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Opinion: A Mixed Record | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A sharp increase in the number of al-Qaida linked fighters joining the fight against President Bashar Assad in Syria is threatening to spill over the borders and prompting the Jewish state to re-evaluate its policy of neutrality in the civil war next door, a senior Israeli intelligence official warned on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because military regulations prevent him from releasing the information, claimed more than 30,000 al-Qaida linked fighters are active in Syria, more than double previous Western estimates. (AP PHOTOS)

When US investigative journalist and author Seymour Hersh writes an article accusing Turkish intelligence of involvement 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.

Hersh has a record of great journalistic achievements: in the late 1960s, he exposed US troops’ involvement in massacres in Vietnam. He also wrote about one of the most famous scandals in US history: Watergate. Ten years ago, he helped expose the torture of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison by US soldiers.

Hasn’t everyone who read Hersh’s latest article judged it on the basis of his previous record? And now media outlets in support of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad are celebrating it.

It’s enough to search for Hersh’s name online to find tweets relating to the article saying he exposed the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq and the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Such tweets are enough to convince many people that Turkish intelligence killed the Syrians in Ghouta and not the Syrian regime. So why the need to double-check the man’s article?

However, double-checking, in Hersh’s case in particular, is nevertheless necessary, and accepting his claims in his recent article without thoroughly researching them puts one in danger of ignoring facts that some would prefer to conceal. Yes, Hersh has had more than one scoop that has gained him great recognition, but there’s more to the man than this. The credibility of what he says also calls for the need to consider his record of failures—a record that’s actually as important as that of his achievements.

In 1974, Hersh wrote that the US envoy in Chile was warned of the coup against Allende before it happened. Years later, Hersh apologized and said what he wrote wasn’t true. A book he wrote on former US President John F. Kennedy contained several inaccuracies. In 2004, Hersh said he documented information that George W. Bush’s administration would launch a war on Iran. It turned out that none of this was true. During the US occupation of Iraq, Hersh said that 1 billion US dollars had disappeared and that a television station was under threat of being excluded from press briefings because it had asked embarrassing questions of 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 failures will not be disappointed either. It’s necessary to remember this when reading Hersh’s recent piece on Syrian chemical weapons—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 such as The Guardian, The New York Times and the Washington Post refused to publish Hersh’s recent report because it did not meet required journalistic standards. Many Western media outlets ignored it as well. The report was, however, celebrated by leftist groups tempted by the idea that the article included an accusation against the US administration. As for the Syrians, they are not waiting for Hersh’s article to find out who killed them using chemicals. They know the murderer very well. They are currently busy dodging his barrel bombs.