DOHA, Qatar—David Remnick, call your office.
In a speech billed as a discussion of the Bush and Obama
eras, New Yorker journalist Seymour
Hersh delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing
his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the
direction of U.S. foreign policy.
"Just when we needed an angry black man," he began, his arm
perched jauntily on the podium, "we didn't get one."
It quickly went downhill from there.
Hersh, whose exposés of gross abuses by members of the U.S.
military in Vietnam and Iraq have earned him worldwide fame and high
journalistic honors, said he was writing a book on what he called the "Cheney-Bush
years" and saw little difference between that period and the Obama
He said that he was keeping a "checklist" of aggressive U.S.
policies that remained in place, including torture and "rendition" of terrorist
suspects to allied countries, which he alleged was ongoing.
He also charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked
by a cabal of neoconservative "crusaders" in the former vice president's office
and now in the special operations community.
"What I'm really talking about is how eight or nine
neoconservative, radicals* if you will, overthrew the American government. Took
it over," he said of his forthcoming book. "It's not only that the neocons took
it over but how easily they did it -- how Congress disappeared, how the press
became part of it, how the public acquiesced."
Hersh then brought up the widespread looting that took place
in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. "In the Cheney shop, the
attitude was, ‘What's this? What are they all worried about, the politicians
and the press, they're all worried about some looting? ... Don't they get it?
We're gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil,
nobody's gonna give a damn.'"
"That's the attitude," he continued. "We're gonna change
mosques into cathedrals. That's an attitude that pervades, I'm here to say, a
large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command."
He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed
JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his
successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, "are all
members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta."
Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic organization commited to "defence of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering," according to its website.
"Many of them are members of Opus Dei," Hersh continued. "They do see what
they're doing -- and this is not an atypical attitude among some military -- it's
a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians.
They're protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is
"They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each
other, which are crusader coins," he continued. "They have insignia that
reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community."
Hersh relayed that he had recently spoken with "a man in the
intelligence community... somebody in the joint special operations business"
about the downfall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. "He said, ‘Oh my
God, he was such a good ally.'"
"Tunisia's going to change the game," Hersh added later.
"It's going to scare the hell out of a lot of people."
Moving to Pakistan, where Hersh noted he had been friendly
with Benazir Bhutto, the journalist told of a dinner meeting with Asif Ali
Zardari, the late prime minister’s husband, in which Hersh said the Pakistani president
was brutally disdainful of his own people.
Hersh described a trip he made to Swat, where the Pakistani
military had just dislodged Taliban insurgents who had taken over the scenic
valley, a traditional vacation area for the urban middle class. Hersh said he
asked Zardari about the tent cities he saw along the road, where people were living in harsh, unsanitary conditions.
“Well, those people
there in Swat, that’s what they deserve,” the Pakistani president replied, according to Hersh. Asked why, Hersh said Zardari responded, “Because
they supported the Taliban.” (Note: Hersh's conversation is not recounted in his 2009 New Yorker article on Pakistan's nuclear weapons, presumably because it coudn't be verified.)
The veteran journalist also alleged that the CIA station
chief in Islamabad, who was recently recalled after his name surfaced in
Pakistani court documents and in the lively Pakistani press, had actually been
fired for disputing the plans of Gen. David Petraeus, who took over the Afghan
war last summer after General McChrystal was summarily dismissed.
"When Petraeus issued a very optimistic report about the war
in December that he gave to the president," Hersh said, the station chief "just
declared it was bankrupt... internally. He just said ‘This is completely
wrongheaded. The policy's wrongheaded.' Off he goes. Out he goes."
"I've given up being disillusioned about the CIA," Hersh
said. "They're trained to lie, period. They will lie to their president, they
will lie certainly to the Congress, and they will lie to the American people.
That's all there is to it."
Hersh was speaking on the invitation of Georgetown
University's School of Foreign Service, which operates a branch campus in
*Note: Listening to the recording a second time, I believe Hersh said "whackos," not "radicals."