Leading American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, an enemy of sedentary reporters and lying governments, speaks to the New Statesman:
Is it always a journalist’s duty to report the truth, even if it may damage innocents?
I’m a total First Amendment Jeffersonian. It’s their job to keep it secret and my job to find it out and make it public. But once one gets some information, one doesn’t run pell-mell into it. You know, maybe six or seven times in 40 years I’ve had a story and the president has called up and said: “If you write this story, American security will be damaged.” In every case except one, we wrote the story. And son of a bitch, the Russians didn’t launch paratroopers into the foothills of San Francisco the next day.
Do you ever worry that your phone is bugged?
Some people I only talk to in their home or their office, but I arrange the calls here. To bug me legally they’d have to get a warrant; once you have something illegally you can’t use it very much. If the 9/11 attacks taught us one thing, it’s that the agencies collect lots of wonderful stuff they don’t share with anybody.
How have you managed to remain an outsider for so long?
There’s no way they would deal with me. The Obama White House can’t abide me. Within a month, they were going behind my back to my editor: “What’s your man Hersh doing?”
On Iran, are we repeating the mistakes that were made on Iraq?
Some of the things are very disturbing. We are getting new leadership at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The next wave there is not going to be as rational. It’s amazing to me, as someone who went to the Vietnam war and Iraq war, and now the Afghan war. There’s simply no learning curve.
Post-Bush, do you think there’s still a risk of a military strike on Iran by Israel or the US?
Where do you place yourself on the political spectrum?
I’m your standard left liberal, but I vote for Republicans, I’ve given money to them. I’m not a pacifist. I would have been tough on Osama Bin Laden after 9/11. But I’d have done it legally.
Are you disappointed Obama didn’t release those “torture pictures”?
His position is that, at a time when we have 130,000 Americans in Afghanistan, putting the pictures out would just inflame people to take action against them. The New York Times has been editorialising against him, but when it had a reporter captured, it thought it was perfectly appropriate not to talk about it publicly for seven months, on the grounds that the paper was trying to protect his life.
Are we doomed?
The trouble is that hope sprang anew in America last November. And I think the dashing of that hope is going to be much more lethal than even the cynicism under Bush and Cheney. If that hope is dashed, we’ll really be in trouble around the world.