DATE September 14, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Seymour M. Hersh discusses his new book, "Chain of
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. His reports in The New
Yorker magazine revealed many of the grim details about the beatings, sexual
humiliations and other tortures being committed by Americans in the Abu Ghraib
prison outside Baghdad. His reports included photos showing GIs taunting
naked Iraqi prisoners, who were forced to assume humiliating poses. Several
of these photos had been shown on CBS' "60 Minutes" a few days before Hersh's
first account was published, but Hersh had also obtained the report by Major
General Antonio Taguba, which found that between October and December of 2003
there were numerous instances of, quote, "sadistic, blatant and wanton
criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib."
Now Seymour Hersh has a new book called "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11
to Abu Ghraib." In 2004 he won a National Magazine Award for public interest
for his New Yorker pieces on intelligence and the Iraq War. He won a Pulitzer
Prize for his 1969 reports that American soldiers had massacred Vietnamese
civilians in My Lai during a search-and-destroy mission.
In "Chain of Command," he says that the roots of the Abu Ghraib scandal lie
not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army Reservists, but in the reliance
of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on secret operations and the use of
coercion in fighting terrorism.
We called the Defense Department for a response. They declined to speak but
referred us to a statement on their Web site, which says, `There are ongoing
investigations, and there will be more information disclosed. Thus far these
investigations have determined that no responsible official of the Defense
Department approved any program that could conceivably have authorized or
condoned the abuses seen at Abu Ghraib.' We'll read more of the statement at
the end of the interview.
I asked Seymour Hersh what his investigation reveals about whether people at
the top of the chain of command knew what was going on in Abu Ghraib.
Mr. SEYMOUR HERSH (Author, "Chain of Command"): If you're talking about in
September, October or November of 2003, did people in Washington and the White
House know that these kids were totally out of control in the prison on the
night shift and taking the photographs? No, there's no evidence of that
whatsoever--that anybody in Washington knew this kind of madness was going on.
Of course, there's a big `but.' But the answer to your question is no.
GROSS: And when is the moment that you think they did find out?
Mr. HERSH: They were--technically, the answer to that question is really
simple: Somebody reported it in early January of 2004. One of the military
policemen in the unit was appalled, as I think were many others, but this
person did something about it, a young man named Darby. And he told the local
authorities; in the Army, they call it the Criminal Investigation Division,
the Army cops. And they began an investigation. I think this line of
questioning, though, doesn't get to the real issue because the real issue is
an attitudinal one. It was a...
GROSS: But you say in your book that the roots of Abu Ghraib are on Bush and
Rumsfeld's reliance on secret operations and the use of coercion in fighting
terrorism. There's specifically a secret operations program that you think
created the climate, is that fair to say, for the abuses at Abu Ghraib?
Mr. HERSH: It was a symptom of the climate. What they did was in December,
roughly three months after 9/11--Donald Rumsfeld is a very impatient man.
Also, as we now know, the Pentagon was trying to take an awful lot of control,
not only operationally for the war but also--and in terms of intelligence,
there was a lot of internecine competition between Rumsfeld and the other
agencies, specifically the CIA. So about three months after 9/11, Rumsfeld
had just had it with this notion of going through the legal process to go
after people we believed that were very important inside al-Qaeda or
To go arrest somebody, you have to go through an extradition process.
Sometimes it's called rendition. You have to go through a process in which
the American ambassador in a country gets involved, local officials get
involved, judicial people get involved, the FBI gets involved. Rumsfeld said,
in a sense, `The hell with it. Let's just set up a unit that's going to find
bad guys, guys we think know information that is important to us.' And,
again, in all fairness to everybody, in the weeks and months after 9/11, there
was a tremendous sense not only of anger but also fear. We thought for sure
whoever these people were--al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden--would strike again or
And so Rumsfeld set up a secret unit. Everybody in it was undercover, and
they had their own aircraft, they had their own helicopters. And they would
hear about somebody we thought was important in the war on terrorism, somebody
to interrogate, and they would just get into the country, get to the guy's
house and get him out and not go through any formal process. And these people
often were taken for interrogation, I think in the beginning, to Thailand,
later certainly to Egypt, which has always been a huge--the Egyptian
government has been a huge player for the United States in the interrogation
of prisoners, with the Egyptians doing it themselves and, eventually,
Americans doing it. Those that were useful were kept around; I think in some
cases I used the word `disappeared,' gone. That doesn't necessarily mean
they're dead; they're just out of circulation. Their families still don't
know what happened to them. Some of the prisoners who turned out to not be
useful were shipped down to Guantanamo in Cuba, the prison set up early in
And eventually--and this is one of the amazing sort of facts. The sadness of
Abu Ghraib is eventually, in the fall of 2003, when the war, clearly, in Iraq
was going badly--the insurgency was there, as many had predicted, and wasn't
going away. And we had the UN blown up. We had the Jordanian Embassy in
Baghdad blown up. We had more oil wells put on fire, pipelines hit,
waterlines hit all in August. And at that point a decision was made, so I
write, to bring some elements of this secret unit into Iraq to start educating
and getting the interrogation process more fine-tuned. We weren't getting
intelligence about the insurgency; that was the problem. We didn't know what
was going to happen next.
GROSS: Is there anything that was in this directive for the secret operations
program that justified the use or opened the door to the use of that kind of
interrogation technique, the kind of sexual humiliation that we saw--the using
of dogs, you know, the hoods that were used?
Mr. HERSH: Well, I don't know what specific instructions were given to the
secret unit. But the reason you have a secret unit is because the rules don't
apply. You know, the cliche that we see in so many of the White House
documents and statements are, `The gloves are off.' And I think there's no
question this unit was given carte blanche to do whatever was necessary. And
my friends also tell me, by the way, that the people, obviously, inside the
intelligence community, inside this unit, that know what's going on--they said
to me in the beginning the intent was really to get people who had information
and get it out of them.
And in some cases, as many in the audience know, torture doesn't really work
for getting good intelligence. The best way you get intelligence is you
establish some sort of rapport with the people. And I can't tell you whether
the goal of the special unit was to get rough immediately or not. I can tell
you that, according to people in the unit, things deteriorated over the years.
We're talking about a unit that's now been in operation almost three years.
And I quote somebody in my book saying, rather sadly--somebody in the unit,
`What do you call it when you torture somebody and you hurt him, and he needs
medical treatment and he doesn't get it and he dies a few days later? And
the answer,' he said, `is execution. And at some point,' he said, in a
worrying way, `there'll be a real investigation in the Congress, and we all
might--all of us in the unit who have been doing these things might get in
trouble because who's going to defend us?'
So I don't--when you're dealing with secret units as a journalist, it's so
complicated. I know the unit existed. I know there was a presidential
finding for it. I've talked to those very senior people in the Congress who
authorize such things. And, of course, the secrecy is so overwhelming. When
you have a unit like this, it's called a special access program.
So this unit began to fray in terms of what it was doing. It began to get
more violent towards the prisoners, particularly as the insurgency continued.
There was an intellectual underpinning, and let me tell you what it was. It
is a fact that one way to break a sophisticated Arab is sexual humiliation.
In the Arab world, the idea of a male being photographed in the
nude--obviously for a female, too--it's the ultimate form of degradation.
And, also, the notion that you would photograph him simulating homosexual
acts, as the photographs we've seen in Abu Ghraib, and the notion that a woman
would be there with her thumb up or thumb down, an actual American woman would
be there observing this and making fun of it--and the idea was, and I was told
this in the beginning, you use this selectively for people who you want to
recruit. And let me explain that.
We had no intelligence about the insurgency in Iraq. We had arrested, by this
time, by the fall of 2003 when this program began, September, when Abu
Ghraib--the abuses began, there were maybe I think as many as--certainly more
than 10, 15, 20,000 Iraqis had been arrested, many of them in routine sweeps
at traffic, you know, blocks. And the goal was to take young men, put them in
a position where they were sexually humiliated, take photographs of them and
then you would have potential blackmail material. And then you could perhaps
tell these young men, `Go home to your community, join the insurgency and
start telling us what's going on.' The idea was to recruit people. And, of
course, whatever the intent was in September, it quickly transmogrified into
something that we now know--the horrible abuses.
And what's interesting is--let me just say this--in October of 2003, the CIA,
which has been not adverse to very rough interrogations, they were so--the CIA
officials in the prison were so appalled by what they were seeing, they
withdrew their people from the prison. And this I know from not one, not two,
three or four people in the agency. They actually told their people to get
out of there because all hell was going to break loose.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Seymour Hersh. He broke the
Abu Ghraib story in The New Yorker magazine. He's collected and added to what
he's reported on since September 11th in his new book called "Chain of
Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib."
Now you're surprised that after Rumsfeld did find out about Abu Ghraib--and he
says he found out in January of 2004?
Mr. HERSH: '4, yes.
GROSS: That, you know, the Pentagon issued a kind of, as you put it, blandly
worded, short press release saying that there's going to be an investigation
into abuse at the prison. But you're surprised that he didn't do more or say
more; that he wasn't more shocked, that he wasn't more curious.
Mr. HERSH: Well, common sense would tell you, in retrospect, that you have
photographs--look, what made this story of Abu Ghraib a story--I could have
written 500,000 words about it, and so could other reporters. What made it
were the photographs. Once you saw those photographs and once you knew those
photographs were in circulation--one of the problems they had in the
investigation, they discovered that all of the military policemen and many of
the people who were serving in the military units on detail at Abu Ghraib, not
only military police but the military intelligence officers and regular Army
soldiers, every--you know how kids are today? CD-ROM--you know, they copy
music all the time. Well, they copied all these photographs into CDs, and
they were all over the place. And one of the first goals in the early days of
the investigation was to go around and collect these CDs from the various
soldiers. Soldiers who had nothing to do with it had these photographs.
The photographs were lethal, just lethal. And, you know, Rumsfeld saw
them--he certainly was briefed on them. I can't say that he actually saw them
until later. The chief of staff or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General
Myers, said he was aware of it.
You know, I think Rumsfeld testified there were many thousands of
court-martials every year in the military. Somehow this case, as the Pentagon
has acknowledged--somehow within two days of learning about what happened in
Abu Ghraib, Rumsfeld tells the president about it; this is according to the
Pentagon's own chronology in early January. Clearly, they knew there was
something special about this. And so the obvious question is: Why not make
it public yourself and take the beating, make it something you put out?
Because if you have the other guy--you know, you're going to have military
court-martials. You can't stop that. And these photographs are going to get
into lawyers' hands, are going to get into the press. But they chose not to
do so. And you have to only wonder, `Are they that obtuse?' I have a--my
speculation, if it means anything, is they were protecting the secret
operation as much as anything else, too.
GROSS: You also said that there was a policy of no resignations; that Vice
President Cheney phoned Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld with the message, `No
resignations.' How did you find out about that, and how do you interpret it?
Mr. HERSH: What happened was after the Abu Ghraib stories broke, largely
because of a lot of the stuff I wrote in The New Yorker in May, the vice
president did call Rumsfeld and said, `No resignations. We're going to tough
it out. Hang tough. Everybody stay together.' I can tell you that's very
pro forma for these guys. The idea is in this White House, you hang tough,
you give up nothing. That's standard. Everything is political. I think the
point of the recall, as I wrote in the book, it wasn't that--was nothing more
than he was saying, `This is a political problem now. We have to deal with it
politically, sensitively and no squeamishness.'
And I can tell you I learned about it from one of the highest-ranking defense
officials that we have in our government, and that's as much as I can say
because--look, clearly, Terry, in the last three years, I've been doing a lot
of stories that are very critical.
Mr. HERSH: And, clearly, there's an alternative. People are talking to me on
the inside. You know, I wouldn't say they're a funnel. I don't want to
diminish what I'm doing. I don't want to pat myself on the back too much
either because, clearly, people on the inside have been talking to me because
there is an alternative history of this war that they want out.
GROSS: My guest is Seymour Hersh. His new book is called "Chain of Command."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Seymour Hersh. His new book, "Chain of Command," expands
on his reporting in The New Yorker magazine since September 11th. He broke
much of the Abu Ghraib story.
Do you think your reports on Abu Ghraib would have been anything like what
they were if you didn't have the photographs? Could you--would people have
believed you, do you think, if you didn't have the photographs as evidence?
Mr. HERSH: I think the story would not have had the impact it did, but there
was also something else. I also did get my hands on the first report by a
general named Taguba, now pretty well known, Taguba report, which was an
amazingly honest report for a military report, much better than the reports
that we've seen in the last, you know, four or five months, particularly the
most recent ones. This was a report that was a devastating in condemnation of
what happened and also made the point it was institutionalized; that it went
through the chain of command.
Taguba wasn't saying that everybody knew about it, but he was saying that
these kinds of violations could not be localized; they had to be authorized at
a much higher level. And it was the kind of report that--I said in print once
that I doubt if general--he's a major general--is going to see many more
promotions because he really did sort of unravel a lot of things that the Army
preferred not to be unraveled. An amazingly courageous--it's to the credit of
the Army and to the credit of General Taguba that a report like this existed.
But basically, the simple answer to your question is the pictures, the old
cliche, worth a thousand words. The pictures did it. They drove the story
all the way. We've seen a lot more photographs. We haven't published more
stuff. Look, of course the young men and women who did what they did in Abu
Ghraib, the Reservists mostly from a unit in West Virginia--they're certainly
guilty of what they did. But I can tell you that they're also aware--there's
the shame. And I can tell you when we send children into the Army, the
officers who take control of these people, the captains and the majors and the
colonels and the generals and the secretary of Defenses and the president,
they become in loco parentis. They become the parents, not virtual but, in
practice, the parents. And the goal of a good parent is not to get the
children hurt, of course. They want to protect them as much as possible and
also to protect them from themselves.
And the failure here is so enormous that so many officers, we now know from
the other investigations, knew so much about what was going on, and nobody
could protect these young people from their own worst instincts. Obviously,
this is a scandal about which we're not really coming to terms.
GROSS: Now you say that you've seen more photos. Members of Congress have
seen more photos, and they have basically said that the photos that they've
seen that the public hasn't are horrifying. There's sexual photos in there.
It sounds like there are rapes or something along those lines. You're
choosing for now not to publish the photos that you have, you know, the ones
that we have not yet seen. Why are you choosing, at this point, to not
Mr. HERSH: Well, I can't speak--my book isn't publishing any photographs.
GROSS: No, no, but in The New Yorker you did publish a lot of photographs,
but you're not going with these?
Mr. HERSH: The decision that was made by the editors and with which I
agreed--and I don't always agree with editors--is there's a sense of: How
much do you shame the Arab man? You know, if you go into--you know, we
Americans come from a society...
GROSS: So it's out of respect to the people being humiliated, not out of
respect to the American soldiers who are involved with the techniques?
Mr. HERSH: No, I think, really, it's the first. It was nothing to do with
the American soldiers. There was no sense here--the sense was: How much do
you--just how much is enough? We get the drift of what happened. And, you
know, these men, many of them, were found later and interviewed by reporters
and described--I remember one vivid story in The New York Times of one of the
people in one of the horrible pictures. They were--you know, the pictures
that The New Yorker published of a dog--I mean, this man was bitten by the
dog. And so, you know, where do you draw the line? And we have photograph
evidence of that, but that--so you draw a line that makes sense, which is--it
made sense to me, which is you get the drift. You know, we understand how bad
it is. And most of the pictures were even distorted a little bit. It's
plenty bad enough.
And, you know, the Arab world--the enormity, to use that word right, of what
happened--in the Arab world, they see us as--I'm talking about the moderate
Arabs, the ones that are pro-American that want to send their children here.
They see this as evidence that America's become sexually perverted. I mean,
they are just staggered by these photographs. `Why would anybody do this?'
I had a very tough Israeli friend of mine, a retired commando and intelligence
officer, who said to me--he said, `You know, I hate Arabs, and they hate us.
I've been killing Arabs for 50 years, and they've been killing us for 50
years. But we know'--we in the Israeli military and intelligence service--`we
know that one day we may have to live with those SOBs. And let me tell you
something, Hersh,' he said. `If we treated our Arabs in jail the same way you
treated yours, we couldn't live with them.'
GROSS: Seymour Hersh will be back in the second half of the show. His new
book is called "Chain of Command." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh looks back on breaking
the story that American soldiers massacred Vietnamese civilians in My Lai, and
he considers how that story continues to affect America. And Kevin Whitehead
reviews a batch of Duke Ellington reissues recorded between 1950 and '61 on
the Columbia label.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with investigative reporter
Seymour Hersh. His new book, "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu
Ghraib," expands on his reporting for The New Yorker magazine over the past
three years, including his reports which broke much of the Abu Ghraib story.
When we left off, we were talking about how important the photos were in
documenting what happened at the prison.
Now producers at "60 Minutes" had obtained some of the photos of the torture
at Abu Ghraib prison, though they didn't have the report by General Taguba,
which you did have. "60 Minutes" held off broadcasting those photos and the
story at the request of the Pentagon. They eventually played it, but
initially they held off at the Pentagon's request. Did the Pentagon know that
you were going to publish the Abu Ghraib photos in The New Yorker and go with
the story? And if so, what was their response? Did anyone from the Pentagon
try to stop you from publishing?
Mr. HERSH: Well, no. I just--without being overly self-service--you know, I
won't pat myself on the back, but there would be no reason anybody in the
Pentagon would think I would not publish. And in fact, it's because CBS did
not publish that I got into the story.
GROSS: That was the connection?
Mr. HERSH: Well, somebody--there was a lot of unhappiness among certain
people in the military and others who had presumably had helped CBS that they
weren't publishing the story. I think they held it a few weeks, and somebody
eventually came to me, and that's how I learned about it. And, you know, I
was able to not only obtain the photographs but also obtain the report. And
so, you know, CBS, when they did publish, by the way, did a first-rate job.
But you know, one has to, in retrospect--you know, I wish I could say I
thought CBS was the only network that wouldn't publish like that, you know,
would have been held off. You know, we have a--this is a very tough time for
major networks, with a very tough government; it was an election year coming.
It's a little stunning that a story that's been widely described as the most
significant, you know, of Army malfeasance certainly, perhaps since My Lai,
took so long--a network took so long to get the pictures on air.
GROSS: In your mind, what was the argument for going with the story, and what
would have been the argument for sitting on it or not going with it at all?
Mr. HERSH: The argument for going...
GROSS: And I'm not asking you to talk on behalf of CBS, but just as yourself
as a reporter, knowing the huge implications that publishing this would have.
Mr. HERSH: Oh, my God, it's not even an argument. You know, our job is to
report what's there. The idea that Arabs who were not found guilty of
anything, whose legal status had not been adjudicated--one of the problems we
have in the whole--since the beginning of the war is there has been a complete
inability to differentiate between bad guy and good guy. And one of the
things that was so overwhelmingly depressing in the early days about
Guantanamo, that there was no system for differentiation, in violation of the
Geneva Convention, etc. And also, common sense and human dignity. Terry, I
mean, it's a question that I don't even understand. How--you know, at least
from my point of view, I mean, like, duh! You know...
GROSS: How do...
Mr. HERSH: ...we publish this.
GROSS: You have a pretty extraordinary record when it comes to breaking
stories. And you know, during the war in Iraq, you've broken several really
important stories including, of course, Abu Ghraib. Back in the war in
Vietnam, you broke the story of the My Lai massacre; you broke the story of
the secret bombing of Cambodia. Since Vietnam is so much back in the news now
because of the presidential campaign, I'm interested if you could compare the
reaction you got to breaking the Abu Ghraib story and breaking the story about
the My Lai massacre.
Mr. HERSH: Yeah, that's a good question. I have--My Lai was a much
different--look, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. When I was--I was
born in '37, and at the end of World War II, I used to go as a kid--my older
sisters would take us to the Victory Theater, and I used to watch--it was the
Saturday afternoon movies, and it was always--we were fighting the nips, and
it was always--the Americans were John Wayne and Van Johnson and Robert
Mitchum were always fellow fighters, you know, against the nips, and they
would be--one night they'd all be carousing and fighting over a nurse, and the
next day they were up in the air and they're up against the nips. And there
would be a scene--and the nips always flew with their canopies closed and
squinting and these little leather hats that were tied under--you know, little
bows under their chin. Our guys had the canopy open, no hats, scarves, going
thumbs-up all the time. And at a critical moment, one Nip would be ready to
kill Van Johnson, And Robert Mitchum, who had been fighting Van Johnson the
night before about a nurse, would go and fire some bullets, and then we'd
watch in the movie; the plane would be going along, and all of a sudden, a
bunch of bullets came in there and the plane--we'd hear the noise and it'd
start going down, the careening (makes high-pitched noise) and go down, and
just before it hit the water, a trickle of blood would come out of the Nip's
mouth, right? And he'd hit the water and we'd all cheer.
So My Lai--what did My Lai say to the American people? Wow, guess what? We
don't fight war any better than the nips and the Krauts of World War II. We
fight it just as badly. War is hell. And the public really didn't know that.
They really didn't understand. They'd seen these movies. We now know from
the works of Paul Fusella(ph) and others, that wonderful historian, that a lot
of the photographs from the combat of World War II and Korea were censored; we
weren't allowed in the--America because of censorship to see dead bodies, etc.
And so we really didn't have an understanding of what war was about. And so
My Lai was horrific.
Now we're wiser. We've gone through Vietnam. We know there's no virtue in
war. We know that bombs don't go where they're aimed. And so this story,
instead of triggering animosity, I think really had an impact in a way that it
cut across ideological boundaries, because even guys that support the war
cannot--you cannot support what we did in Abu Ghraib. And the investigations
so far are complete--there's some very good stuff in terms of what happened in
the prison system. Some of the Army investigations were great. They're a
complete washout when it gets into the higher chain of command. And it's not,
Terry, that Donald Rumsfeld or Vice President Cheney knew and
authorized--that's the way they always put it in their releases when they've
been criticizing my book saying nothing, nobody ever authorized, there's no
evidence that anybody was linked to Abu Ghraib, that's not the point. The
point is that the guys at the top--Condoleezza Rice, we know; Rumsfeld; all
sorts of senior officers--understood there were serious problems with the
prison system, at least by the fall of 2002, and nobody did anything. And
what message does that send?
GROSS: My guest is Seymour Hersh. His new book is called "Chain of Command."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Seymour Hersh is my guest, and his reports in The New Yorker broke the
story of Abu Ghraib, and now he has a new book called "Chain of Command: The
Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib."
Do you think that the Bush administration, that people high up in the Bush
administration have any second thoughts about Iraq? I mean, let's face it,
they didn't predict the nature of this insurgency. Do you think that they are
having second thoughts?
Mr. HERSH: Mmm. Are you kidding? The president? No, absolutely not. Not
a second thought at all. And they may not have predicted the insurgency, but
all kinds of rational people who worked for them did. I mean, it was
certainly well-known. I think one of the great schivlits(ph) of this whole
last few months has been the notion that somehow the Senate Intelligence
Committee report, suggesting that the CIA misled the president about weapons
of mass destruction, WMD, the fact of the matter is that the CIA was
pressured. There were many people in the CIA who had enormous disagreement
with the idea that Iraq, Saddam, was lethally or a serious threat from weapons
of mass destruction, and the White House overran them.
GROSS: But you...
Mr. HERSH: That's all there is.
GROSS: ...you point out the three Democrats on that Senate Intelligence
Committee wrote a dissenting report today, that the intelligence agencies were
pressured by the White House...
Mr. HERSH: Yes.
GROSS: ...to give the intelligence that they gave and, therefore, the White
House is culpable to...
Mr. HERSH: But they signed the report--but I know this is in the epilogue.
What struck me is staggering. This is--including Senator Levin of Michigan,
who's certainly one of the brightest guys in the Senate. They signed the
report. I mean, it says something--to me, that sort of says something about
the times, sort of the fear we have. Here are a group of senators who sign a
report that they immediate disavow, but they signed it. And everybody--I
think there's so much pressure not to appear to be disloyal. Maybe it's the
residue of 9/11, but at some point, we're going to have to decide that 9/11
cannot shape our destiny forever; that terrorism is a--as horrible as it was,
that everybody--none of us--you know, I don't have to say the obvious. But
we're going to have to come to a better understanding of terrorism, and it
doesn't mean not be worried about it, but means we have to cope better with
it. We can't simply let the prospect of another attack make us ignore the
reality of today, and that's what we're doing collectively.
GROSS: One of the many stories you broke was that the CIA in the 1960s spied
on people who were deemed to be domestic enemies. Were you ever spied on?
Mr. HERSH: Oh, you know, I don't want to know.
GROSS: Why not?
Mr. HERSH: I just don't want to know, because I--you know, let me tell you
something. I think I have as much right, I'm as good of American as anybody
in the White House, as anybody with two, three and four stars on their
shoulders. That's what makes America so great. I came--my parents are both
from--immigrants. And I went to public school in Chicago. We had no money.
And I didn't pay for education. I got out of college. I wasn't editor of the
Yale Daily News or the Harvard Crimson. And 11 years after getting out of
college in Chicago, I'm sticking two fingers, with the My Lai stories, into
the eye of a sitting Republican president, Richard Nixon, and getting
accolades for it, Pulitzer Prizes, fame, fortune, glory. And there's not many
countries you can do that, and that's still real. In other words, this is
still a country which has enormous respect for people taking the initiative.
I wish the press would do more.
GROSS: What are some of the biggest differences for you in the process of
investigative reporting, I mean, in the '60s when you started doing this and
Mr. HERSH: You know, it hasn't changed much. It's always in the medium.
It hasn't changed much. I do the same thing. I was very lucky, because all
during the early '70s, I worked at The New York Times during Watergate, and I
had an editor who was, you know, Abe Rosenthal, who was--you know, politically
disagreed with every story I wrote, but never, never intervened. He always
judged the stories on their merits, and it took a lot of integrity.
And at The New Yorker, David Remnick hasn't agreed with everything I've
written, but he has the same willingness to look at a story and--you know,
everything doesn't come from him. I mean, he can see--and there is--I will
tell you this. There is something remarkable about The New Yorker because
everything is o--they have this fact-checking. And you can talk about all you
want, it's very real. This book, for example, was edited by a New Yorker
editor and fact-checked by a New Yorker--one of the better New Yorker--they're
all good--one of the very good ones at The New Yorker fact-checked and the
publisher--my publisher--actually HarperCollins actually invested money to
make sure it was done to the same standards as everything in The New Yorker.
So when I write a story about a secret unit and I'm talking to people very
much on the inside, the people I talk to--and many of them I've known for many
years--do talk to the fact-checkers. It's not just a question of my editors
knowing who they are and their credentials. They talk to the fact-checker.
You mentioned the story about Cheney and the call he made to Rumsfeld. That
was given to me by...
GROSS: The call that there'd be no resignations.
Mr. HERSH: Right. Well, that was made by a very prominent official who did,
at my request, talk to a fact-checker and repeat the story. It's funny
because I know these guys. I know Rumsfeld. I know Scooter Libby. I know a
lot of these guys. I've been around Washington forever, you know, since the
'60s. And I had always liked Donald Rumsfeld. I always liked the Donald
Rumsfeld I knew until the last three years. Something about 9/11, all of a
sudden, it wasn't--you know, my take on Rumsfeld, by the way, is you cannot
separate Rumsfeld from the men running the government. The notion that he's
somehow different--when George Bush says, `Drive these guys out of their snake
holes,' Donald Rumsfeld's the guy who does it. He understands that as an
order. That's how a special operation team gets developed, because of a
presidential request. Rumsfeld is in the flow. They're all as one. He takes
But when I knew him, funny, charming, witty, great imitation of Sandy Berger,
and all of a sudden, the guy--I'm not kidding. I mean, I talked to him in
those years and during the Clinton years. And now you're either with him or
against him. The president made that at a very early speech after 9/11, and
that really has become a mantra for these guys, and so we, in the press, that
don't always fall in line are cut out, and other reporters--and here's one of
the problems that a ...(unintelligible) have and the networks--if they go too
far, they don't get access, and that's what these guys do. Everybody wants to
do it. The Clintons tried to do it, but they were always too disorganized to
get it done. These guys get it done.
And so I can tell you right now I'm a journalist, I'm also very much an
American; as I said, as an American, you know--and this is a great country,
and I don't want to run a story that will jeopardize an ongoing intelligence
operation or will jeopardize people. And in every administration until this
one, I've had high-level people I could go to privately. Now I've
gerrymandered way. I let people--there's some people I give my stories to,
you know, dropping off in a mailbox, you know, at night or something like that
so they can read it, not for accuracy but just to make sure there was nothing
in there that would jeopardize an ongoing program or people in the field, and
I've made changes, not that many, but I've made changes because I have sort of
a sense of what to do. But I've been forced to do it by, you know, going the
night before publication, the night the magazine closed, and sticking stuff in
a guy's mailbox and having him call me the next morning.
It's a whole new level of dissidence that we have inside this government. You
know, I thought his address at the convention, when he started talking about
the success we're having in Afghanistan and Iraq and the election's coming and
democracy is there, it was hallucinatory to me. You know, it just was, like,
wow, but he believes it. He's not lying. He really believes it. And you
know what's dangerous about these guys? It's not--believe me, it's not that
they're lying, conniving and that this is all done for oil and it's all done
for Israel. These are people who are utopians. They are really idealists,
very dangerous, because they really did believe that democracy--when they were
going to go into Iraq--and they went with 150,000 troops--they thought they
could go in with 5,000, some Special Forces guys, a few bombs and a lot of
American flags and lay them down, and not only would peace reign and a new
government would take place, but democracy would flow like water from the tap,
from the fountains, and not only that, it would spread to Syria and Iran.
These guys really believed that this was going to happen.
And if you remember the fighting about General Shinseki--you remember General
Shinseki, who said before the war that there would be 200,000 troops and
everybody in the government was mad. They weren't mad at him because he
mentioned a number. They were mad at Shinseki because, my God, he'd been in
the tank, he'd heard what they said, didn't he understand that once we went
in, democracy would fly? You didn't need any troops. Didn't he get it?
Hadn't he listened to what Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld was saying to the generals
in the tank in, you know, the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting? He didn't
understand. That was the complaint, in my view. It wasn't that he mentioned
two or 300,000 troops, is he didn't get it. They all had a shared
understanding that it was completely mad and wrong, meant nothing.
GROSS: One last question. I'm wondering if readers can expect to be reading
more investigative pieces by you in the near future in The New Yorker, if
you're working on something now?
Mr. HERSH: Well, you know, my nightmare is I'm going to have to do four more
years of this. You know, my God. I'd like to get back to, you know,
organized crime or something pleasant. The answer is, yes, I know--not so
much--the answer is, yes, I'm working on other stuff. Of course I am; you
know, not of this scope, but this is a government of complete disconnects, and
so there's a lot of stories in the government, of course. You know, in a way,
it's manna. In another way, you know, it's like, you know, enough already.
GROSS: Well, Seymour Hersh, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. HERSH: Hey, bye-bye.
GROSS: Seymour Hersh's new book is called "Chain of Command: The Road from
9/11 to Abu Ghraib."
As I mentioned at the top of the show, we called the Defense Department for
their comment. They declined to speak, but referred us to a statement from
September 10th on their Web site, which says, quote, "Based on media
inquiries, it appears that Mr. Hersh's upcoming book apparently contains many
of the numerous unsubstantiated allegations and inaccuracies which he has made
in the past based upon unnamed sources. Detainee operations in Afghanistan,
Iraq and elsewhere have been examined extensively. To date, the department
has conducted 11 investigations, of which eight reports have been completed
and released. There are ongoing investigations, and there will be more
information disclosed. Thus far, these investigations have determined that no
responsible official at the Department of Defense approved any program that
could conceivably have authorized or condoned the abuses seen at Abu Ghraib.
If any of Mr. Hersh's anonymous sources wish to come forward and offer
evidence to the contrary, the department welcomes them to do so. There are
several open investigations, and we would certainly investigate their
allegations without prejudice or hesitation," unquote.
Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a batch of Duke Ellington
reissues. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Profile: Duke Ellington reissues
TERRY GROSS, host:
Over the summer and spring, Columbia re-released six albums Duke Ellington
recorded for the label between 1950 and 1961. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead
provides a quick survey with plenty of music thrown in.
(Soundbite of music)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
Duke Ellington and the orchestra, 1959, on "Blues in Blueprint," with Harry
Carney playing that fractured boogie baseline on bass clarinet. It's on
"Blues in Orbit," just back out on Columbia. We could go on about the
infinite varieties of Duke's blues and his peerless gift for exploiting
distinctive soloists, but let's have more music instead. The 1951 album,
"Masterpieces by Ellington," has long and elaborate versions of his older
classics. On a revamped "Mood Indigo," the 1930 tune by Ellington and Barney
Bigard, is a pioneer's log cabin dwarfed by skyscrapers.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: The new Ellington reissues include a pair of early '60s albums
more heard of than heard, "Piano in the Foreground" and "Piano in the
Background." The latter features more, but shorter updated oldies, including a
few charts by outside arrangers. Los Angeles band leader Gerald Wilson's
version of "Perdido" is a Hollywood spectacular, but the saxophone writing has
the Ellington touch. That's Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Ray Nance and Willie Cooke on trumpets from the CD "Piano in the
Background." "Piano in the Foreground," the stripped-down Duke, with just bass
and drums, playing a few standards and some lesser-known tunes of his own.
It's tasty, less tumultuous than "Money Jungle" with Max Roach and Charles
Mingus a year later. All these Ellington reissues have excellent notes by
Patricia Willard and a smattering of bonus tracks. The five untitled pieces
from 1957 added to "Piano in the Foreground" steal the show. You can hear how
Duke uses piano to sketch out the sound of the orchestra. Jimmy Woode on bass
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: For Duke Ellington, writing music was like breathing. As a
composer doomed to play his old hits for the people, he had the wisdom to keep
reinventing them, to take their place beside his new stuff and the endlessly
renewable form of the blues.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Down Beat and The Absolute Sound. He
reviewed Duke Ellington reissues on the Columbia label.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.