Turkish government denies claims by Pulitzer-winning American journalist that it supplied poison gas to opposition forces in Syria
ANKARA – The Turkish government has flatly denied claims by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s that Turkish intelligence, rather than the Syrian government, was behind the August 21 deadly sarin gas attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus.
Much of the international community has held the Syrian government responsible for the attack, and the government has agreed to destroy its stockpyle of chemical weapons. And the report has been flatly denied by officials in both the American and Turkish governments.
So who, exactly, is Seymour Hersh?
Despite being celebrated for huge journalistic coups, Hersh has a checkered reputation. His use of large numbers of anonymous sources has been criticized, and some of what he has written has been shown to be inaccurate. In 1969, he won fame by exposing a massacre perpetrated by U.S. troops in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians were killed, including infants.
But critics have said some of his later work has been inaccurate and difficult to believe -- and in some cases, demonstrably false. He asserted that a woman who knew of an affair by then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy waved an enlarged version of an incriminating photograph at a Kennedy political rally. Hersh claimed that the Washington Star published a photograph of the woman and her photograph, but an examination of back issues of the newspaper on microfilm showed that was not the case.
One critic has said that, if Hersh is to be believed, he has anonymous sources in the governments of 30 foreign governments, as well as throughout the U.S. government -- a feat that would be extraordinarily difficult for any reporter to achieve. And Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a renowned historian who also worked with President Kennedy, once called Hersh "the most gullible investigative reporter I've ever encountered."
Still, his reports are generally taken seriously.
In his recent article in the London Review of Books, Hersh claimed that the poison gas used in Syria last year was supplied by Turkey to the al-Nusra Front in an effort to assign responsibility to the regime of Bashar Assad to speed international action against Assad's regime.
Earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama had said that if the Syrian government used chemical weapons, it would be crossing a "red line" -- implying that an American military response might be possible.
But in a recent article in the London Review of Books titled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” Hersh claimed that Turkey had supplied the al Nusra Front with chemical weapons that they used to carry out the 2013 attack. Officials in both the U.S. and Turkey denied the report immediately.
“We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,” Hersh quoted a “former intelligence official” as saying. He did not identify the official.
“Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing sarin and handling it,” Hersh said, refering to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. Again, the allegation was attributed to a source Hersh did not identify.
The White House, in a statement issued to The Anadolu Agency, flatly refuted the report.
“The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21,” said Shawn Turner and Caitlyn Hayden in a statement initially issued to fact checkers working on the report and later sent to AA. “The suggestion that there was an effort to suppress or alter intelligence is simply false.”
Turkish officials echoed that sentiment.
“It is completely lie and slander,” Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinc said Monday at a press conference.
And independent critics have also criticizes Hersh's reporting.
Eliot Higgins, who wrote a response in Foreign Policy Journal to Hersh's allegations said that Hersh’s “work is so seriously flawed at a basic level that it seems a waste of time to seriously consider the accusations he's making based off a single unnamed source”
“Hersh's understanding of the August 21st attacks is so hugely flawed, and his claims are so reliant on one unnamed source,” Higgins told AA.
Higgins has investigated the Syrian civil war.
Turkey hosts more than 800,000 Syrian refugees from the war between forces loyal to Assad and those trying to unseat him. Turkey’s politics in Syrian conflict often becomes a debate both within and outside of Turkey.
Turkey has said that it not only supports Sunni refugees but its borders are open to those trying to flee the war.
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