Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh, who broke the story of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004, addressed a packed auditorium at the Yale Law School Wednesday afternoon.
Hersh’s talk ranged from the Vietnam War to the current situation in Iraq, and he drew a parallel between the two monumental events. Hersh is widely credited for breaking the story on the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War in 1969. His recent reporting for the New Yorker has focused on the possibility of an American invasion of Iran.
After a long discussion of the United States’ foreign policy in Somalia, Iran and Iraq, Hersh predicted that “2007 will be the worst [year] we’ll have.”
The United States needs to withdraw from Iraq, Hersh said, though it would have been easier to pull out earlier.
“It’s going to have to play out,” he said. “[It would be] slightly less messy if we pull out now.”
The main problem was that there was no “mission statement” or explicit reason for the United States to be present in Iraq from the start of the war, Hersh said. He was highly critical of the Bush administration and said there is no need for the protection from the alleged terrorist threat in Iraq that the Bush administration believes it is providing.
In a personal anecdote from his reporting on Iraq, Hersh said after one of the sources he used to break the Abu Ghraib prison scandal — a guard at the prison — came back to the United States, she began to get tattooed once a week “as if she wanted to change her skin.” Hersh went on to say that Iraq veterans may be suffering from mental illnesses similar to those that played roles in the psychological breakdown of Vietnam veterans.
“Those who kill are just as much victims as those they kill,” he said.
Nicola Karras ’10 said she found Hersh’s views disheartening.
“It’s scary,” she said. “If he’s right, things are really, really screwed up. The notion that there are things that aren’t fixable is very frightening.”
Other members of the audience were skeptical of some of Hersh’s arguments. One audience member asked Hersh if he would consider himself to be a fair reporter, as many of the points he made during his talk appeared to overstep the boundaries of objective journalism.
Steven Smith, master of Branford College, said Hersh was a “national treasure, even if we don’t always have to believe everything.”
During the speech, an audience member was rebuked for taping Hersh’s speech without obtaining permission beforehand, and she subsequently left the lecture hall. Smith said the woman was apparently a representative of National Public Radio.
Hersh spoke on behalf of the Richard W. Goldman Lectureship, which was established in memory of Richard W. Goldman ’69.