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Hersh Visits Austin

Journalist Seymour Hersh began a week's visit to Austin Monday night

By Michael King, 12:15PM, Tue. Mar. 20, 2012

Seymour Hersh
Seymour Hersh

Beginning a week of Austin events, legendary journalist Seymour Hersh appeared Monday night at 5604 Manor, in a public conversation sponsored by Cooperation Texas (the newly re-christened Third Coast Workers for Cooperation) and hosted by UT journalism professor Robert Jensen.

Responding to Jensen's opening question, "What are journalists for?" Hersh said in part, "We’re there to tell the truth. We’re not there to be a mouthpiece for the government. …"

By way of illustration, Hersh pointed directly to the recent story out of Afghanistan, of U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians. The official story, said Hersh, is already inadequate, or worse.

"Here's what the government wants us to believe," said Hersh. "Some guy walks out of a military base, with a weapon, and goes into a part of Afghanistan that’s contested … there’s certainly a lot of support for the Taliban there – into a world where every male over the age of about seven has a weapon and is good at using it. … He goes into a house -- three houses in a row -- murders them serially, and then burns them. And all this time, nobody makes any effort to shoot his brains out or to stop him.

"So without even taking it another step, you right away know -- it’s not a single act -- because the other people had to be withheld, with some force, some measure. I don’t know that," Hersh continued, "it’s just there. The story isn’t one man, it’s much more than that. Again, I’m just speaking heuristically.

"So I read the press day after day, and you’re going to see stories now praising the military for being so forthcoming, I think that’s the next step. It’s just amazing to me. It doesn’t mean the guy didn’t do it by himself, but that’s a serious thing to explain, and the press should be asking at this point -- just to be topical -- where are the other guys in his unit, how come we’re not talking to the other guys in his unit? … And also, as you don’t always read in the papers, the Afghans have been talking about a completely different incident. Their description of the incident, as they begin their investigations, involves a group of Americans coming in, sort of dedicated to killing people -- as in the Haditha incident, about five years ago … in Iraq, when a group of soldiers went in and raped, and then killed everybody, in the same sort of pattern."

That's how the conversation began, and ranged over the situation in Afghanistan, the Obama presidency and its predecessors, the state of contemporary journalism, and more doubts about "the official stories."

To add just one more example, Hersh questioned recent reports describing Osama bin Laden's captured documents (parts of which were recently released), now being described as the ravings of an angry and isolated old man. He recalled that immediately following the assault and the killing of bin Laden, the documents were described by official sources as a "treasure trove" of revelations about al Qaeda and its leaders. So which is it?, Hersh asked.

Hersh is in residence at UT-Austin this week, under the sponsorship of the Humanities Institute. On Thursday night, March 22, 7-8:30pm, in the amphitheater of the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, he will deliver a free public lecture titled, "Year Ten of GWOT - The Bush/Cheney/Obama Global War on Terrorism, A Progress Report." For more information, see the 2012 Glickman Lecture.

We'll have more from Hersh in an upcoming issue of the Chronicle.

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