Seymour Hersh Says He Doesn’t Know Whether Hillary Clinton Knew About the Sarin

Eric Zuesse

I spoke by phone with Seymour Hersh on May 9th to ask him whether he would say publicly, that Hillary Clinton knew that her testimony which was given under oath to Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo on 22 October 2015 was false:

Pompeo: Were you aware or are you aware of any U.S. efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to provide any weapons, directly or indirectly, or through a cutout, to any Syrian rebels or militias or opposition to Syrian forces?

Clinton: No.

Pompeo: Were you aware or are you aware of any efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to facilitate or support the provision of weapons to any opposition of Gadhafi’s forces, Libyan rebels or militias through a third party or country?

Clinton: No.

Hersh said he wouldn’t, because he doesn’t know whether she knew.

He particularly objected to the headline of my story on April 28th, “Seymour Hersh Says Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels”, because he said that I was going too far to read this into his statement there, in regard to Hillary Clinton’s knowledge of what Hersh had called the “rat line” that State Department employee Christopher Stephens was operating in Benghazi Libya, of Gaddafi’s weapons-stockpiles to Al Qaeda in Syria (called “Al Nusra” there), that, “there’s no way somebody in that sensitive of a position is not talking to the boss, by some channel.”

I asked him whether his having headlined his 13 December 2013 article “Whose Sarin?” didn’t reasonably indicate that he was alleging that this “Rat Line and the Red Line” of weapons into Syria had to do with the operation supplying Gaddafi’s sarin via Turkey to Al Qaeda in Syria, and he said that this isn’t what he was intending to refer to, and that my article was wrong because I was assuming there that Hersh’s reporting can be correctly understood in light of the other reporters’ articles that I was using as a basis for interpreting or understanding his own.

I called to his attention that the fact that Gaddafi’s stockpiles included sarin had been rather widely alleged by other journalists and was confirmed in 2015, but he responded by saying that it’s not something that he had reported and so I shouldn’t have assumed that he accepted it as being factual.

It’s now clear to me that Hersh refuses to be interpreted, but wants only to be quoted. I am not quoting any of his statements here that he gave me over the phone, because he was phoning me in response to a message I had left on his answering-machine, and because what I reliably remember of it is the gist, not the exact words he used.

In my own writing, I try to be as clear as possible, but in my article about what Hersh had meant by saying such things as “there’s no way somebody in that sensitive of a position is not talking to the boss, by some channel,” I was perhaps too clear; and, so, if I had it to do over again, I might not headline that article “Seymour Hersh Says Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels”, but instead, something like “Seymour Hersh Makes Vague Allegations About Sarin in Syria.” In any case, I would otherwise change nothing within the article itself.

As regards the question that Hersh raised, of whether it’s valid to interpret what one trusted source (such as Hersh) says, by trying to relate it in a logically coherent way to what other trusted sources say, I reject Hersh’s view that his vague allegations shouldn’t be interpreted except by citing other allegations that he himself has had published. I interpret Hersh’s insistence upon what might be called “Hersh’s non-interpretation principle” as being intended to protect himself from negative consequences that might result from powerful persons who perhaps wouldn’t tolerate the continued existence of a reporter who writes too clearly and who is too prominently published (and thus too much of a potential threat).

The terrific journalist Rick Sterling had first brought to my attention doubt about the headline of my April 28th piece, which is the reason why I phoned and left that message on Hersh’s answering-machine. Without Sterling’s having drawn this matter to my attention, I might never have found that that doubt about the headline was justified. For this, I thank Sterling — and I stand corrected. Sterling suggests that a better headline might have been “Seymour Hersh Implies Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels.” However, now I know that even a headline such as that would be going too far, because Hersh doesn’t want even to be said to “imply” anything. In a dangerous world such as this, I can respect the wisdom of Hersh’s caution.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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  • wunsacon


    FWIW, I (think I) can totally understand why you ran with your initial headline and the IMHO reasonable/defensible inferences you made supporting it.

    I doubt I fully understand why you’re qualifying it now. But, I appreciate your effort in maintaining integrity in your reporting.


  • LeseMajeste

    Eric, the CIA/MOSSAD called and said it was time to pick up your money!

  • DM

    So maybe your headline could have been along the lines of (ideally shorter), “Seymour Hersh’s Report Raises Question of Whether Clinton Favored (or Approved) Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels”? The question arises from Hersh’s work and evidently from other sources, as you say, so phrased accordingly, Hersh is let off the hook, and you are as well, as an added bonus, by exploring the question rather than making an outright accusation.
    It’s fine and noble to stand up for your work as a journalist. But you must realize that it – along with alternet in particular, relying on the same interview you did – contributed heavily to the fact that social media is circulating stories that confidently drop the word “implies” altogether, producing sentences like this, from Inquisitr: “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh believes that Hillary Clinton approved the sending of sarin gas to Syria.”
    Can you really fault Hersh?

    • DM

      PS In the right-hand column on this page it says “The nation’s top legal scholars say that draconian security laws which violate the Constitution should not apply to Americans.”
      Really? What top legal scholars, I wonder? It seems to me that the Constitution was written and always understood (at least until 9/11) to apply to any person present on American soil, even if they lacked the proper documentation. So if there are laws that violate the Constitution (and there are several laws that predate the NDAA, which is the focus of the article linked to that statement), it follows that said laws should not apply to anybody, ever; instead they should be quashed, because they are unconstitutional.

  • “He particularly objected to the headline of my story on April 28th, “Seymour Hersh Says Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels”, because he said that I was going too far to read this into his statement there,”

    No shit! I told you that before you even talked to him! You didn’t care. It’s the moment you lost credibility.

    -Joe Giambrone