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Pulitzer Prize Winner Seymour Hersh And The Men Who Are Trying to Paint Him as Crazy

Hersh cited ties between U.S. Military’s Joint Special Operations Command and a secretive Catholic order called the Knights of Malta, and now he's under attack.
 
 
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It seems unusual for a staid, respected publication (one that has received three National Magazine Awards in just this past decade) to start treating a celebrated journalist (who himself has won two National Magazine Awards in just this past decade) as if he were nothing more than a paranoid crank.

It seems unusual, but it’s exactly what the staff of Foreign Policy has done to Seymour Hersh, following a lecture the venerated reporter gave at Georgetown University’s campus in Doha, Qatar. You may know Hersh as the dogged investigator who exposed the My Lai Massacre during Vietnam. You may know him as the staff writer for The New Yorker who published some of the earliest pieces on Abu Ghraib in May 2004. You might even know him as the man derided and then vindicated for claiming that Dick Cheney was running a secret assassination squad right out of the Vice President’s office. (In truth, the squad was and is a bipartisan affair, initiated under Clinton and still operative under Obama.)

Yet, given the Foreign Policy staff’s derisive commentary on Seymour’s January 17 thtalk, you would think he was some credulous rube midway through his first Dan Brown novel.

Hersh “delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday,” Blake Hounshell reported on the magazine’s Passport blog. His delusional fantasia: The existence of ties between the U.S. Military’s Joint Special Operations Command and a secretive Catholic order called the Knights of Malta. As Hounshell elaborates:

[Hersh] charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community:

That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic organization commited [sic] to “defence [sic] of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering,” according to its website.

“They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

Hounshell, Foreign Policy’s web editor, has questioned Hersh’s reporting before, first speculating on the identity of a Hersh source, then on that hypothetical source’s credibility. However, this particular incident was unique in that it has yielded a small brushfire of attention, including three additional response pieces at foreignpolicy.com, reblogging by angered Catholic groups and a write-up in the Washington Post.

The next day, the post was followed by an elaborately sarcastic “hot tip,” written to Hersh open-letter style by Foreign Policy contributing editor and Washington Post special military correspondent Tom Ricks:

Hey Sy, a friend with good military connections tells me that U.S. special operations forces were covertly involved in the Knights of Malta’s stalwart defense of the island in 1565 against the Ottoman Turks. Lifting the siege was easy because the Turks turned tail when they saw those Ma Deuce .50 caliber machine guns.