Seymour Hersh : The US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison.

"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher."



Transcript of Seymour Hersh's ACLU Keynote Speech Here


Seymour Hersh's ACLU Keynote Speech Transcribed

On July 8, Seymour Hersh addressed the ACLU's 2004 Membership Conference. 

Introduction [1:07:40]

Ö The truth is, it's so ironicÖ the best information we may get about this election may come from a combination of The Control Room, Fahrenheit 9/11, John Sayles, the nightly news from Jon Stewart if some of you watch that. At the height of the prisoner abuse stories, [Jon Stewart] had one of his mock news broadcasters say very seriously to the camera, on the Stewart show, he said, "The important thing is not that we commit torture and abuses, it's that we're a country that doesn't condone torture and abuses" [laughter] ó that's a wonderful line.

And so, you start talking about failures of communication, I don't know where we're going to go with this, I can't make you feel happy about where we are. We've got a very important election coming up, probably the most important since, what, 1860. I think it is, and there's nothing I can say to you about any of that. Ö

So here we are. The bottom line is, by the way, I'm in a tough position because I'm not done reporting on all of this. Ö It's a tough position because there is more to the story. Ö

Standards for Government Ethics [1:10:25]

I guess the way to describe how you look at things is, I donít know about you, but I have a wife and children, and one of the things that makes life livable is trusting in my partner, never lying to my children and never wanting my children ó with the exception of teenage girls [laughter] ó to lie to me about anything. Ö

But basically you know what Iím talking about, the core of how we exist. The way we live ó not us, thereís nothing special about us, everybody in the world ó we all live, the most important thing in our life is our family structure and the integrity with which we live, and the honesty with which we conduct our life, and the trust with which we have people [sic].

And if you think about it, you begin to understand the bad bargain we have [now]. Itís, it's, it's a condition, a requirement, one that we so desperately live with our own families with that we donít even begin to levy on the President of the United States and the National Security Advisor. Itís not even a requirement [for them]. We donít even have any expectation that theyíre going to have the same trust and integrity in conducting their affairs as we do in our own personal life.

Itís a bad bargain for us in the commonweal. We donít even begin ó we understand what they are. You heard talking about Henry Kissinger, who, for all of his genius, lied like most of us breathe. And when youíre in a situation like that ó is that partisan or non-partisan, I don't know [referring to the ACLU's need to remain non-partisan].

But itís really a bad bargain. And we live with it pretty happily, we go along, ok another President, another National Security Advisor, Condi Rice in this case ó and we know we donít get the story, and what do they have the right to do? They have the right to send our children, men and women now, in the name of democracy to go kill people and be killed and torture and perhaps be tortured in return, which is always going to be the end result of torture. And so, I think thereís nothing wrong with holding these people to the highest possible standards. It doesnít happen enough. But thatís what we have to do.

Scope of the Crimes of Torture [1:12:50]

We donít know ó Iíll tell you right now, the reason Iím saying all that ó is what happened at Abu Ghraib, I can just tell you this, and I have to do the reporting on this and you have to wait for me to do it ó but itís not about an academic debate in long essays between the Justice Department and the White House, legal essays about where the Geneva Convention ends and the Presidential prerogative begins.

What we had was a series of massive crimes, criminal activity by the President and the Vice President, by this administration anyway, I can say that, I canít say who did it.

The only way to look at this is as war crimes. What happened are war crimes. Iím not saying itís there yet. Itís not there yet. But thatís where it has to go. We have to stop looking at it as some sort of academic debate about Geneva Conventions and really begin to look at it in terms of: Who did what? Who died? Why did he die? Are there people missing? Are we doing what the Brazilians and Argentineans did back two or three decades ago and actually into this decade? Are we disappearing people? Are there people being tortured knowingly in advance that the torture was going to put their lives in peril and is nothing being done to relieve their suffering to the point that they die?

Is there mens rea? Is there guilty knowledge? Is it a crime? And weíre going to get there, because I think thatís where itís sort of ineluctably going, you can just see on and on and on, and weíre not there yet. Iím not telling you I can take it there, Iím just telling you that thatís the way you have to look at it.

Repercussions in the Arab World [1:14:25]

Iíll tell you what an Israeli told me. And the Israelis as you know ó a very tough, hard-nosed Israeli told me at one point, about all this ó he said, you know, we hate the Arabs. This is a guy who spent his career in the intelligence service and, you know, his hands are bloody. He said, we hate the Arabs, and the Arabs hate us, and before 1948, weíve been killing Arabs, and theyíve been killing us. But I have to tell you something, he said. We know somewhere down the line, weíre going to have to live with these people, much as we canít stand them, theyíre going to have to be our neighbors. And if we had done in our prisons to the Arabs what you have done to the Arabs in your prisons, we couldnít live that way.

And so the bottom line is we have started something that we donít know [what] the end, the bottom line, is of this treatment, as more details come out.

And I can tell you it was much worse, and the government knows it's much worse, than theyíve even told you. There are worse photos, worse videotapes, worse events. To The New Yorkerís credit we decided, not for censorship, but just how much can you, how much can you levy on Arab manhood, in public?

But Arabs, I will tell you, itís not just the radicals ó and we all know how this policy, this administrationís policies, in Afghanistan, too, and also of course in Iraq, has really done exactly the contrary of what they said they were going to do. They haven't ended the war of terrorism ó theyíve expanded it ó thatís nothing obvious [sic], thatís totally clear.

But Arabs now, moderate Arabs, Arabs that normally would be doing the kind of ó as you know, the overwhelming, the vastly overwhelming percentage of moderate Arabs deplored what happened to this country on 9/11, as much as anybody here ó but those Arabs weíve lost. They see us as a sexually perverse society. The sexual stuff we did to them is seen as just perversion. And I think weíre going to have consequences for a long time to come. Thereís an awful lot of respect in the Arab world for Americans, I travel there all the time, and American Jews even, itís not, nobodyís going to ó I wouldnít walk around Baghdad ó but most of the world is very safe. We have a lot of problems.

The Neocon Cult [1:16:47]

So, rather than deal with the obvious stuff about Bush and this election and what it means, I think the real question we have to answer, and this is the question I'm inchoate about, I don't have an answer Ö

The question we have to say to ourselves is, ok, so hereís what happens, a bunch of guys, 8 or 9 neoconservatives, cultists ó not Charles Manson cultists, but cultists ó get in and it's not, with all due respect to Michael Moore, and youíll read it, his movieís fine, but itís not about oil, itís not even about protecting Israel, itís about a Utopia they have, itís about an idea they have. Not only about ó democracy can be spread ó in a sense, I would say Paul Wolfowitz is the greatest Trotskyite of our time, he believes in permanent revolution, and in the Middle East to begin, needless to say.

And so you have a bunch of people who've been for 10, 12 years have been fantasizing since the 1991 Gulf War on the way to resolve problems. And of course Israel will be a beneficiary and etc. etc., but the world in their eyes ó this was Utopia. And so they got together, this small group of cultists, and how did they do it? They did do it. Theyíve taken the government over. And whatís amazing to me, and what really is troubling, is how fragile our democracy is. Look what happened to us.

[In the press, there is] self-censorship, which is the beacon word for me, you know I always think it comes more, you know there is a corporate mentality out there, but thereís also a tremendous amount of self-censorship among the press. Itís like a disease.

But also ó they not only ó they took away the edge from the press, they also muzzled the bureaucracy, they muzzled the military, they muzzled the Congress, and itís an amazing feat. Weíre supposed to be a democratic society, and all of those areas of our democracy bowed and scraped to this group of neocons who advocated a policy.

General Shinseki [1:19:05]

You know, we all know the story of how mad they got at General Shinseki, who I think is going to run for the Senate in Hawaii and should, for Inouyeís seat, heís a great general. The important thing about Shinseki for me, and this is just heuristic, I donít know this, the important thing about Shinseki is this. He testifies before the Gulf War weíre going to need a couple hundred thousand troops and everybody, Wolfowitz and the others ó I count Wolfowitz, I lead with him, because heís sort of the, heís the genius in the background, heís the man, very articulate, very persuasive ó and so Shinseki testifies we need a couple hundred thousand and everybodyís mad at him, it's about two weeks before the war, and it made sense, everybody said, they were mad because he's talking about numbers these guys say you wonít need. They're going to go invade Iraq and you know the story, they were going to be greeted with flowers and all that stuff, we all know that story.

But it wasnít that. Their complaint with Shinseki was really much more interesting. It was: didnít he get it? Didnít he know what weíve been talking about, in the tank with the JCS and the generals ó didnít he get it? We could do it with five thousand troops, we have to make these bargains with these crazy Clinton-ized generals ó Iím talking like Rummy, like Rumsfeld would talk ó literally, unfortunately ó these soft generals, these Clinton-ized generals ó didnít Shinseki get it? Didnít he understand what weíre doing here? We did it in Afghanistan, weíre going to do it in Iraq. Some Special Forces, some bombing, weíre going to take it over. Itís going to be like this. He didnít get it, that was the problem, thatís why they had to read him out. He wasnít on the team.

And so you have a government that basically has been operating since 9/11 very successfully on the principle that if youíre with us youíre a genius, if youíre against us youíre not just somebody [in the] loyal opposition, youíre a traitor. They canít deal with you. Iím exaggerating very slightly.

Pentagon in Disarray [1:21:00]

So what does that mean? That means no dissent. Somebody I know recently was working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a budget issue. The budgetís in incredible chaos, the Defense Department budget. Donít hold me to this, because, you know The New Yorker has this great fact-checking system, this is just something Iíve heard, but among the problems they have, they canít find something like one billion dollars in cash that was known to be in Iraq, they just canít find it. And you know weíre talking with the b-word there, you known one billion.

And so theyíve got huge problems that theyíre spending and the Joint Chiefs, this was in big league meetings, and then this gentleman has to go and brief his findings. Heís an outside expert, heís done an investigation, he has to brief Rumsfeld, and one of the senior generals who happens to be a very good guy ó not General Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, whoís know to many generals as ďhear no evil, see no evilĒ, you know we have that incredible sort of problem ó I wish, this is a digression, I wish they had more guts, the two, three, and four stars. I shouldnít say that because Iím obviously a beneficiary, you know, indirectly, Iím the beneficiary for their thoughts in some cases, but it is sort of sad that none of them have come forward and really blasted away, because I can tell you right now, the disaffection inside the Pentagon is really extremely acute, thereís never been anything like it, and they feel that this government doesnít care about ó you know a good officer, and I could tell you right now, donít make the mistake of thinking that theyíre not good people, they are, and in the intelligence service too, theyíre people like everybody else. They want to do their job right, they want to do it with as much honor as they can. And this is something that I feel ó I know these guys, and they do care. But they also, the good ones, also theyíre in loco parentis. One of the things they take very seriously, particularly, you known I'm a Marine, you know what Iím talking about, you give your children to them, they take of you. They canít do that now in Iraq. They really donít think we care, and they don' think, they certainly donít think people in the White House care. Ö

Rumsfeld Refuses to Listen [1:23:10]

So one of the good generals, one of the good guys goes in for a meeting with Rumsfeld, and the person Iím talking about is describing the condition that heís discovered of the budget planning. Weíre talking about lots of billions of dollars, this war is going to probably end up being the trillion dollar war that nobody ó you canít even begin to estimate the cost.

When you see the Moore movie, and in [The] Control Room, when you see those movies, the photographs that are the most gripping are the photographs of Baghdad before the war. And look, I know he's a bad guy, etc., etc., etc., Saddam, but still, and the rebuilding ó

Anyway, the point is that my friend, this person told Rumsfeld how bad things are, and Rumsfeld of course said, oh my God, thatís absolutely wrong, he said, thereís nothing like that, thereís no problem with the budget and he turned to this ranking general and said, isnít that right? And this general, in front of this outsider, said yes sir, youíre right. And thatís what happens, thatís what you have now, and to me, thereís nothing more scary. That the Secretary of Defense is simply incapable of hearing what he doesnít want to hear. And heís not the ideologue that Wolfowitz is. You couple that with an ideologue, and I donít know what we can do. I donít know what any of us can do to stop it.

Transfer of Iraqi ďSovereigntyĒ [1:24:50]

I think whatís going to happen is the Presidentís ó my guess is, first of all, again, the idea that three networks ó or at least two of them ó I think all three sent their anchormen through Baghdad on the 30th for this transfer of sovereignty and I just wonder, I mean, how out of touch are they? What sovereignty? What sovereignty do we have to give? Thereís no phones, thereís no electricity [laughter] ó no, this is a sad fact. There is no sovereignty, thereís no army. Itís a Potemkin village maybe, yes, so theyíre going to go inside the CPA where the grass is green and the air-conditioning works and theyíre going to have a change of command with the press monitoring it and they had all three anchors there. I thought to myself, wow, itís really scary. Weíre getting into ó weíre making the pictures and weíre believing them now, more than ever. So it doesnít have much reality.

So the Presidentís, I would guess the Presidentís policy is ó heís got no, he doesnít have a policy behind the new government, the Allawi government, which is basically a bunch of outsiders taking control, and everybodyís got their hands in certain ó thereís no way this governmentís going to be acceptable to anybody except a very small minority of people. Itís not going to work, itís not going to stop the insurgency.

Whatís Next in Iraq [1:26:10]

I think youíre going to see a lot of efforts to try to paint the insurgency in the next month as increasingly being outsiders. Iíve seen already the first ďshowdownĒ between al Qaeda and the United States. ďAl Qaedaís taken over the insurgencyĒ ó I donít think thatís true at all. And I can tell you right now ó this I'm telling you I know ó a year ago, a year and a half ago, there was total panic inside, because the opposition, the insurgency, was operating in 1, 2, and 3 man cells and we knew nothing about them. I can tell you right now, they're operating in 10 and 15 man cells right now and we still know nothing about them. The interrogations havenít worked, no matter how much pressure they put on people. We have no tactical information of any use whatsoever.

And if you go to Europe and talk to some of the intelligence people there and some of the people in the Middle East who are our friends ó we have many friends, who are very sad about whatís happened to America, are praying for the next election ó they will tell you even the stuff youíre hearing about Zarqawi ó Zarqawi, excuse me, Zarqawi is mister everybody, heís never liked bin Laden, and itís not clear that the person that we claim responsible for all those acts is he. Some of the people who know the Arab world very well and very carefully and listen to his statements. Heís a Jordanian, and many of the comments that have been alleged to have been in his name are not made by him. In other words, the suggestion is that heís a composite figure. Heís very convenient.

I donít want to suggest to you that weíve ever been propagandized by our government [laughter], but itís very convenient. Itís very convenient to keep on telling the press that Zarqawiís ó my favorite one is that nice kid that was beheaded, remember. The guy that beheaded him had a hood over him. He was described very confidently by the American establishment government as Zarqawi. Well, if they can see through hoods. Anyway ó

So, I think the policyís going to be, weíve got this guy Allawi and this government, letís stand him up and see if he can past the election, and letís just escalate, and bomb, and bomb, and bomb. And the only answer for these guys is going to be more pressure, more military force. We accept as commonplace, every day now, weíre emulating Israel in [their] missile attacks, and itís a daily occurrence. We keep on bombing places in Fallujah, claiming weíve gotten rid of Zarqawi, who keeps on not showing up anyway, whoever he is.

We donít have much intelligence, and weíre escalating a war. Bombing, missile attacks, much more violence, itís come, crept up on us, you know little cat paw, and weíre there. Weíre there in a full-scale, increasingly intense military activity, more bombing, more air force planes, more ordnance, more shelling, what we call force protection ó that is, youíre not going to send troops somewhere where you can just fire a lot of missiles [instead], which means of course more collateral damage, more civilians, which means of course more opposition, more insurgency.

Torture: Worse Revelations to Come [1:29:08]

What they did at Abu Ghraib and other places was, the people they would get, they would torture. And sometimes, for an Arab man, being photographed without clothes on ó in the Koran, youíre not allowed, this front [motioning to his body] cannot be exposed ó and to be exposed that way and to be forced to simulate sexual activity with other males and have women give the thumbs-up sign is the ultimate degradation. Itís literally ó any classic definition of ó itís torture. Torture isnít always physical. Itís a torturous process.

And the purpose of it, of course, is to generate information. So what do you get? You get people that know nothing. The ICRC, the international Red Cross, estimated in the prison population at Abu Ghraib at the time of the worst abuses, they estimated that upwards of 90% had no bearing at all on anthing anti-American, or any activity that had anything to do with the insurgency. This wonderful general, Antonio Taguba, the report that I got, this guy Taguba's report estimated that 60% had nothing to do [with it].

So you take these people, you expose them to the ridicule and physical torture that you can, and they end up telling you. Yes, they'll give you the names of people in their neighborhood that are al Qaeda, or terrorists, insurgency, and they give you names. And of course they're just names, they're just doing it, and then you arrest those people, and bring them in, and you start the process. And the circle gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

And I would ó debating about it [long pause]. Some of the worst things that happened that you donít know about. OK? Videos. There are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at [Abu Ghraib], which is about 30 miles from Baghdad ó 30 kilometers, maybe, just 20 miles, I'm not sure whether it's ó anyway. The women were passing messages out saying please come and kill me because of whatís happened. And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been [video] recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. That your government has, and theyíre in total terror itís going to come out. Itís impossible to say to yourself, how did we get there, who are we, who are these people that sent us there.

When I did My Lai, I was very troubled, like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened, and I ended up in something I wrote saying, in the end, I said, the people that did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed, because of the scars they had.

I can tell you some of the personal stories of some of the people who were in these units who witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers. And so weíre dealing with an enormous, massive amount of criminal wrong-doing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher. And we have to get to it, and we will. And we will, I mean, you know, thereís enough out there, they can't ó [applause]

So ó so, itís going to be an interesting election year, it is. Itís going to be Bush vs. Bush, I think, largely, in my view, not that the Democrats, or Ralph Nader, wonít have something to do with it, but itís really going to be, itís Bush running against Bush.

The Justice Department [1:33:05]

And, I donít know where weíre going to come out. And, I guess, I guess the only thing I can say is that above and beyond that, all of you know because all of you care about the Constitutional rights and whatís going on in the government, the issues that many in [the ACLU] are deeply involved in, one of the other great shocking examples of self-censorship, or just sheer cowardness, or what you will, is just the inability of the press corps to deal with the Justice Department and whatís happened there.

Itís one of the great failings ó I can tell you the degradation of that place has been so total, and there are people, again, there are many people in those places that really care about human rights. I was getting emails on September the 12th, 2001, from people the inside the FBI saying we are in real trouble with this guy Ashcroft. So there are people there that care, they fight, as hard as they can. Itís not as if ó when you have the kind of leadership we have, I donít know where we go. I just wish I could tell you ó I am telling you ó go back, do what you can, Ö youíre going to say to yourself, as many people have said to me, Iíd better do more. But also be terribly aware, that we are so disconnected with this leadership that itís not necessarily clear that what you do is going to impact on them.

Because these are people that are really out there. We have really been ó you know, as I say, itís not the Manson clan ó but we really have been taken over, and we have to do something to stop it, and letís hope we can do it electorally.

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