Seymour Hersh / Democracy Now – 2005-05-14 23:21:19
SEYMOUR HERSH:I have a friend who is a major player who went to Iraq recently. There’s been a series, unreported, a series of missions in Iraq that have all been there to study the war — where are we? — and they’ve all come back pretty negatively. This guy came back and he saw the President months ago. And he said, “Mr. President, we’re losing the war in Iraq.” And there was a sort of a three-second beat and Bush said, “You mean we’re not winning.” And this guy said, “Hey, I told him what I had to say. If he wants to turn it the way he wants to, that’s the way it goes.” You know, so he hears what he hears.
And so, when you’re inoculated like that, and presidents always are, but war is important to presidents, which means that instinctively, heuristically, I can tell you this president’s totally immersed in the war. We can’t see it. I can’t prove it. I have come close, with somebody on the inside, but this person hasn’t gone belly up yet.
But anyway, by that I mean, he’s listening to the war. He’s watching the war. He’s getting daily reports. There’s something called a Fusion Center that came off the prison system and he was getting reports from that. There were people in the White House with direct connection to the war, not known, military officer, one in particular, who could get to the President for — between 2003 and 2004 at any time. And so, I think the notion that he is disconnected is wrong.
He is strange in one way. You know, Wolfowitz, who if nothing, if not smart, would understand this, but Bush is truly a Trotskyite, a believer in permanent revolution. We have never had one as a president before. He wouldn’t understand that, but Wolfowitz would. He truly is. And he’s doing it — what he thinks he has to do, the revolutions he has to create, without any information, without any — without an ability to absorb information that’s counter to what he wants to hear.
And so, I don’t know where you are when you have a man with as much power as he controls and as much ability to do something. I don’t know how we can get at him. We can all work hard in the next election and try — forget the party. Just go find good candidates and support them. I mean the Democratic Party, because I don’t know. When you have a devalued opposition party, you have a devalued Congress. On any given day, I can’t decide whether the U.S. Senate is supine or prone. On any given day, you know.
I think Bolton will probably get through and the critical vote on the nuclear option, of course, is probably going to be John Warner of Virginia, I’m told. He’s the guy who promised to investigate Abu Ghraib. And he does investigate it. Every time another report comes out, he has a hearing, and the officers who write the report come and they testify about their report, and everybody agrees that the report they’re talking about is the one they’ve written. And that’s the extent of the investigation. Imagine this. Just alone on what we have in the Abu Ghraib, there’s no serious investigation. The renditions, which is a three – or what, ren-di-tion – three-syllable word to describe a process that really is very simple.
It still goes on, by the way. We send people in undercover, mostly military guys, not approved, no C.I.A. stuff, because if you do the C.I.A. route, you have to have a formal presidential finding under the law and you have to tell Congress. So you stick this stuff in the military. A bunch of guys go in sterile, with no I.D.s. They go into a country, you know, they get together. They go to some village. They go to some house. They grab some guy by the hair. They drag him to an airport where they have a private plane. They fly him somewhere where the sun don’t shine. They torture them and sometimes kill them. And that’s called rendition. It’s been going on. It’s — another word that we used a couple of decades ago for Argentina and Brazil was “disappearing” people.
AMY GOODMAN: And that is Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter giving the keynote address last night at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. When we come back, Seymour Hersh joins us live in the studio.
I wanted to start off with, is it true that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld attempted to break into your home?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, no, not literally, of course, but it is true that they asked the FBI to in 1975, when I was a reporter in Washington for The New York Times. I had written a story about, oh, some secret stuff involving the Navy and spying on Russia and intercepts. It was pretty sensitive stuff. It was given to me by people inside the bureaucracy who thought it was stupid, counterproductive and wasteful and dangerous, so there was a reason to write it. I mean, it wasn’t as if I was just exposing something — it had been the source of enormous dismay inside that we continued to do these provocative operations. This was at the end of the Vietnam War. And so, they got upset. Cheney and — they were both — one was Chief of Staff, one was his deputy. Maybe Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense then.
And what happened is that during the 2000 campaign when Cheney was nominated, a bunch of reporters from Newsweek went to the Ford Library in Michigan, Gerald Ford — I don’t — Grand Rapids, I think it was. There’s a library there, and they discovered they had declassified some documents, sort of a 25-year time period, and out popped this file on me.
And those guys at Newsweek were very excited about it. They even shared it with me. They sent me a copy. It was about 50 pages of worrying about what to do, and at one point they did ask the — Rumsfeld — Cheney was writing notes. Rumsfeld was involved and others were, too, in the White House, the White House Counsel, etc., and people from the Pentagon, and they asked the FBI to do — to go into my house as — one of the options was go into my house.
There were a series of options. One was do nothing. One was to ask The New York Times to try to do something about me, you know, to shut me down, but the most dramatic one was to go into my house.
And they sent it over – and then Ed Levi, who was also a participant in these discussions, he was then the Attorney General. And as I said last night here, oh, if we had an Attorney General like that again, former Dean at the University of Chicago Law School, and eminent jurist. He wrote them a smashing memo saying, are you guys — excuse me, guys, the White House cannot order the FBI to go into someone’s house.
You have to — we have to begin a criminal investigation. It has to be determined by appropriate judicial figures, people in the Justice Department. The Department of Justice has to decide there’s a case there. Then as part of the investigation, we can authorize it, you cannot. And so they were sort of rebuked. And it was in writing. And Newsweek never did the story. And so —
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Do I know why anybody doesn’t do anything? I don’t know why. And it never really became a story. It was sort of — you know, this came up because somebody asked me about it last night. I decided not to talk — write about it and talk about it.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would they have found if they broke into your house?
SEYMOUR HERSH: A dog. A cat. As if — as if somebody would keep memos and, you know, — I don’t keep anything around, period. I just don’t do it.
AMY GOODMAN: This latest news that we get out of Jordan right now about the pardoning of Ahmad Chalabi — King Abdullah of Jordan agreeing to pardon the one-time CIA asset. For years he faced a 22-year prison sentence in Jordan for fraud after his Petra Bank collapsed with more than 300 million dollars in missing deposits. The Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, asking the king to do this. What’s going on here, and the significance?
SEYMOUR HERSH: I’m sort of glad and not glad you asked me that question, because I do know something about it. Here’s what I know about that. I know that King Jordan comes to visit America quite a bit – the United States. And the President likes him — our President, George Bush, because he speaks good English. He went to a prep school here in America, and he’s very pro-Western.
And he sees the President, and he has told friends — this is about nine months ago — he was stunned. He was seeing the President. The President said, you know, “Your” — whatever he calls him — “I have a favor.” He said, “Of course, anything.” “I want you to pardon Chalabi.” And he was stunned, because, you know, how can he pardon Chalabi after what he had done.
The money he stole was from old women and children, you know, little funds, and he was reviled, Chalabi. I have actually read — I actually somebody in the intelligence community once gave me the transcript of his trial in Arabic. And we had it translated at The New Yorker. This time he was sort of out of vogue, and a story never emerged out of it, but the trial was devastating. I mean, they had him nailed. And he was smuggled out of the country.
He probably was in cahoots, by the way, with various members of the royal family then during this stuff, you know, bribery, etc. In any case, he was stunned, and he didn’t know what to say. He went back and he asked people in the parliament, who said, “Are you kidding?” So all I can tell you is that Abdullah is doing what the President of the United States, to his amazing shock, because this was after the stuff came out about Chalabi and his connection to Iran.
This is probably a neo-con, a neoconservative play. I guess if you wanted to extrapolate it, I don’t know whether — if anybody cares, but I’m sure the White House would deny it and say it’s not true, but I can categorically tell you this is Abdullah’s story, this I do know. And he was stunned. And he couldn’t do it then, so obviously, he thought time had passed. The idea that the President after Chalabi was in big trouble over his connections to Iran and being accused of leaking information whether rightly or not —
AMY GOODMAN: Remind our viewers and listeners, they raided his home in Iraq, the US forces?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Yeah, and they claimed that he had been relaying information about American intercept capability, our signals intelligence to the Iranians who are clearly a presence. You know, Abdullah is one of the people along with —
AMY GOODMAN: The King of Jordan?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Yes. The King of Jordan, along with, of course, the Saudis and the Egyptians who see what’s going on in Iraq right now as an existential threat in this sense – that they believe the United States is making a terrible mistake by letting much of Iraq fall into the hands of the – of what they consider to be Iranian Shia. They see the Irianian influence spreading south, and for the Sunni — those are Sunni countries, that’s a devastating effect that hasn’t happened before. So it’s a huge issue.
Then to pardon Chalabi is just — it’s a personal favor for the President. I don’t know — I don’t know what, obviously, what’s in his mind. I do know the President, I think all of us understand, he’s more attuned. He wouldn’t have done what he did in Iraq if he hadn’t been more attuned even before becoming President to the idea that all things in the Middle East revolve around Iraq as the neo-cons always believed.
AMY GOODMAN: The news of this Operation Matador that is taking place right now, US forces carrying it out, one of the largest post-Saddam military operations in Iraq, the US admitting it’s facing fierce resistance. What is the significance of this? When do casualties count, when don’t they?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, they’re not counting now. American casualties are discounted in the newspapers. We have had an awful lot of people, more than a dozen die in the last few days alone in Iraq. American casualties are back up. And it’s not a major story. Once in a while it gets to be a story. And so, they put out — they do their own sort of accounting.
The one way they balance the bad news is they have raids. And we suddenly show us on the offensive. And part of it is what the information — it’s an operation, it’s a public relations. It’s a strategic deception in a way. I’m not suggesting the raids are not there. I’m not suggesting they may even be finding people. God knows who they find. But clearly, one reason they’re being emphasized is to detract from what’s going on, which is a steady increase in the insurgency and the resistance.
And what happened is after the election of January 30, the elections so widely hailed by this President and the government, which as we now know has had very little consequence on the reality of what’s going on on the ground, as we move towards an open civil war there, but after the election, there were orders put out to change the reporting requirements on incidents.
In other words, you had to have a serious American fatality or casualty, not necessarily death, but a serious incident, to get reported. So just a mine going off and somebody being lightly wounded wouldn’t get reported. So the numbers went down right away, suggesting that somehow the election had worked.
And again, if you remember before the election, there was nothing but talk from the White House about how the resistance was going to challenge us repeatedly and go after us on election day. How do they know? I mean, we know nothing about what the resistance does. We have no intelligence about who they are, where they are. We have some ideas. We know they used to operate in three-man cells in 2003 and then 15-man cells last year. We don’t know when they’re gonna hit, where they’re gonna hit. So how do we know what they were planning to do before January 30 last year? We don’t. But we created an image that they were planning massive attacks. And when they didn’t come off — they were the usual daily assortment of attacks — it’s a victory. I mean, the information is totally controlled by the American government. I don’t fault the press in Baghdad, because they can’t get out and they can’t do it. They’re stuck.
AMY GOODMAN: Civil war?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Why not? What is it? Where do you think we’re at? There was a piece in The New York Times a week ago Sunday in the magazine section. I would say one of the most stunningly obtuse — I don’t know what they’re thinking in my old newspaper. A piece essentially praising the fact that we have — the United States is supporting a paramilitary group –.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the cover of the magazine, the “Salvadorization of Iraq.”
SEYMOUR HERSH: Right, and as you mentioned in your talk last night, with one of the American commanders who was involving and supporting and aiding the El Salvadorian hunter-killer teams back two decades ago, in charge, being the adviser to this group — this is a group that, in The New York Times story, committed significant violations of the Geneva Convention, and it’s almost being praised by it.
There isn’t a sense in the article — there is not any sense of the big picture, that these are violations of the Geneva Convention, that this is exactly — this is the former Mukhabarat, the former secret police of Saddam. These are the people that we went to war against, and we’re now writing articles in favor of them. The New York Times reporter was embedded with them. Although, I must say to his credit, that is acknowledged in the story, it’s explained, but it doesn’t really explain what that means, the context.
And, you know, I can say because I have a lot of respect for The New York Times, I don’t know what the guys on the top — I mean, I know when I worked there, if I wrote a magazine piece, the senior editors read it, discussed it, gave me notes. It’s not just done in the magazine. The guys that run the newspaper read it. What were they thinking of?
AMY GOODMAN: And what about this issue of the Salvadorization, the idea that John Negroponte has been the US Ambassador — of course, he’s head of National Intelligence now — formerly in the early ‘80s, Ambassador to Honduras, the staging ground for the Contra War? Do you see a connection between the people that are being brought in now who worked Salvador, two decades ago working with paramilitaries?
SEYMOUR HERSH: I don’t want to beat my breast, but I think I used the notion that it’s an El Salvadorian war in an article in The New Yorker about six months ago, saying it’s gone El Salvador. And Negroponte is a true believer. He really supports this administration and Bush. He’s totally on the team.
Somebody said to me when he was named head of the overall intelligence apparatus by Bush, you know, we all joked that everybody who goes to the White House has to drink the Kool-Aid in order to get there. In other words, you only want to hear from people who believe what you’re — there’s no opposition, no dissent allowed. I mean, there’s just no dissent allowed inside. Any dissent is not just honest dissent, it’s being a traitor.
And somebody said to me, well, he’s going to mix the Kool-Aid. That’s his job now as head of intelligence. He’s very nice, a very pleasant man, he’s very articulate. And I think what he has done in terms of setting up a covert, off-the-books apparatus and a hunter-killer team, that’s what we have now. We’re taking down — the idea is, I think it’s ungodly in a way, really, what he has done.
The idea is right now in Iraq, the goal they have now is they want to go into the various major cities in the Sunni heartland, the four provinces of Iraq that are considered to be pro-Saddam or pro-Ba’athist, and which what 40% of the population reside, around Baghdad. The idea is to go to major cities. They did Fallujah, they’re doing Ramadi right now, take it down, make the people of the Sunni heartland more afraid of the American/Iraqi Mukhabarat than they are of the resistance. That’s the idea.
And Abizaid, so I have been told, has made it clear that he thinks he can, within a year, he can take down four or five of the major strongholds. And I think the plan is to go from Ramadi to another major city of 300,000 or 400,000 and begin the same kind of operation.
No more embedded journalists, only on a rare occasion. We’re not there like we were in Fallujah. We don’t really know what’s going on in Ramadi. It seems like it’s holy hell there, but we don’t know. And I think that’s the game plan. It’s sort of a desperate game plan. It’s not going to work, obviously. Occupiers, terror and these techniques don’t work. You know, the Israelis, you could argue, did well —
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, when the Palestinians, because it was an existential threat for the Israelis. They learned a language, they got there. It’s not for us. We’re just in there dabbling. We’re dabbling at this Mukhabarat and this kind of stuff. We’re just causing chaos. Then we can walk away.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Seymour Hersh, for being with us, author of Chain of Command: The Road from 9-11 to Abu Ghraib.
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