His work first gained worldwide recognition in 1969 for exposing the My Lai Massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War, for which he received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. His 2004 reports on the US military's mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison gained much attention.
Hersh received the 2004 George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting given annually by Long Island University to honor contributions to journalistic integrity and investigative reporting. This was his fifth George Polk Award, the first one being a Special Award given to him in 1969.
His 1983 book The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House won him the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times book prize in biography. In 1985, Hersh contributed to the PBS television documentary Buying the Bomb.
Later releases of government information confirmed that there was a PSYOPS campaign against the Soviet Union that had been in place from the first few months of the Reagan administration. This campaign included the largest US Pacific Fleet exercise ever held, in April to May 1983. The report states that the Soviets, "probably didn't know (KAL 007) was a civilian aircraft" and uses Hersh's book as a reference for the PSYOPS campaign.
Hersh repeated the allegations during a press conference held in London to publicize his book. No British newspaper would publish the allegations because of Maxwell's famed litigiousness. However, two British MPs raised the matter in the House of Commons, which meant that British newspapers were able to report what had been said without fear of being sued for libel. Maxwell called the claims "ludicrous, a total invention," although perhaps coincidentally, he sacked Nick Davies shortly thereafter.
A recent article, "The Redirection" (March 7, 2007), describes the recent shift in the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, the goal of which is to "contain" Iran. Hersh points out that, "a by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda."
In May 2004, Hersh published a series of articles which described the treatment of detainees by US military police at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq. The articles included allegations that private contractors contributed to prisoner mistreatment and that intelligence agencies such as the CIA ordered torture in order to break prisoners for interrogations. They also alleged that torture is a usual practice in other U.S. prisons as well, e.g., in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. In subsequent articles, Hersh claimed that the abuses were part of a secret interrogation program, known as "Copper Green". According to Hersh's sources, the program was expanded to Iraq with the direct approval of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both in an attempt to deal with the growing insurgency there and as part of "Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A." Much of his material for these articles was based on the Army's own internal investigations.
Scott Ritter points out in his October 19, 2005 interview with Seymour Hersh that the US policy to remove Saddam Hussein from power started with President George H. W. Bush in August 1990. Ritter concludes from public remarks by President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker that the economic sanctions would only be lifted when Saddam Hussein was removed from power. The justification for sanctions was disarmament. The CIA offered the opinion that containing Saddam Hussein for six months would result in the collapse of his regime. This policy resulted in the US military invasion and occupation of Iraq.
MR. HERSH: One of the things about your book that's amazing is that it's not only about the Bush Administration, and if there are any villains in this book, they include Sandy Berger, who was Clinton's national security advisor, and Madeleine Albright.
Another thing that's breathtaking about this book is the amount of new stories and new information. Scott describes in detail and with named sources, basically, a two or three-year run of the American government undercutting the inspection process. In your view, during those years, '91 to'98, particularly the last three years, was the United States interested in disarming Iraq?
MR. RITTER: Well, the fact of the matter is the United States was never interested in disarming Iraq. The whole Security Council resolution that created the UN weapons inspections and called upon Iraq to disarm was focused on one thing and one thing only, and that is a vehicle for the maintenance of economic sanctions that were imposed in August 1990 linked to the liberation of Kuwait. We liberated Kuwait, I participated in that conflict. And one would think, therefore, the sanctions should be lifted.
The United States needed to find a vehicle to continue to contain Saddam because the CIA said all we have to do is wait six months and Saddam is going to collapse on his own volition. That vehicle is sanctions. They needed a justification; the justification was disarmament. They drafted a Chapter 7 resolution of the United Nations Security Council calling for the disarmament of Iraq and saying in Paragraph 14 that if Iraq complies, sanctions will be lifted. Within months of this resolution being passed--and the United States drafted and voted in favor of this resolution--within months, the President, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his Secretary of State, James Baker, are saying publicly, not privately, publicly that even if Iraq complies with its obligation to disarm, economic sanctions will be maintained until which time Saddam Hussein is removed from power.
That is proof positive that disarmament was only useful insofar as it contained through the maintenance of sanctions and facilitated regime change. It was never about disarmament, it was never about getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. It started with George Herbert Walker Bush, and it was a policy continued through eight years of the Clinton presidency, and then brought us to this current disastrous course of action under the current Bush Administration.
In the April 17, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, Hersh reported on the Bush Administration's purported plans for an air strike within Iran. Of particular note in his article is that an American nuclear first strike (possibly using the B61-11 bunker-buster nuclear weapon) is under consideration to eliminate underground Iranian uranium enrichment facilities. In response, President Bush cited Hersh's reportage as "wild speculation."
When, in October 2007, asked on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's hawkish views on Iran, Hersh claimed that Jewish donations were the main reason for these:
Money. A lot of the Jewish money from New York. Come on, let’s not kid about it. A significant percentage of Jewish money, and many leading American Jews support the Israeli position that Iran is an existential threat. And I think it’s as simple as that. When you’re from New York and from New York City, you take the view of – right now, when you’re running a campaign, you follow that line. And there’s no other explanation for it, because she’s smart enough to know the downside.
According to estimates made in early 2007, Clinton was the favourite candidate in the race for Jewish donations, which make up half of the donations given to national Democratic candidates.
While speaking at a journalism conference recently, Hersh claimed that after the Strait of Hormuz incident, members of the Bush administration met in vice president Dick Cheney's office to consider methods of initiating a war with Iran. One idea considered was staging a false flag operation involving the use of Navy SEALs dressed as Iranian PT boaters who would engage in a firefight with US ships. This idea was shot down. This claim has not been verified.
A month before the book's publication, newspapers, including USA Today, reported Hersh's announcement that he had removed from the galleys, at the last minute, a segment about legal documents allegedly containing JFK's signature. A paralegal named Lawrence Cusack had shared them with Hersh and encouraged the author to discuss them in the book. Shortly before Hersh's publicized announcement, federal investigators began probing Cusack's sale of the documents at auction. After The Dark Side of Camelot became a bestseller, Cusack was convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan of forging the documents and sentenced to a long prison term. The documents signed by "John F. Kennedy" included a provision, in 1960, for a trust fund to be set up for the institutionalized mother of Marilyn Monroe. In 1997 the Kennedy family denied Cusack's claim that his late father had been an attorney who had represented JFK in 1960.
David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, maintains that he is aware of the identity of all of Hersh's unnamed sources, telling the Columbia Journalism Review that "I know every single source that is in his pieces.... Every 'retired intelligence officer,' every general with reason to know, and all those phrases that one has to use, alas, by necessity, I say, 'Who is it? What's his interest?' We talk it through.
In a response to an article in The New Yorker in which Hersh alleged that the U.S. government was planning a strike on Iran, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Brian Whitman said, "This reporter has a solid and well-earned reputation for making dramatic assertions based on thinly sourced, unverifiable anonymous sources.
Some of Hersh's speeches concerning the Iraq War have described violent incidents involving U.S. troops in Iraq. In July 2004, during the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal, he alleged that American troops sexually assaulted young boys:
Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been 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. They’re in total terror it’s going to come out.
In a subsequent interview with New York magazine, Hersh regretted that "I actually didn’t quite say what I wanted to say correctly...it wasn’t that inaccurate, but it was misstated. The next thing I know, it was all over the blogs. And I just realized then, the power of—and so you have to try and be more careful." In his book, Chain of Command, he wrote that one of the witness statements he had read described the rape of a boy by a foreign contract interpreter at Abu Ghraib, during which a woman took pictures.
At a Columbia University speech given by Hersh in June 2004, author Rick Perlstein reported:
[Hersh] said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children and women prisoners, as the cameras run."
His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be "cleared." Another platoon from the soldier's company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.
He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts," Hersh said quietly. "He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, 'No, you don't understand, that's a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don't you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?'
In a speech at McGill University in October 2006, after describing a video he had seen in which U.S. troops, following an attack on their convoy, had fired upon and killed a group of nearby soccer players, Hersh offered the assessment that "there has never been an [American] army as violent and murderous as our army has been in Iraq.” However, in the same speech Hersh later said that there were other armies that had been worse than the Americans and that he did not believe in moral equivalence, when comparing the atrocities of one army to another.
Interview: Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker discusses what happened when forces attacked Afghanistan on October 20
Nov 07, 2001; 00-00-0000 Interview: Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker discusses what happened when forces attacked Afghanistan on October 20...
Interview: Seymour Hersh discusses reports surrounding possible secret airlifts of Pakistani and Taliban fighters during last year's US bombing campaign of Afghanistan
Jan 21, 2002; 00-00-0000 Interview: Seymour Hersh discusses reports surrounding possible secret airlifts of Pakistani and Taliban fighters...