On Monday, I posted an report from a Pakistani news site claiming that Seymour Hersh went on Arab TV and accused Dick Cheney of ordering the asassination of Benazir Bhutto. I updated it soon after when Hersh denied he made those comments. This afternoon, I was able to take a look at the actual interview he gave, and it’s now clear he never made the accusation, or even mentioned Bhutto.
Here’s part of the exchange with Hersh had with Gulf News:
GULF NEWS: You have spoken about an assassination unit that reported to Cheney called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). There have been allegations that this unit was responsible for former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
SEYMOUR HERSH: I can’t verify [that]. What I said was, and what I have written more than once, is that there’s a special unit that does high-value targeting of men that we believe are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.
In Cheney’s view this isn’t murder, but carrying out the “war on terror”. And in the view of me and my friends, including people in government, this is crazy. The vice president is committing a crime. You can’t authorise the murder of people. And it’s not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s in a lot of other countries, in the Middle East and in South Asia and North Africa and even central America.
In the early days, many of the names were cleared through Cheney’s office. One of his aides, John Hanna, went on TV and acknowledged that the programme exists, and said killing these people is not murder but an act of war that is justified legally.
The former head of JSOC has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan, which is very interesting to me.
About Hariri, what I’ve always maintained – I was in the position of seeing and interviewing President Bashar Al Assad on the day Hariri was killed in February 2005 – it seemed clear to me that he knew nothing about it. But I never wrote anything about it, even the fact that I was there, because I had no empirical or factual basis for knowing whether he was involved or not, and I never did. And I decided to wait for the investigations and they have come up with no concrete evidence that Syria did it. Despite the fact that one of the earlier investigators speculated that he did, he didn’t know.
Could JSOC have been responsible?
No. Hariri, America. No. Impossible. There was no reason. JSOC’s responsibility was to go after what they call high-value targets.
You can read a transcript of the whole interview here.
I picked up the original item because it seemed plausible given that Hersh had already publicly claimed that Cheney had run an “executive assassination ring.” But obviously, I should have treated the Pakistani report with more skepticism.