Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dawn Goes Bonkers

So of course EVERYONE is talking about the 'explosive' story about veteran American journalist Seymour 'Sy' Hersh that appeared on Dawn's back page today, in which he reportedly told Gulf News that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a special death squad working on the orders of then US Vice President Dick Cheney.

WASHINGTON, May 18: A special death squad assassinated Pakistans former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on the orders of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, claims an American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

Mr Hersh, a Washington-based journalist who writes for the New Yorker magazine and other prominent media outlets, also claims that the former vice-president was running an “executive assassination ring” throughout the Bush years. The cell reported directly to Mr Cheney.

Now, this is a not a story to be scoffed at. For one, it's a four column story on the back page of Dawn, "the newspaper of record", as the Haroons dub it. Secondly, it is quoting Hersh, who established his reputation as an investigative reporter with his expose on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and who has done numerous high profile pieces since then. And I for one certainly don't put anything past Dick "Darth Vader" Cheney. But still, there was something about the story that did not sit well with me. Perhaps it was the following:

Mr Hersh indicated that the same unit killed Ms Bhutto because in an interview with Al Jazeera TV on Nov 2, 2007, she had said she believed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was already dead. She said she believed Omar Saeed Sheikh, an Al Qaeda activist imprisoned in Pakistan for killing US journalist Daniel Pearl had murdered Bin Laden.

But the interviewer, veteran British journalist David Frost, deleted her claim from the interview, Mr Hersh said.

The controversial US journalist told Gulf News on May 12 he believed Ms Bhutto was assassinated because the US leadership did not want Bin Laden to be declared dead.The Bush administration wanted to keep Bin Laden alive to justify the presence of US army in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban, Mr Hersh said.

I don't know about anyone else but assassinating the first woman to head a Muslim country's government and a world charmer simply because she "believed" Osama bin Laden was dead (which certainly may not have jibed with the US plans for the region), sounds a bit too far-fetched even in the case of Cheney. Particularly more so considering how much under the Americans' thumb Benazir had become, who had gone out of their way to smooth her return to power by negotiating and forcing a deal on Musharraf. Why couldn't they simply have called her and told her, 'Look, you take that back or we'll take the NRO back!' Knowing BB, nothing would have mortified her more than feeling the Americans were getting pissed off.

But there's more to make one arch one's eyebrows. There's also a tidbit in there about BB allegedly saying that Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged killer of US journalist Daniel Pearl, had murdered Osama bin Laden and that this claim was "deleted" by Sir David Frost, the interviewer. Now, I know I'm in cuckoo land. Either BB was cuckoo - Omar Sheikh has been in jail since February 2002 when OBL was still very much around - or Sy Hersh is cuckoo or Dawn's unnamed reporter and his sources are cuckoo. As to whether such a claim was actually made by BB, well, rather than being deleted as claimed, this obvious slip of the tongue has been doing the rounds for a long time on the net leading to much merriment and all sorts of nutters going berserk about it. The full statement where BB utters those words in their context can be viewed here:

In any case, I decided to do a bit of investigation into this story myself. Here's what I found: Hersh did make the claim that a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was going around liquidating "high value" targets around the world, without Congressional oversight and reporting directly to Cheney. These claims were made first in a 'Great Conversations' event about "America's Constitutional Crisis" at the University of Minnesota on March 10. The claims were first reported by journalist and blogger Eric Black, who happened to be at the event and recorded the event. The report is here and the audio recording of the entire thing is also on the site.

Subsequently, i.e. a few weeks later, other media and other bloggers began picking up the story. It was, after all, Sy Hersh saying these things. On March 30, CNN's Wolf Blitzer did a piece on it. Eric Black reported on it again here, which includes video of Blitzer's talk with Sy Hersh as well as two Cheneyites who try and defend their former boss. National Public Radio also interviewed Sy Hersh about his claims about the JSOC on March 30.  Curiously, neither of these reports says anything about the American rambos killing BB or Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri, also named as a target in the Dawn report.

So, I guess I had to go to the Gulf News report which apparently began it all. You can read the entire interview of Hersh here and see the video of the same interview here. Of course, there is NO mention of Benazir anywhere in the interview but this is what was said about Hariri:

GULF NEWS: You have spoken about an assassination unit that reported to Cheney called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). There have been allegations that this unit was responsible for former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I can't verify [that]. What I said was, and what I have written more than once, is that there's a special unit that does high-value targeting of men that we believe are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.

In Cheney's view this isn't murder, but carrying out the "war on terror". And in the view of me and my friends, including people in government, this is crazy. The vice president is committing a crime. You can't authorise the murder of people. And it's not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's in a lot of other countries, in the Middle East and in South Asia and North Africa and even central America.

In the early days, many of the names were cleared through Cheney's office. One of his aides, John Hanna, went on TV and acknowledged that the programme exists, and said killing these people is not murder but an act of war that is justified legally.

The former head of JSOC has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan, which is very interesting to me.

About Hariri, what I've always maintained - I was in the position of seeing and interviewing President Bashar Al Assad on the day Hariri was killed in February 2005 - it seemed clear to me that he knew nothing about it. But I never wrote anything about it, even the fact that I was there, because I had no empirical or factual basis for knowing whether he was involved or not, and I never did. And I decided to wait for the investigations and they have come up with no concrete evidence that Syria did it. Despite the fact that one of the earlier investigators speculated that he did, he didn't know.

Could JSOC have been responsible?

No. Hariri, America. No. Impossible. There was no reason. JSOC's responsibility was to go after what they call high-value targets.

So what is going on with the "newspaper of record"? Are its correspondents on drugs? Where have they got this information from? We don't know. What we do know is that the story has become viral and millions more in conspiracy-ridden Pakistan are now going to believe BB was assassinated by the US no matter what subsequently appears in the press or even Dawn. Let's leave the final word to Sy Hersh himself:

LAHORE - US journalist Seymour Hersh has contradicted news reports being published in South Asia that quote him as saying a “special death squad” created by former US vice president Dick Cheney had killed Benazir Bhutto.

The award-winning journalist described as “complete madness” the reports that the squad headed by General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of US Army in Afghanistan, had also killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafique Al Hariri and a Lebanese Army Chief.

“Vice president Cheney does not have a death squad. I have no idea who killed Hariri or Bhutto,” Hersh said.

“I have never said that I did have such information. I most certainly did not say anything remotely to that effect during an interview with an Arab media outlet,” the Daily Times quoted Hersh, as saying.

He said General McChrystal had run a special forces unit that engaged in “high value target activity”, but “while I have been critical of some of that unit’s activities in the pages of the New Yorker and in interviews, I have never suggested that he was involved in political assassinations or death squads on behalf of Cheney, as the published stories state.”

Hersh regretted that none of the publications had contacted him before carrying the report.

“This is another example of blogs going bonkers with misleading and fabricated stories and professional journalists repeating such rumours without doing their job - and that is to verify such rumours.” 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

pyala gar nahiN deta na de Kebab to de