Seymour Hersh spoke at Ithaca College (Ithaca NY) last night. SusanHu has asked me to post this here.

Okay, per SusanHu’s request, I did take notes furiously. I’m not going to try to make sense of this, but will simply transcribe 27 notecards worth of notes. It is a transcription, so I apologize if it reads bumpily. I was just trying to write down everything the man said.

One thing I will tell you is that Hersh was just not optimistic that this administration can be reached. And he’s worked through 40 years’ worth of administrations. It was quite sobering. He said he had no good news to report. More below the fold.

As much as possible I’m trying to directly quote him or reconstruct the quotations from my notes. So, assume the words are his unless I make it obvious they’re mine.

Hersh came out and began by saying, “I believe I wear a white hat.” But he said, “We have a president who believes he’s doing the right thing. He’s perfectly serene. He’s not reachable. We can’t reach him. He’s surrounded by 1500 body bags. It’s okay because he sees that he’s on a crusade. His mission is to bring peace to the Middle East.

This is not a con act. This president believes he will will be judged in the long run.

He believes that he was elected and re-elected, and that’s his accountability. His second inauguration brought with it all those people he promoted (Rice, etc.) and the election was their accountability. Now they have a ticket to ride.

I don’t think we can hold him. This is not LBJ. He is not affected.  Certainly the Democrats can’t hold him. “Sometimes I think the Democrats are supine, and sometimes I think they are prone.”

These neocons believe that 8 or 9 people are going to change the world. {My insertion–thanks for the spelling correction} General Shinsecki before the war, said that they would need 200,000 troops to win the war. Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld replaced them. The general had sat in on the meetings with these guys. Didn’t he get it? NeoCons believed war would need 25,000 troops. The NeoCons believe the general broke ranks, he had been deprogrammedfrom their way of thinking.

The war is going badly. We are seeing a new level of distortion of the facts. Fallujah was a city of 300,000. Sunni-dominated. In 1920, it held out the longest against the British. We used urban bombing. It’s a destroyed city. No journalists go there because to do so risks death.
There are people in the FBI and CIA who care about the constitution. There’s a lot of fear on their part.

During the Viet Nam war, we dissed the vets. There is no anger at US soldiers in Iraq. The president has pushed them into this war. There is no accounting of the Iraqi dead. The administration will not allow it. A British medical journal estimates 100,000 dead.

I called a general friend of mine. After Fallujah, I called him, and he identified my number on caller ID and he answered the phone, “Welcome to Stalingrad. We took them down.”

We are doing the same in Ramadi now. There are no reporters there. No coverage. No reports from military command. Marines are there.

We have no ability to get information on the resistance. We’ll take them down by taking out anyone protecting them. We’ll make them more afraid of us than they are of the resistance.

I don’t like the term insurgency. Insurgency suggests that we won the war and have Allawi as prime minister. The real simple fact is that we are still fighting the war. We are fighting against the Baathists. They gave us Baghdad. They are fighting us at their own pace. It is frightening to think that we are in the middle of something. And they are fighting us with increasing sophistication. They watch how we react. They learn.

Our president believes that democracies don’t start wars. That if we install democracy in the Middle East, it will bring peace.

Of all the presidents since WWII, Bill Clinton was the only one who bombed white people. All the other times, we bomb brown people or yellow people, or Grenada. What was that?

What we don’t know about Iraq right now is that we’ve been bombing  a lot. We are bombing exponentially. There are no journalists to report on it. There is no Iraqi air force. There are no stats on the tonnage or how much we’ve bombed. There are limits to what journalists can do. When the Italian journalist was shot, there was no interviews of the soldiers involved.
Bombing is easy.

The January 30 election. We had a secret army. There is an industry of private guards. We had 130,000 troops. 140,000 Iraqi troops. We have overhead coverage from our satellites. We pulled them away from the person we’re supposed to be hunting in Afghanistan. And despite that, nobody knew who they were voting for. Sunnis didn’t vote. The Kurds voted as many times as they could. Many women didn’t vote because their husbands told them they couldn’t. And now we’re being told it’s the new Pericles.

I spoke to two diplomats recently> They said to me, “you’re 3000 miles away from everything. Europe has an angry Muslim population. We are closer to the Middle East. Muslims are a nuisance to you (U.S) while you careen about making chaos. But it is intolerable for the people there in Iraq. There is no civil society {mentions loss of water, sewage, electricity, oil, etc.}. Anyone who can has gotten out. We’ve made Iraq unlivable. You can’t be in the streets after dark.

{At this point, Hersh turned to a chronology of how we got to Abu Ghraib.}

First, there was the war. Baghdad was taken. The NSA was worried because on 4/7 and 4/8 (2003) they (men) left the city. 10,000 disappeared overnight. All of these guys disappeared. And not just fighters. All the civil servants. Every major government office was looted–birth records, marriage records, etc., shredded. Everything was looted. Everything was systematic.

People in the resistance, they figured out how to disrupt all the services.

There was nobody in Baghdad to fight us.

Embedded reporters in the troops have Stockholm syndrome. They’ve bonded with these guys. The adminstration was very smart.

By spring, there is increasingly sophisticated activity. They’re watching us. They set traps. They blew up the UN. They blew up the Jordanian embassy. August 2003. Systematic attacks on water supplies and oil.

There is a panic in the White House at this point. What we know is that there was opposition to Sadaam . DAWA. They moved against Sadaam. We have to break the people in prison.

There are 10-20,000 prisoners. We were educating people, escalating the attacks against prisoners, even though 90 percent are not connected to the fighting. Just picked up in random raids.

Abu Ghraib. The 372nd police precinct was there. They’re a rural unit from West Virginia. Many are not very educated. They’re MPs–traffic cops. We turned them into prison guards.

We know that the Arab world operates on the concept of shame. The Koran teaches that male nudity is a no-no. Homosexuality is taboo. It is preposterous. This stuff directed against Arab men was very sophisticated. Sexual humiliation. The motive? Once you have a photograph of an Arab man in this position, he’s shamed forever. The photo was blackmail.

It would have been impossible to report on this without the photos that surfaced. The WH would have ground you up if you tried to report on it.

There is a separate wing for women prisoners. They send messages out–please come and kill me, I’ve been defiled.

There is increasing squeezing of prisoners. There have been 10 investigations of what went on there. Taguba {thanks for spelling} wrote a report that was never meant to be published. We know that by Sept. 2003, there are generals going through the prison. Rice wrote a letter commending the generals for their good work. But did she know? How many knew what was going on? Many, many people went through Abu Ghraib.

In January 2004, a videotape was put out by Darby, a kid. The army cops he takes this to were upset. They start an investigation. By the 13th they’ve reported on it. Rumsfeld got word on the 16th. By the 20th, GWB told. So the president knows. In late April, CBS knows, but they won’t publish. Someone sneask me the report. In April, I file the reprort.

All of this goes on. What has the administration done between finding out in January and April? They did nothing. They decide to bury the little guys. The guards. There is no indictment of the leadership. This is like Andersonville. Worst sin. When we find out about Guantanamo, it will appall us.

The rules are: you do whatever you want.

Okay. That’s the macro story. Here’s the micro story. {at this point, Hersh recounts the story of My Lai to the audience, many of whom are college students.}
In Viet Nam, we saw an inevitable buildup of rage against an invisible enemy.

In Iraq, we don’t see the enemy.

I publish 3 stories in the New Yorker.

We learn new words. Like rendition, which I say is taking someone away to kill him. The governments of Brazil and Argentina have got nothing on us in terms of disappering people.

I publish the 3 stories, and a woman calls me. She saws that she had a relative in the unit at Abu Ghraib. So I go out to see her. The woman is a devout Catholic who had supported the war. In March 2004, everyone in the unit was sent home. Which is not what they’re doing with everyone else over there. The relative who comes home is despondent, angry, morose, inconsolable. When the relative tries to go see this person with my article in her hand, she slams the door. The person telling Hersh the story had given relative a portable computer, that had gotten left at her house. Thinking that it’s of no use anymore, the woman opens the computer to erase the hard drive and finds a file marked “Iraq.” She opens the file. It’s a sequence of photos. 60-80 digital photos. And this woman relates to me over lunch how the photos are of a naked man with attack dogs lunging at him. What the rest of the photos show is the dogs attack the man, bite him just below the groin. There are pools of blood. The woman gives the photos to Hersh. The woman reports that every week, her relative goes out and gets a new black tattoo. It’s as if she’s trying to cover up her skin.
We are sitting on a ticking time bomb of guilt with these soldiers serving over there. We will pay a huge price. They will have psychic scarring.

At this point, Hersh finished talking and took questions from the audience.

Someone asked him how My Lai and Abu Ghraib got dealt with differently. Bush hasn’t dealt with Abu Ghraib. Nixon dealt with My Lai.

Abu Ghraib has been paid attention to in Europe and the Middle East. Many Muslims think we are sexually perverse.

As awful as Viet Nam was, we lost 58,000 Americans and 1 or 2 million Vietnamese. I always love how we’re not sure if it’s 1 or 2 million. But Viet Nam was a tactical mistake, and 5 years later, Viet Nam was inviting us in for tours and tourism.

This war is a strategic mistake. We have made enemies for life. There will be revenge against us for life. We are creating Al Quaida.

When this was brought to the attention of Gonzales, he said that the prisoners in Guantanamo could rot. There was a struggle within by military and the White House. Nothing happened as a result of Abu Ghraib, even though military was upset.

The access to info right now is hard to get. The government has cut us off from the norma process. There has been no reaction to my story about bombing Iran in the future. In Germany, it was the lead story. There is a sense in this country that things are forbidden knowledge. The problem with Iran, North Korea, and Syria, is we don’t talk to them. There’s no bilateral communication.

Rumsfeld was rattled by the war criminal suits, but nothing will come of them.

How did the press get so timid? History will be tough on journalists in this period. The Pentagon has no restriction on the propaganda they can put out. The networks are completely cowed. It will be an astonishly bad mark on the press in history.

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