Theater of Cruelty

Excavation journalist Seymour Hersh – a role model

John Y. Jones
John Y. Jones
Cand. Philol, freelance journalist affiliated with MODERN TIMES
JOURNALISM / Among the best, the American journalist Seymour Hersh (83) reigns. He is blackened from both the right and left flanks – but regrets nothing.


Hersh gave us stories about the My Lai massacre (1968), the Abu Ghraib torture (2004) and critical stories about the murder of Bin Laden (2011). These are just three peaks in the vast landscape Hersh has left behind in modern journalism. And yet he has not given up – at the age of 83 years.

In its heyday, as Hersh writes about in the book Reporter (2019): «There were no 'expert panels' or journalists on cable TV who started all the answers with the two most deadly words in the media – 'I think'. We drown in fake news, exaggerated and incomplete information, false allegations in an endless stream of daily newspapers, television, social media and our president ».

"I have always believed that it was the task of the newspapers to look for truths and not just refer to the debates about them."

We could have added self-proclaimed and commercial truth-tellers, thinkers, and the ideological thinkers of the gossip class. For fear of making a mistake, the editors outsource the truth work to "experts".

Hersh is not afraid to criticize the big newspaper houses. He sees that the hyper-commercialization of newspapers, magazines and television leads to cuts in resources and staff and thins out profits that could have been used to dig out the necessary truths and important issues: "I have always believed that it was the newspapers' job to search present truths and not just refer to the debates about them ", writes Hersh.

Set tracks in Norway

Seymour Hersh shows how intertwined good journalism is with the whistleblowers' efforts. His revelations have left traces in Norway as well. In 2004, the former diplomat and Liberal leader Gunnar Garbo (1924–2016) mobilized against the culprits after Hersh's torture revelations in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The Americans had continued Saddam Hussein's culture of torture at the prison, and American leaders gave the green light for torture. In the name of the fight against terrorism, everything was now allowed. New interrogation methods (read: torture) have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, boasted US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Garbo wrote a call to the Norwegian authorities in which he demanded that the culprits, including the leaders, be brought to justice. Over a thousand leading Norwegian women and men joined the appeal. Garbo was particularly moved when he saw that the very last signature came from former Labor Party and NRK leader Einar Førde, who signed the petition a few weeks before he died.

The only officer punished for the Abu Ghraib brutality was Officer Steven Jordan. Jordan was not punished for gross bridge tality, but for talking to the press! (screenshot from CBS)

Abu Ghraib

On April 30, Seymour Hersh wrote: “Torture in Abu Ghraib. Violent American soldiers in Iraq. How high is the responsibility? ». The signals from the top were unmistakable. Garbo believed that American leaders had articulated themselves in a way that allowed for the use of torture. The responsibility therefore lay with the top management.

Wikipedia's description of the court settlement after the torture revelations states that several were sentenced to prison for the torture culture in Abu Ghraib. What is not there, however, is that the only officer who was punished for the Abu Ghraib brutality was Steven Jordan. Jordan was not punished for gross brutality, but for talking to the press!

Again, we see that it is the warning about the criminal act that is punished and not the crimes themselves, and that it is the people at the bottom who are held accountable. The superiors, on the other hand, go free.

Harold Pinter

Seymour Hersh holds the author Harold Pinter very high and is happy to quote him, as in Statesman (2009): Pinter's speech of thanks for the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2005, while the Iraq war was at its worst, was not broadcast live by the BBC. In his speech, Pinter mentioned that the criminals at the top often went free, and had good advice on where to start: "George W. Bush," said Pinter, "has not recognized the International Criminal Court in The Hague, ICC. He has warned that he will send in military forces if US soldiers are brought to justice. But Tony Blair has recognized the court and can be convicted. We can let the court get his address. It's Downing Street 10, London. "


Seymour Hersh (b. 1937) sums up his life's work as follows: “to hold public servants accountable with the highest standard of decency and honesty. Anything less would be unacceptable. Even under the pretext of 'the security of the kingdom', it would be wrong. " But sometimes even the bravest grave journalist has to report a passport, as in this story that Hersh shared with students at Berkeley University in 2004: Hersh, who had shown the world the My Lai massacre (1968) and the Abu Ghraib torture (2004), opened one of his worst memories, from a military camp between Baghdad and the border with Syria: Hersh received a phone call from a desperate soldier. His squad had hired 30 local Iraqis to guard a large inventory, men that the Americans eventually became acquainted with and came to like. One day a message came suddenly: "The camp must be cleansed." A group of soldiers from another troop appeared. They began killing: One by one, the Iraqis were liquidated. All 30. In a meeting with the students at Berkeley, Hersh becomes silent: “They shot them. One after another. My informant became hysterical. He hurried to his captain, who sharply rebuked him: 'No, you are wrong. They were shot in battle. They were rebels. Have you not heard that we had 36 rebels, and that 15 of them were killed in battle? '' 'Do you know what I answered the boy? I said, 'Do you really understand what you said to the captain? You said: You murdered. Your squad knows that your comrades have committed murder. But you have to shut up! Do your job. Just shut up. Or do you want a bullet in the back? '' 'We have come this far in this war,' said Hersh sadly. He has been called both "dirt digger" and "unpatriotic". In meeting with the students, no one doubted that he takes America's decline seriously. And very personal. Hersh continued: "My parents were immigrants… for them, America meant something, the Statue of Liberty and all that. America was a bastion of morality and integrity, a place where you had to start all over again. And now we see it with our own eyes, in the light, all that they have taken from us! "
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