To believe, or not to believe? Seymour Hersh’s Syria allegations

American investigative journalist and author Seymour Hersh made some damning accusations regarding the Syrian chemical weapons attack

Diana Moukalled
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When American investigative journalist and author Seymour Hersh writes an article accusing Turkish intelligence of getting involved in the chemical attack in Syria’s suburb of Ghouta last summer, we must pause and reconsider previous accusations made against the Syrian regime of being involved in the crime.

This journalist has a hefty record of achievements: in the late 1960s, he exposed American troops’ involvement in massacres in Vietnam. He also wrote about one of the most famous scandals in U.S. history; Watergate. Ten years ago, he was behind exposing American soldiers’ torture of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Hasn’t everyone who welcomed what Hersh wrote about the Syrian affair based their response on this sequence of achievements? And now, media outlets in support of the Assad regime celebrate Hersh’s article.


It’s enough to search for Seymour Hersh’s name online, on Twitter for example, to find tweets on his piece on Syrian chemical weapons accompanied with a short sentence saying that Hersh exposed the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq and the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Such a sentence along with the tweets is enough to convince many that the Turkish intelligence killed the Syrians in Ghouta and not the Syrian regime. Thus there’s no need to double check the man’s article.


But double checking, in Seymour Hersh’ case in particular, is necessary, and believing his recent article without thoroughly researching it puts one in danger of ignoring facts which some desire to evade. Yes, Hersh has more than one scoop that gained him global awards but there’s more to the man than this. The credibility of what he says also calls for considering his record of failures - a record that’s actually as important as the record of his achievements.

Casting doubt

In 1974, Seymour Hersh wrote that America’s envoy in Chile was involved in a coup. Years later, Hersh apologized and said what he wrote wasn’t true. A book he wrote on former American President John Kennedy contained several fallacies based on a specific source. Also years later, Hersh himself described his source as a liar. In 2004, Hersh said he documented information that George Bush’s administration would launch a war on Iran. It turned out that none of this was true. During America’s occupation of Iraq, he said that $1 billion disappeared and that a television station was under the threat of being shut down because it had posed embarrassing questions for the-then first lady Laura Bush. None of these claims were proven true.

The truth is, he who desires to examine the man’s achievements will find plenty of them and he who wants to examine the man’s failure will not be disappointed. This is necessary to note when reading Hersh’s recent piece on Syrian chemical weapons as he based his report on what he described as a single “well-informed” source without presenting any document, photo or even official report.

Prominent newspapers like The Guardian, The New York Times and the Washington Post refused to publish Hersh’ recent report because it does not meet the required journalistic standards. Many Western media outlets ignored this report as well. The report was, however, celebrated by leftist groups tempted by the idea that the article included an accusation against the American administration. As for the Syrians, they are not waiting for Hersh’ article to find out who killed them using chemicals. They know the murderer very well but they are currently busy escaping his barrel bombs.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 14, 2014.


Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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