Thursday, November 02, 2006

Put Up or Shut Up

Sy Hersh is at it again. Speaking before a friendly audience at McGill University in Toronto, The New Yorker contributor took his own swipe at U.S. troops, saying there "has never been an American Army as violent and murderous as our army in Iraq."

To support his assertion, Mr. Hersh "described" video he has viewed that allegedly shows American soldiers murdering a group of Iraqi civilians playing soccer. In his own words:

“Three U.S. armed vehicles, eight soldiers in each, are driving through a village, passing candy out to kids,” he began. “Suddenly the first vehicle explodes, and there are soldiers screaming. Sixteen soldiers come out of the other vehicles, and they do what they’re told to do, which is look for running people.”

“Never mind that the bomb was detonated by remote control,” Hersh continued. “[The soldiers] open up fire; [the] cameras show it was a soccer game.”

“About ten minutes later, [the soldiers] begin dragging bodies together, and they drop weapons there. It was reported as 20 or 30 insurgents killed that day,” he said.

Readers will note that there are only a few details missing from Mr. Hersh's sensational account. Where did the incident take place? When did it occur? What American unit was involved? Who were the soldiers who allegedly committed these atrocities? Who provided the video, and most importantly, why hasn't he gotten around to writing a story on this incident, and why hasn't it been reported to the proper authorities?

Oh right. As Hersh explained a bit later in his lecture, the U.S. government is essesntially controlled by "eight or nine neocon cultists," so I'm guessing that Don Rumsfeld (who's probably part of the cabal) wouldn't believe his accusations. Still, there ought to be someone he could trust to investigate the claims.

Not that Mr. Hersh hasn't distorted the facts in the past. In fact, he has admitted At an ACLU convention in 2004, he alleged that Iraqi prisoners had been sexually tortured at Abu Ghraib, and charged that the atrocities had been recorded with video records and still cameras. Hersh subsequently modified the story, claiming (at one point) that U.S. troops were involved in the incidents. Later, he changed the narrative again, saying he had read a witness statement from Abu Ghraib which alleged that a contract interpreter raped an Iraqi boy while a woman took pictures."

So, what actually happened, Sy? The photographic evidence never materialized, and the atrocities have never been independently confirmed. The same holds true for another alleged massacre, which reportedly occurred in a village between Baghdad and the Syrian border (a rather large piece of real estate). According to Mr. Hersh, U.S. troops were ordered to "clear" the village and responded by killing 36 local residents.

Hersh apparently hasn't written about any of these incidents, or (if he has), the stories never passed muster with the fact checkers or the legal department at The New Yorker. But on the lecuture circuit, there's no need to let the facts get in the way of an incredible story, especially when it offers the opportunity to take another shot at the hated Bush Administration.

The burden of proof should be the same for Seymour Hersh as it is for any journalist. Put up or shut up. If he has irrefutable proof of these atrocities, fine, publish it and let the chips fall where they may. Otherwise, quit masquerading as the serious journalist who "exposed" the My Lai massacre and get a blog like everyone else. But come to think of it, the standards of proof are actually higher in the blogosphere, so Hersh is better off on the lecture circuit, and in the pages of The New Yorker.

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