There was a time when journalistic standards meant reporting facts and not taking sides, but nowadays the news is editorialised; sometimes by presenting one facet of a story; on other occasions by omission. Ukraine is a prime example. Russian Television (RT) and CNN seem to be operating on different planets. Television coverage of the civil war in Syria is also polarised in the extreme. Watch the Iranian English-language channel Press TV and you’d be forgiven for thinking President Bashar Al Assad is walking around under a halo, while he’s presented as a ruthless perpetrator of genocide by most western networks.
Very often, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and surely news outlets have a duty to relay every facet of the story, permitting viewers to make up their own minds. But unfortunately most fall under the sway of governments and corporate interests, which goes a long way towards explaining why the latest inconvenient truths revealed by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh have been ignored by US print and television giants. Luckily for those of us interested in fitting all pieces of the puzzle together, the respected London Review of Books had sufficient gumption and integrity to publish and be damned. The publication has a courageous history; it was the first to publish the controversial article on the Israeli lobby by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt that ignited a firestorm.
Not to be sidelined
Hersh isn’t some hack, known for coming up with reckless assumptions. Indeed, he’s been commended for exposing US atrocities in Vietnam — in particular the massacre at My Lai where the US Army killed 500 civilians — as well as America’s brutality against detainees in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison; incidents which the majority of Americans would prefer to forget. Hersh’s pen is akin to our own consciences perched uncomfortably on our shoulders; whether we agree with him or not, he does not deserve to be sidelined into obscurity.
His report titled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” is long and meticulously detailed so I can only offer you a brief précis. He contends that the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports the Al Nusra Front and other jihadist groups and says he was told by a former senior US intelligence official with access to current intelligence that “some in the Turkish government believed they could get Al Assad in a vice by dabbling with a Sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat”.
He further suggests that the Obama administration misled the public by claiming the Syrian army was the only party with access to sarin gas. “On 20 June, analysts for the US Defence Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing … which stated that Al Nusra maintained a sarin production cell …” He reminds us that in May “more than ten members of the Al Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey” with two kilograms of sarin but they were freed after being briefly detained. And he goes on to quote a source “with knowledge” of the special UN mission to Syria tasked with investigating chemical attacks on civilians during March and April last year, who said, “Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.” When samples were analysed by the UK’s Porton Down, findings were sent by UK Defence staff to US joint chiefs. The former intelligence official said this was a message to the Americans to the effect “We’re being set-up here”. Backing up that conclusion, Hersh cites a “terse” message by a senior CIA official that read: “It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.”
The veteran reporter writes, “By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.” His article has resonated with me because from the get-go I had a hard time in believing that Al Assad would be stupid enough to launch poisons just hours after UN investigators flew in to Damascus.
Turkish involvement can’t be dismissed when a leaked recording of government national security officials captured a discussion about a potential false-flag operation to provide the Turkish military with a pretext to invade Syria.
Whether the reality lets Al Assad off the hook in respect of chemicals, this does not in any way whitewash his other crimes, nothing can erase the fact that over 140,000 Syrians are dead, millions more displaced and tens of thousands are imprisoned.
But if Hersh is correct, this means Al Assad’s foes are resorting to dirty tricks and telling lies to the public, the kind of lies that took western armies into Iraq with terrible consequences. It goes without saying that there are those who believe the end justifies the means and others who readily accept that truth is the first casualty of war.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org