without a document, there's nothing there, it doesn't go anywhere."

Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.

"Do you think Obama's been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What's going on [with journalists]?" he asks.

He says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.

"Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It's journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize," he adds. "It's a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don't mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that's a serious issue but there are other issues too.

"Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren't we doing more? How does he justify it? What's the intelligence? Why don't we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don't we do our own work?

"Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here's a debate' our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues. That doesn't happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it's like you don't dare be an outsider any more."

He says in some ways President George Bush's administration was easier to write about. "The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era," he said.

Asked what the solution is Hersh warms to his theme that most editors are pusillanimous and should be fired.

"I'll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can't control," he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don't get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say 'I don't care what you say'.

Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.

If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn't stop with newspapers.

"I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let's start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won't like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that's what we're supposed to be doing," he says.

Hersh is currently on a break from reporting, working on a book which undoubtedly will make for uncomfortable reading for both Bush and Obama.

"The republic's in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple." And he implores journalists to do something about it.

St. Petersburg Times : Russia Must Stop U.S. Aggression

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Russia Must Stop U.S. Aggression

By Sergei Markov | September 26, 2013

Russia's dream is coming true: The peace-loving people of the world support Moscow's plan for resolving the Syrian crisis. What's more, Group of 20 member states have split into two camps. Тhe majority, headed by President Vladimir Putin, favor a peaceful resolution and the minority, led by U.S. President Barack Obama, advocate military intervention. The Russian plan has the advantage of thwarting the West from bombing Syria, reducing the number of chemical weapons in the world and preventing Islamic extremists from coming to power in Damascus. Russia has no vested interests in Syria, but it does have principles that it is upholding with firm determination. And amidst the growing chaos in the world, this turns out to be a winning strategy.

Most important, everything must conform to the framework of international law. This is not only a matter of respecting the law, but also a means of curbing the ambitions of NATO and the U.S. In this way, a temporarily weakened world power appeals to the law to contain the actions of a rival that is, at least for now, more powerful. And that is achieved by strengthening the authority of the United Nations. All foreign actions against Syria must be approved by the UN Security Council.

Above all, we must avoid war at all costs, a conviction born of Russia's suffering through the terrible war with Adolf Hitler. But Moscow has become especially firm on its anti-war principle during the last 10 years after seeing how readily the U.S. and NATO resort to military force. All U.S. military interventions over the past decade have led to negative results. These bombings deliver blows against not only the targeted countries but against the entire world order, as well.

Another principle is that the world community must respect the sovereignty of states. We must give each state the right to decide its own destiny. And the Syrians should be given the chance to negotiate peace and compromise. Russia defends its own sovereignty in the same way.

Another important principle is that the U.S. lied to Russia concerning Libya. Russia supported a no-fly zone, but not a massive bombing campaign and the overthrow of the regime. Our Western partners lied to Russian diplomats and then-President Dmitry Medvedev, an idealist who sincerely wanted Russia to be part of a united front with Western states. But in place of a united front, Russia was lied to and made party to an unauthorized use of force.

Moscow wants to avoid creating the military and political conditions in which jihadi can thrive, and which would prompt them to send militants from Iraq, Libya or Syria into Russia to continue their jihad. Confrontations with radical jihadi only tend to strengthen them. Russian analysts are convinced that Islamic extremists have become the dominant force among the Syrian rebels and that destabilizing actions by the West may let them seize power.

Russia is also opposed to the overthrow of governments. By contrast, the West works deliberately toward that goal, using a combination of soft power, like color revolutions, and hard power in the form of direct or threatened military intervention. This has been the case in Serbia, Georgia, Lebanon, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Who will be next? Belarus? Russia? That is why it is important that those advocating the overthrow of foreign governments pay the highest possible price for their actions and become mired down far away from Russia's borders.

The West has lost its moral legitimacy in the eyes of Russian leaders and public opinion. Its lies concerning Iraq, South Ossetia and Syria make it impossible for Russia to expect that the West's actions will be bound by any moral constraints or common sense. After all, they are strengthening their enemy, the jihadi, with their own hands. Many believe that the West is on a suicidal path toward the end of its civilization.

Chemical weapons were used in Syria, but by whom? Given the fact that the Syrian army is vanquishing the rebels, why would Syrian President Bashar Assad use chemical weapons? To do so on the very day that international inspectors arrived in Syria would make no political sense. Yet Russia is expected to take the word of the West that this is what happened, despite the fact that ample evidence indicates anti-government forces staged a provocation on Aug. 21. The West is unwilling to even discuss that, and it continues to block discussion of clear evidence that rebels used chemical weapons back in March.

That is why many observers believe that the U.S. and NATO are deliberately falsifying the facts, just as they did on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, intent on pressuring the international community and crushing Syria without regard to anyone or anything else. Why is Washington so persistent in its anti-Syria policy? Why is Obama willing to commit political suicide over Syria? A possible explanation is that he has become a hostage to his previous mistake of supporting the Syrian rebels and now cannot admit that they used chemical weapons. He spoke of a red line and fell hostage to his promises. What's more, any war against Syria means war against Iran, a regime that Washington has long dreamed of overthrowing.

Many observers also believe that Washington has fallen too heavily under the influence of Saudi Arabia, a regime that wants to depose Assad as a secular military dictator that the Wahhabist monarchy has feared for decades. In Syria, Sunni-dominated Riyadh is waging battle against the Shiites and a proxy war against Shiite Iran. The problem is that the war between the Sunnis and the Shiites has the potential to destabilize the entire region for decades, even possibly spreading to Europe and Russia.

Could Washington bomb Syria even after the fiasco with the Iraqi invasion? Yes, because the U.S. has not stopped talking of intervention even after the Russian peace initiative and its proven incapability of garnering support for its policies from Congress, public opinion or its NATO allies. The U.S. will coerce others into lending support, just as it did when it was discovered that Baghdad did not possess chemical weapons.

The Russian response to a U.S. missile strike against Syria would be asymmetrical. The Russian army would not go anywhere. Moscow would deploy its best air defense systems to the likely targets of any future U.S. strikes, starting with Iran. Moscow would also take the opportunity to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement that many consider disadvantageous for Russia and one that it was pressured into signing in 1987.

In addition, Russia will move to rapidly upgrade its army with the latest weapons systems and reconstruct its military-industrial complex because such policies by the U.S. and its NATO allies will inevitably lead to a new war that is likely to expand in scope.

At the very least, Russia must have a strong army to avoid getting drawn into such a major new war. Ideally, Russia would work to prevent any actions that could undermine the current situation and set the world into a downward slide toward such a large-scale war. This is primarily what Putin is seeking to accomplish in the Syrian crisis, and he has the support of public opinion not only in Russia but in most countries of the world — including NATO member states.

Sergei Markov is vice-rector of Plekhanov Economic University in Moscow.