By Normand Landry
Montreal, October 27, 2006 – American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh addressed a packed audience of several hundred people at the Mont Royal Centre last night. Many who could not find seats remained standing throughout the talk, which was one of the features of the launch of Media@McGill.
Hersh’s account of media coverage of the war in Iraq held the audience's full attention, as did his descriptions of illegal actions committed by the U.S. army during the different wars it has conducted over the last 40 years. An outspoken critic of the Iraq war, Hersh has also denounced what he calls the "disastrous" management of the conflict. In his capacity as a journalist who has long reported the constant humiliations to which Iraqis have been subjected, he has not only drawn attention to the difficulties faced by journalists seeking to report sensitive information but also to the professional responsibilities incumbent upon them during such times of crisis. "Self-censorship is practiced by all journalists," he said. "It is inherent to the reality of the profession." Journalistic responsibility comes with the considerable power wielded by reporters in times of war, conflict or crisis.
Having played a prominent role in exposing the ill-treatment meted out at the Abu Ghraib prison, Seymour Hersh maintains that the soldiers responsible for the cruelties are "as much victims as their own victims." For example, the publishing of reports that incriminate soldiers subsequently leads to prison terms for individuals who should never have been found in these positions in the first place. It is times of crisis that lay bare this intrinsic moral dilemma flowing from the combination of the journalist's responsibilities and power.
In a career spanning the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, Seymour Hersh has been one of the outstanding figures of investigative journalism. He now fears a future U.S. invasion of Iran and an escalation of events in Iraq. And if, as he says, "President Bush really believes he is promoting democracy," it nevertheless remains true that the current conflict hides a real geopolitical American strategy in the Middle East. This strategy is the consecration of a "neo-conservative cult" that gained control of the U.S administration now in power. The current "disconnect" between the Bush administration and the realities in Iraq is even more worrying, according to Hersh, because the coming months risk being "extremely difficult."
A much sought-after speaker, Seymour Hersh is the author of eight books and the recipient of numerous prizes and honors. Notably, he was awarded the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for having exposed the massacre of Vietnamese civilians by the U.S. army at My Lai.