The “fogs of war” need to be lifted

by Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller

Under the title “Trump’s Red Line” the German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag” published an article by famous investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on 25 June 2017 (see https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article165905578/Trump-s-Red-Line.html). A good summary in German may be found at http://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=38923. On the same day, the “Welt am Sonntag” printed a commentary (“The Fog of War”, see https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article165906452/The-Fog-of-War.html)
In his investigation of the alleged poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 and the US air strike against a Syrian military airbase three days later, Seymour Hersh* reaches conclusions quite different from the official Washington narrative. Unfolding his story in its many details and quoting high-ranking sources from the US security apparatus, whom he keeps anonymous for obvious reasons, Hersh argues that the Syrian air-force did not use poison gas in their attack at Khan Sheikhoun but had targeted a meeting of several Islamist commanders with a heavy, laser-guided conventional bomb. The Russians had provided this bomb to the Syrian air-force. Hersh’s sources claim that because there had been a storage depot of chemicals such as fertilizers and chlorine-based decontaminants in the building’s basement, a toxic cloud containing chlorine formed after the attack – furthermore, that according to the usual routine (in order to prevent dangerous incidents in the overcrowded Syrian air-space, but also to warn US intelligence informants, who had infiltrated the Islamist groups) the US military had been informed prior to the planned attack.
Let us recall: just a few hours after pictures of women and children allegedly killed by poison gas had surfaced, many Western media outlets had jumped to the conclusion that the Syrian government had conducted a poison gas attack and Russia was behind it, despite the lack of any evidence. We were told that, based on these pictures alone, US President Donald Trump ordered an air-strike against the Syrian air-base al-Shayrat in Homs province.
Rather than commenting on Seymour Hersh’s article and his questions posed to the US government, the White House issued a press release on 26 June, suggesting that the Syrian government was planning another poison gas attack against the civilian population – the government referred to undisclosed intelligence material. It contained the phrase that in this case President Bashar al-Assad and his military “… would pay a heavy prize.” Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, escalated the rhetoric as follows: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people”.  
In his article Seymour Hersh had already cited four options for the “retaliatory strike” proposed by Trump’s military advisers in April: “Option one was to do nothing. […] Option two was a slap on the wrist: to bomb an airfield in Syria, but only after alerting the Russians and, through them, the Syrians, to avoid too many casualties. A few of the planners called this the ‘gorilla option’: America would glower and beat its chest to provoke fear and demonstrate resolve, but cause little significant damage. The third option was to adopt the strike package that had been presented to Obama in 2013, and which he ultimately chose not to pursue. The plan called for the massive bombing of the main Syrian airfields and command and control centres using B1 and B52 aircraft launched from their bases in the US. Option four was ‘decapitation’: to remove Assad by bombing his palace in Damascus, as well as his command and control network and all of the underground bunkers he could possibly retreat to in a crisis.” On 7 April Trump had decided in favour of option two. Considering the recent threats, the last paragraph of Hersh’s article, in which he cites his source again, is especially important: “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder.”
Does that mean there will be another false flag operation which might turn the entire Middle East into a battlefield including a direct confrontation between the US and Russia?
Western media have not addressed this question so far. Instead, they searched for mistakes in Hersh’s article and tried to discredit the author.
On German national television for-instance, in a platform called “Fact finder”, Hersh was criticised for not unmasking his sources. In their commentary article “The fog of war” however, “Die Welt am Sonntag” declares regarding these sources: “Crucially, though, no source who is actively working for a government can reveal classified information “on the record” without incurring considerable personal risk. That holds true in Germany as well. As has always been his practice, Hersh has told “Welt am Sonntag” the identities of all the sources he quotes anonymously in his story about Trump’s retaliatory strike against Syria. The paper was thus able to speak independently to the central source in the US”.
Moreover, Hersh was blamed for ignoring the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report, which alleges that sarin had been proven beyond any doubt in the examination of dead bodies after the attack. Jens Berger (http://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=38967) comments in an article titled “Battle of Facts”: “The problem with this piece of evidence is … that no expert team had ever been there. Nobody knows who took the samples in this town, which had been under Islamist control at that time. In any case, those samples have most likely been collected by one of the parties to the conflict. While the analysis was performed in an OPCW-accredited lab, again this lab takes orders from the Turkish ministry of health and Turkey is one of the war parties.”
Another accusation against Hersh was that he found it hard to get his article published elsewhere. The “Welt am Sonntag” commentary states: “Hersh had also offered the article to the London Review of Books. The editors […] decided against doing so, as they told Hersh, because of concerns that the magazine would vulnerable to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments.” Hersh then turned to Stefan Aust, editor of the “Welt am Sonntag” whom he knows for a long time.
As for the two experts cited by the “Fact finder” of German national television, it is revealing that they are without any expertise but they are transatlantic networkers and neoconservatives.
In fact it is a scandal that nobody dares to publish articles by Seymour Hersh any longer. How is the citizen supposed to make up his or her own mind about political issues that way? And what about the obligation of the media to provide unbiased information? The plans of the US government for a new war against Syria show what this could mean. Was the aim to silence those voices warning against another false flag operation? Does the US government really believe they could yet again lie the world into another war and get away with it? Seymour Hersh’s article urges all of us to be alert and prevent that from happening. This is the kind of information the citizens need.     •

* World-renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh was born in Chicago in 1937. One year after graduating with a history decree he started his career as a journalist. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a belief in the American values was deeply rooted in his family and inspired his idealist stance to investigate cover-ups. His publications about the My Lai massacre which was committed by the US army during the Vietnam War in 1969 established his world-wide fame. More than 500 women, men and children had been massacred there by US soldiers. His breaking story turned the tide in the American public opinion about the Vietnam War. For his documentary “My Lai 4: A report on the massacre and its aftermath” he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1970. Hersh uncovered several other atrocities, including the secret bombardments of Cambodia in 1973, the CIA involvement in the coup d´etat in Chile 1974, Israel’s nuclear weapons’ programme (The Samson option, 1991), the massacres during the second Gulf War 2000, political murders under the Bush and Obama administrations, background information on the poison gas attacks in Syria 2013”