Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How Seymour Hersh confuses Syria with Libya

In his most recent essay, The Red-line and the rat line, Seymour Hersh argues that the 21 August sarin attack in Syria was a "false flag" carried out by the opposition in the hopes that it would bring the US into the war. He says Obama had information pointing to this and Hersh uses the yard stick of NATO Libyan intervention to argue that Obama's failure to intervene similarly in Syria indicates that he knew he had no legitimate case for intervention. Hersh writes:
Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
He makes the same argument a different way in a recent CNN interview:
HERSH: And then the question then is if it's such a wonderful case he has and they're so sure, why so quick to walk away? Why say after a little heat, why say that we're going to go all of a sudden, he's a constitutionalist? The guy who invaded Tripoli without one worry about the War Powers act, all of a sudden he's a constitutionalist and wants to go to Congress?
Because Sy Hersh thinks Obama is as supportive of regime change in Syria as he was in Libya, he concludes Obama's failure to take military action against Bashar al-Assad after the chemical attack can be taken as de-facto proof that the President knew that the Assad regime really wasn't responsible for the sarin attack. His logic simply makes no sense and shows how far he is willing to stray from rational thought in his effort to prove Obama "knows" Assad didn't do it. Since Obama intervened in Libya near the very beginning of that conflict and the use of chemical weapons never became an issue, the answer to why he hasn't treated Syria in the same manner cannot possibly be explained by events almost three years after the killing began and after probably twenty times the number of deaths that sparked the Libyan intervention. Since Sy Hersh brings up the yard stick of Libya to measure Obama's Syria response by, he must first explain this almost three year delay in intervention before he can use events around Obama's red-line bluff and the August sarin attack to explain why these might be reasons for further delay. Remember, the kick-off date for the Libya Revolution, was 17 February 2011, and less than 5 weeks later and within a week of the start of the uprising in Syria, French warplanes were stopping Qaddafi's armor from doing to Benghazi what Assad has been able to do to Homs, Idlib and Aleppo. US warplanes were only a few days behind them. So Hersh can't possibly explain why Obama or NATO failed to protect the people of Syria with a similar resolve in 2011, 2012 or two-thirds of 2013 by spinning a tale about administration conflict over the red-line in September 2013. It simply isn't logical. First you have to understand why Obama failed to intervene militarily even after a hundred thousands deaths, before the August sarin attacks added another thousand or so to the death count. Then you can go into why that attack failed to make him change his tune, in spite of his red-line bluff. Hersh operates under false assumption that Obama has not only been in support of regime change, but actively promoting it. Sy Hersh may believe that because that is the way Obama has always talked about Assad, but actions speak louder than words. When it comes to the Syrian opposition, Obama plays "good cop" to Putin's "bad cop," that's why he talks a different way, but he started working with Bashar al-Assad the same week Obama became President-elect in November 2008 and he would really like to see that regime survive. So would Israel. That is why he has failed to take any military action against Assad, or provide anything more than token support for the opposition, not just after the 21 August 2013 sarin attack, but also for the two and a half years before it. Obama never planned to carry out a military attack against Assad the way he did against Qaddafi. Obama never expected his bluff to be called. When Obama made his famous "red-line" statement, I said it was a green light to keep killing big time without chemicals. That was the role it played until Assad called Obama's bluff by finally using "a whole bunch of chemical weapons." Then for Obama it became a matter of finding a way to weasel out of his promise. Going to Congress gave him that out. It simply makes no sense to take Obama's failure to change his policy as proof that this continued unwillingness to act against the Syrian regime shows Assad is innocent. Barack Obama has been in Bashar al-Assad's corner all along:
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya

Sunday, April 13, 2014

After Hersh lays smoke screen, Assad lobes gas bombs

The Blogosphere is a Battlefield
Karl Marx famously quoted Carl von Clausewitz to the effect that war is the continuation of politics by other means. It should also be said that propaganda in times of armed conflict is war by other means. Even though the strength of the contending armed bodies is critical in war, their propaganda efforts among their own forces, against the enemy forces, and towards international observers, play an extremely important role as well. That is why I say the blogosphere is a battlefield. Certainly Assad understands that, and so does Putin. They both see the value of creating and promoting a narrative designed to justify their aggression. They both see the value of demonizing their opposition, creating smoke screens, muddying waters, and creating distractions. Today, to a large extent, these goals are accomplished with the help of the Internet, and they both have created sophisticated machinery and spent a lot of money on political support for the Assad regime.

Sy Hersh goes on the warpath again ahead of new regime attacks
Seemingly out of the blue, Bashar al-Assad's most prominent defender came out with a new 5,000 word essay again attempting to absolve the Assad regime for past chemical attacks. Even though the muzzled UN came as close as allowed to putting the blame on the regime when it said that the sarin used in both Ghouta and Khan Al-Assal came from the Assad arsenal and was used by a large chemical weapons component of a professional army, Seymour Hersh's rehash of the old arguments put forth again on 8 April 2014 in the London Review of Books, reopened a discussion that many had thought settled. His piece became like a call to action for Assad supporters everywhere to renew the claims that Assad didn't do it, repeat all the Fall conspiracy theories, and try to build unity among the conflicting versions. For example, Mint Press came out in support of Hersh, in spite of the fact that they had been supporting a version of how the rebels gassed themselves that involved untrained rebels in a tunnel bungling a big tank of sarin given to them by Saudi Prince Bandar. Hersh's current version has the Turks ramroding al Nursa, and using missiles, no Bandar, no tank, no tunnel. But nevermind about that, these Assad supporters are flexible, the main point is that Assad didn't do it and the rebels did. That is why all those that had formerly promoted a version that had the CIA and/or Qatar masterminding the chemical attacks were as quick as Mint Press to jump on the Hersh campaign bus. As a result, just when the UN's 5 March report had done so much to clear the air and settle the question of responsibility, at least for the two most deadly sarin attacks, Hersh comes along, completely ignores the UN report, and leads the charge in another smoke and mirrors attack with his pro-Assad LRP propaganda bomb and they have been successful in raising a lot of dust and confusion. Many of us on the other side of this battle in the blogosphere have been writing tooth and nail to discredit this latest Sy Hersh piece as well as his whole Assad-didn't-do-it thesis, but he is like a giant of journalism while we are the Lilliputians. He dismisses us as bloogers. We are working hard to clear the air, but every time the Hersh piece is reprinted or regurgitated, it is like another smoke grenade going off. Now we know why this propaganda war is so important, because in the past few days the reports have been coming in that Assad is again killing with poison gas, now the laying of smoke before these operations makes strategic sense. Was the timing of these new chemical weapons attacks, less than a week after the publication of the latest Sy Hersh defense of Assad, a coincidence, an opportunistic move on the part of Assad or was it part of a plan?
Below are some of the latest pieces on the chemical attacks: From Associated Press:
Poison gas claims complicate Syrian civil war
By Bassem Mroue April 12, 2014 BEIRUT — Both sides in Syria's bloody civil war said Saturday that a rural village fell victim to a poison gas attack, an assault that reportedly injured scores of people amid an ongoing international effort to rid the country of chemical weapons. What exactly happened Friday in Kfar Zeita, a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus, remains unclear and likely won't be known for some time. It took United Nations weapons inspectors months to say it was likely some chemical weapons attacks happened last year, including an August attack that killed hundreds and nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad's forces. But online videos posted by rebel activists from Kfar Zeita echoed earlier images that sparked a world outcry, showing pale-faced men, women and children gasping for breath at a field hospital. They suggest an affliction by some kind of poison — and yet another clouded incident where both sides blame each other in a conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people with no end in sight. The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the poison gas attack hurt dozens of people, though it did not identify the gas used. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that relies on a network of on-the-ground volunteers, said the gas attack happened during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. It reported that people suffered from suffocation and breathing problems after the attack, but gave no further details. State-run Syrian television blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front rebel group for the attack, saying they used chlorine gas to kill two people and injure more than 100. It did not say how it confirmed chlorine was used. Chlorine, one of the most commonly manufactured chemicals in the U.S., is used to purify drinking water. But as a gas, it can be deadly, with the German army using it in warfare in World War I. The Geneva Protocol of 1925, which Syria signed, banned its use in battle. More...
From EA WorldView:
Regime Uses Chlorine Gas on Kafrzita in Hama Province
By Scott Lucas April 13, 2014 12:16 On Saturday, we compiled videos of a claimed chemical attack on Kafrzita in Hama Province, probably from this airstrike and its “yellow-tinged cloud” See “Poison Gas” Attacks Near Damascus & in Hama Province To our surprise, Syrian State media admitted the attack, although they claimed — despite the airstrike — that it was the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra Front who was responsible, using chlorine gas that killed two people and injured more than 100. Now Eliot Higgins, on his Brown Moses blog, puts together audio-visual and photographic evidence. His conclusion is that, even as the Assad regime claims it is shipping out its chemical weapons for destruction, only the Syrian military could have carried out Friday’s attack with “poison gas”. More...
From Syria Deeply:
Week in Review: Amid New Chemical Attacks and Battlefield Shifts, Assad Looks Ahead
April 13th, 2014 by Lara Setrakian Even by Syrian war standards, this was a brutal week. By the end of it, reports had surfaced of a poison gas attack in the central Syrian town of Kafr Zeita. One hundred people were left sick from exposure; the Syrian regime and rebel forces blamed each other for the incident. In weeks past,Syrian doctors told us of repeated small-scale chemical attacks around Damascus – a signal that the chemical destruction plan brokered by the U.S. and Russia last year hasn’t stopped the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield. Then there are the more conventional forms of destruction, which seem to be accelerating in pace. On Wednesday two car bombs struck an Alawite neighborhood of Homs, killing at least 25 people. \Rebels are advancing on government-held areas of Aleppo, Al Jazeera reports, while the Los Angeles Times profiled the practically apocalyptic scenes of life for Aleppines, struggling to get by in a once-prosperous city. More...
From BBCNews:
Claims of new poison gas attack in Syria
12 April 2014 The government and opposition forces in Syria have accused each other of using poison gas in an attack on a village on Friday. State TV said the jihadist Nusra Front group launched the attack on Kafr Zita in Hama province, killing two people and injuring dozens of others. But opposition groups quoted doctors as saying that an attack by regime planes led to suffocation and poisoning. There was no independent verification of either of the claims. "Regime planes bombed Kafr Zita with explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odours and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning," said Rami Abdel Rahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More...
From The New York Times:
Damascus and Rebels Trade Blame in Gas Attack
12 April 2014 By Anne Barnard and Ben Hubbard BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian state television and antigovernment activists reported Saturday that poison gas had been used in a rebel-held village in the central province of Hama, with each side blaming its enemies for an attack they both said sickened more than 100 people. The attack took place Friday evening in the village of Kfar Zeita, sending streams of choking patients, including children, to poorly equipped field hospitals, according to local medics and videos posted online. Opposition activists said government helicopters had dropped improvised bombs on the village, covering it with a thick smoke that smelled of chlorine. While the opposition reported the attack soon after it happened, Syrian state television first mentioned it the day after in an urgent news banner during a broadcast. It blamed the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, for the attack, adding that two people were killed and more than 100 others affected by the gas. A subsequent banner announcement said the Nusra Front was preparing two more chemical attacks. It was the first time since last year that both sides agreed that toxic weapons had been used. More...
From Brown Moses Blog:
Evidence Chlorine Gas Was Used In A Second, Failed, Chemical Attack On Kafr Zita
Sunday, 13 April 2014 On April 11th, reports supported by video from the town of Kafr Zita, Hama, claimed to show the aftermath of a chemical attack on the town.  Reports claimed helicopters had dropped a "barrel bomb" containing a toxic gas on the town, with the below video claiming to show the attack as it happened. More...
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mỹ Lai and Sy Hersh, a Reappraisal

I made a documentary about the Vietnam War five years ago, Vietnam: American Holocaust. Since I wanted it to be the ultimate Vietnam War documentary, I got the guy who narrated and starred in Apocalypse Now to do the voice-over. I made it because too many educated Americans will tell you 58,000 people died in the Vietnam War, when the real number is closer to three million, give or take 50,000. The tag line I have used to promote the film has been "The Vietnam War was a Mỹ Lai every week." Since most people know about the Mỹ Lai massacre, it is an easy way to say what the film's message is. The month after I released the film, Nick Turse published an article in The Nation titled A Mỹ Lai a Month about Operation Speedy Express, in which 10,889 Vietnamese were killed at the cost of only 267 American lives, which made much the same point. That point, already known to the Vietnamese, most serious students of the Vietnam War, and certainly most combat vets, is that the only thing really outstanding about the Mỹ Lai massacre is the amount of attention it received. Consider this relatively unknown massacre related by, Scott Camil, a decorated Vietnam combat Marine who testifies in my film. Why is it any less deserving to be known to the world and remembered throughout history?
In Operation Stone we were sitting up on the rail road trestle with a river on each side. There's another company behind each river. And like the people were running around inside. And we were just shooting them and the newspaper said Operation Stone like World War Two movie. We just sat up there and wiped them out, women, children, everything. Two hundred nine-one of them.
Was this not worthy of Pulitzer Prize winning reportage? Certainly Operation Speedy Express was because it clearly wasn't a simple case of a Lieutenant and his company going off the reservation. I have long been of the opinion that the US imperialists, even in their limited wisdom, understood they could never obliterate the people's memory of the many atrocities of the Vietnam War, so they allowed one to become famous, they allowed one to be publicized and prosecuted, in the hopes that the public memory of the generalized and pervasive massacres that was the Vietnam War, would be resolved down to the memory of this one atrocity, and in this they have been largely successful. I believe this is the proper context to view Seymour Hersh's Pulitzer Prizing winning reporting on the Mỹ Lai Massacre. When Sy Hersh asked "Why did the Army choose to prosecute this case?" the answer he got from his "military source" was:
“The Army knew it was going to get clobbered on this at some point, If they don’t prosecute somebody, if this stuff comes out without the Army taking some action, it could be even worse.”
The Mỹ Lai massacre took place on the morning of 16 March 1968 in the Vietnamese village of Son My. In Vietnam, it is properly known as the Son My massacre, but the US army wrongly had it marked Mỹ Lai on the map, and they don't easily admit mistakes so we call it the Mỹ Lai massacre. According to surviving villagers, the 504 unarmed civilians victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. The real American heroes at the Mỹ Lai massacre were helicopter pilot Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr, and his crew. They were proving close-air support over Son My for the ground troops. When he saw that innocent civilians were being massacred, he became an interventionist. From Wikipedia:
Thompson then saw a group of civilians (again consisting of children, women, and old men) at a bunker being approached by ground personnel. Thompson landed and told his crew that if the soldiers shot at the Vietnamese while he was trying to get them out of the bunker that they were to open fire at these soldiers. Thompson later testified that he spoke with a lieutenant (identified as Stephen Brooks of the 2nd Platoon) and told him there were women and children in the bunker, and asked if the lieutenant would help get them out. According to Thompson, "he [the lieutenant] said the only way to get them out was with a hand grenade". Thompson testified that he then told Brooks to "just hold your men right where they are, and I'll get the kids out". He found 12–16 people in the bunker, coaxed them out and led them to the helicopter, standing with them while they were flown out in two groups. Returning to Mỹ Lai, Thompson and other air crew members noticed several large groups of bodies. Spotting some survivors in the ditch, Thompson landed again. A crew member entered the ditch and returned with a bloodied but apparently unharmed child who was flown to safety.
Hugh Thompson
When Thompson got back to base he reported the massacre to his superiors. He told his platoon leader:
"If this damn stuff is what's happening here," you can take these wings right now 'cause they're only sewn on with thread."
 At a time when the official Army line on Mỹ Lai was "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle.", Thompson stuck to his story and made it official. That meant being interviewed by a full colonel and the beginning of a record that would make this massacre hard to ignore. Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving the child but he refused it because it was accompanied by a fabricated account of how they saved the child from "intense crossfire." Another hero of Mỹ Lai was a 21-year-old soldier by the name of Tom Glen. Six months after the massacre, he wrote a letter to General Creighton Abrams, who was then commander of all US forces in Vietnam, in which, after describing the brutality he had witnessed, said:
"It would indeed be terrible to find it necessary to believe that an American soldier that harbors such racial intolerance and disregard for justice and human feeling is a prototype of all American national character; yet the frequency of such soldiers lends credulity to such beliefs. ... What has been outlined here I have seen not only in my own unit, but also in others we have worked with, and I fear it is universal. If this is indeed the case, it is a problem which cannot be overlooked,... "
Colin Powell, then a young major, was assigned to investigate Glen's complaint and came back with the verdict: "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between Americal Division soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." [the soldiers who committed the Mỹ Lai massacre were from the Americal Division.] Still, the record was building.
Ron Ridenhour
Finally, there was Ronald L. Ridenhour, SP5, a former door gunner and the first real investigator of the Mỹ Lai story. He said that after he first heard about it from a friend:
I spent the remainder of my time in Vietnam trying to locate people who had been there and of course part of it was easy because I was going straight to the divisional LRRP company.  Four or five people who had been my friends in Hawaii and had gone to Charlie company had transferred into the divisional LRRP company within a week or ten days after the massacre. So I was able to go in and talk with them and two of them were very good friends. ... On my first five missions, of the six men who were on our team, four of them had been at Mỹ Lai. I was going out with these guys and gathering this information. I would go and talk to them and I would try to find each of them, get each of them in a one-on-one conversation.
One of his friends, Michael Terry, was later interviewed and quoted by Sy Hersh. This is how Ridenhour found Sgt. Michael Bernhardt, a witness Sy Hersh would cite 28 times in his first three articles on the massacre:
The one thing I needed that I didn't have was somebody who had been there, who was a witness and who had not participated.  I didn't have any reason necessarily to believe my friends wouldn't be honest when they were asked about it. On the other hand, they had participated in this terrible crime and maybe they wouldn't.  So I felt I needed somebody that I could count on and I knew of such a man, his name was Michael Bernhardt.
Bernhardt wasn't easy to contact because the Army was keeping him on point out in the boonies, trying to get him killed before he could speak out. When he finally got some alone time with Bernhardt, and found that they were of like minds about the massacre, Bernhardt told him his plan was to go around and assassinate the officers involved "one by one", to which Ridenhour responded: "So why don't we try my plan. I'm gonna get an investigation going."  Once Ridenhour had assembled the facts and witnesses, he sent a letter to 30 members of Congress demanding an investigation. All but three of the recipients of Ridenhour's letter put it in the circular file. Those three, to their credit, were Congressman Mo Udall and Senators Barry Goldwater and Edward Brooke. Udall pushed for a House Armed Services Committee investigation. With pressure growing, the Army knew they needed a "fall guy", and after spending nearly a year investigating what had become known, even whispered in the halls of Congress, as the "Pinkville incident", they charged one man, Lt. William Calley Jr., "with premeditation murder" of 109 "Oriental human beings" on 6 Sept 1969.  He would become the only person ever convicted in this massacre. They also issued a short press release which was generally ignored. It is only now, after the Army had built its case and charged Calley [a more cynical person might say,  "After the Army had perfected its cover story."] that Seymour Hersh, the official hero of record in the Mỹ Lai massacre, comes onto the stage. He was alerted to the Calley court marshal by Geoffrey Cowan of The Village Voice. Geoffrey Cowan had earlier been active in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer and had set up the first civil rights newspaper in Mississippi. He became an anti-war lawyer and was working on the anti-war presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968 when Sy Hersh was its press secretary. After he received Cowan's tip, Hersh called a trusted friend, a former defense official, and asked "What did this guy Calley do?" From the retired US Army colonel he got the story the Army wanted to put out:
"This Calley is just a madman, Sy just a madman! He just went around killing all those people. Little babies!"
After receiving a small grant from The Fund for Investigative Journalism, Hersh did extensive interviews with Calley's lawyer and finally Calley himself. Hersh later wrote of the 15 hr. interview in which Hersh plied Calley with booze:
"It was silly of him to speak with me, but he just wanted to talk. He went all night."
Calley was a 20-year-old soldier facing capital murder charges talking to an experienced reporter without his lawyer present, but he was by no means innocent, and such tactics certainly could have been justified had Hersh's motive been to end that devastating war, but Sy Hersh admitted 40 years later:
"I’d like to tell you that I thought, oh my God, this is going to kill the war, it’s going to hurt the war effort. But really, fame, fortune and glory raced through my mind. What a story!"
Sy Hersh was getting the story that made him and he was exposing an atrocity, but he was also helping the Army build its case against a scape-goat, and helping to shape the memory the military wanted people to have of the war. "Yes, there were a few atrocities, but we took care of that." His stories ran in 33 newspapers. This is how Sy Hersh became the instrument by which the Mỹ Lai massacre became public knowledge in November 1969. He was rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize and a job at the New York Times. At the time, Hersh boasted "I'm a fucking celebrity!" If I am right about the role that the exposure of the Mỹ Lai massacre was intended to play in the media and the American psych, then Sy Hersh was a good choice to get the scoop because unlike David Halberstam, Dan Rather, Peter Arnett, Barbara Gluck, Bob Simons and many other war correspondents, he lacked experience in Vietnam. Sy Hersh covered the story from the point-of-view of the court marshal, and he covered it initially in three stories from three locations, Fort Benning, GA on 13 November 1969, Washington, DC on 20 November 1969, and Terre Haute, IN on 25 November 1969. He reports on it not as an example of the kind of wholesale slaughter that was the Vietnam War, but in isolation from any other massacre. In his first article about Calley, Hersh quotes another officer defending Calley on the basis that what he did was nothing out of the ordinary:
"There weren’t any friendlies in the village. The orders were to shoot anything that moved.” Another officer said “It could happen to any of us. He has killed and has seen a lot of killing. ..Killing becomes nothing in Vietnam." 
A few paragraph later Hersh writes of Calley:
Friends described Calley as a “gung-ho Army man ... Army all the way.” Ironically, even his stanchest supporters admit, his enthusiasm may be somewhat to blame. “Maybe he did take some order to clear out the village a little bit too literally” one friend said “but he’s a fine boy.”
Sy Hersh should have known that the order "Kill anything that moves" was often given and often taken very literally. Here's another example from my film as told by Vietnam vet Jamie Henry:
19 women and children were rounded up as Viet Cong Suspects--and the lieutenant that rounded them up called the captain on the radio and he asked what should be done with them. The captain simply repeated the order that came down from the colonel that morning. The order that came down from the colonel that morning was to kill anything that moves, which you can take anyway you want to take it. When the captain told the lieutenant this, the lieutenant rang off. I got up and I started walking over to the captain thinking that the lieutenant just might do it because I had served in his platoon for a long time. As I started over there, I think the captain panicked, he thought the lieutenant might do it too, and this was a little more atrocious than the other executions that our company had participated in, only because of the numbers. But the captain tried to call him up, tried to get him back on the horn, and he couldn't get a hold of him. As I was walking over to him, I turned, and I looked in the area. I looked toward where the supposed VCS were, and two men were leading a young girl, approximately 19 years old, very pretty, out of a hooch. She had no clothes on so I assumed she had been raped, which was pretty SOP (that’s standard operating procedure for civilians), and she was thrown onto the pile of the 19 women and children, and five men, around the circle, opened up on full automatic with their M-16s. And that was the end of that.
I believe one of the effects of an almost obsessive focus by the media on the single massacre at Mỹ Lai has been to drown out the knowledge of these hundreds of other atrocities, larger and smaller, that gave the war the character of a holocaust in which more than 3 million human beings, "Oriental" or not, were slaughtered by Americans. The real American heroes of the Son My Massacre are first and foremost the ordinary soldiers who refused such orders and sometimes even offered armed resistance, and then those who refused to let the massacre be covered up. As Hersh reported at the time:
Interviews have brought out the fact that the investigation into the Pinkville affair was initiated six months after the incident, only after some of the men who served under Calley complained.
One of those soldiers was Sgt. Michael Bernhardt, who told Sy Hersh:
“The Army ordered me not to talk, but there are some orders that I have to personally decide whether to obey; I have my own conscience to consider."
These soldiers didn't receive any prizes or fancy new jobs for their troubles, but they should have.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Seymour Hersh's chemical weapons fetish

The Assad regime had Ghouta under siege and been killing the civilians and fighters in this resistive community with conventional shot and shell for almost a year before the sarin gas attack of 21 August killed over 1400 people including 400 children, and immediately after that poison gas attack, they continued the slaughter by conventional means. For example the Violations Documentation Center reports the local opposition media center was attacked the next day:
The day following the massacre, on 22-8-2013, the fighter jets, by two air raids, shelled the Coordination office itself. The office has also been shelled by "FozdiKa" that left it heavily damaged.
While none have the audacity to claim that someone other than the Assad regime is dropping barrel bombs on Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and other opposition areas, that those aren't regime war planes and helicopters that have been bombing schools, hospitals and playgrounds, or that regime artillery hasn't been shelling these areas for more than two years, a wide range of observers from both the far right and the phony left, have come forward to support Assad's claim that he didn't do the sarin attack. Perhaps this is because precisely one year before this attack, in a statement that gave Assad a green-light to continue the slaughter by these conventional means, US President Barack Obama threaten a serious response if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed his redline and used chemical weapons to increase the slaughter. Probably Assad's most prominent defender against the charge that he was also responsible for the sarin gas attack that his regime initially denied even happened, has been the noted journalist Seymour Hersh, who found a home for his poorly sourced arguments twice in the London Review of Books. Both of these lengthy essays promote Assad's thesis that the opposition gassed their own people in the faint hope that Obama would honor his "red-line" pledge and attack Assad. Between the 21 August sarin gas attack and Sy Hersh's first defense of Assad for those attacks, Whose Sarin?, 19 December 2013, some 10,176 civilians and opposition fighters were killed without the use of poison gas, and between that essay and his second one, The Red Line and the Rat Line, 7 April 2014, another 10,670 Syrians have been slaughtered, none by poison gas. These figures have been compiled from VDC monthly and weekly martyrs reports. The VDC says these figures only account for those killed by regime forces. They list the regime's army deaths separately. They also use a very conservative methodology in their count. For example they only claim  932 martyrs killed in the 21 August chemical attacks whereas most other sources say between 1400 and 1700 died, they say only 91,923 opposition civilian and fighters, and 12,809 regime forces have been killed since the beginning of the revolution in March 2011, whereas the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 150,345 were killed by the end of March 2014. Most likely either of those figures represents a serious undercount of the dead, given that an estimated 50,000 are missing, or in Assad's prisons, and we know from recent reports that 11,000, and probably many more of those thought to be in detention are already dead. Many very good critiques of Sy Hersh's denial of Assad's responsibility for the sarin gas attacks have taken him to task for failing to prove his case, I have written two myself, and those are listed, along with many others, at the end of this piece. The purpose of this essay is not to add more proofs of Assad's responsibility for the poison gas attacks, but put that in a larger context and to point out that most of those killed in the Syrian conflict have been killed with conventional weapons and the vast majority of those have been killed by the Assad regime, so no matter how you slice it, Hersh et al are defending a mass murderer while ignoring all those murders by non-chemical means. The same people who deny Assad's responsibility for the chemical attacks would also have you believe that the hundred thousand plus non-chemical deaths are more or less equally divided between the combatants, but this is simply not the case. Just this week Reuter reported what Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said:
Pillay said monitors in her office and investigators with the U.N. commission of inquiry in Syria, led by Paulo Pinheiro, had consistently blamed both parties to the Syrian conflict for human rights violations "but you cannot compare the two." "Clearly the actions of the forces of the government far outweigh the violations (by rebels)," Pillay told reporters. "It's the government that is mostly responsible for the violations and all these perpetrators should be identified and can if there's a referral to the International Criminal Court."
So even if Sy Hersh et al, were successful in their attempts to absolve Bashar al-Assad of the chemical deaths, there can be no doubt that the man they are defending is a mass murderer many times over. Between his two LRB articles, Hersh has spent over ten thousand word denying Assad's responsibility for the chemical attacks without saying anything about his wholesale slaughter by other methods. Sy Hersh has turned Assad's chemical weapons attack into something of a fetish, as if disproving Assad culpability for those 1400 deaths makes him less of a mass murderer. I am reminded of Bob Marley's song "I Shot The Sheriff" but in Sy Hersh's version it goes like this:
Assad shot the children, but he didn't gas no families.
Many others have critiqued Sy Hersh's thesis, among the best are: From EA Worldview There is No Chemical Weapons Conspiracy — Dissecting Hersh’s “Exclusive” by Scott Lucas 8 April 2014 Dissecting Hersh’s “Insurgents Did Chemical Weapons Attacks” — A Sequel by Scott Lucas 8 April 2014 From Brown Moses Blog Seymour Hersh's Volcano Problem by Eliot Higgins 7 April 2014 What Does Seymour Hersh Knows About Volcano Rockets? by Eliot Higgins 7 April 2014 From War in Context Seymour Hersh’s alternate reality by Paul Woodward 6 April 2014 Does Seymour Hersh understand how hexamine fits into Syrian sarin? by Paul Woodward 7 April 2014 Seymour Hersh as Dorian Gray by Louis Proyect 9 April 2014 From Arms Control Wonk Turkey’s Syria Policy: Why Seymour Hersh Got it Wrong by Stein 8 April 2014 From NOW Hersh and the Red Herring by Dan Kaszeta 8 April 2014 From Linux Beach Seymour Hersh's Believe It or Don't by Clay Claiborne 8 April 2014 Whose Seymour Hersh? by Clay Claiborne 9 December 2013 From Al Monitor Seymour Hersh gets it wrong on Turkey by Rasim Ozan Kutahyali, 10 April 2014