USS Liberty–Crew Murdered by Israel, Betrayed by Their Commander in Chief 2/2

USS Liberty survivors
US sailors transport the wounded from the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, 1967.

Is Help on the Way?

USS Liberty veteran and author, Jim Ennes, observes, “The attack on the USS Liberty remains the only major maritime incident in all US history that has not been publicly investigated by the United States Congress.”

There was a US aircraft carrier within ten minutes’ flight time of the scene of the attack. Why didn’t they intervene immediately? Planes actually did take off, but they were ordered back to the carrier on direct orders from the highest level in Washington . There is only one plausible explanation for such questionable orders. Someone in Washington wanted to give the Israeli attackers time to finish off the USS Liberty and its crew. It would not be untoward to suggest that it was that same highest-level authority who organized the subsequent coverup.

One thing is clear, if the Israeli attack was intentional and planned to sink the USS Liberty and kill every mother’s son on board, and if the US government engineered a conscientious coverup of the facts of the event, we are looking at the gravest American debacle and cloaking operation since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November of 1963. And there are aspects of the USS Liberty case that arguably make it even more outrageous. The Kennedy killing was–allegedly–the work of a single deranged gunman, followed by a proper Congressional investigation presided over by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

But the events surrounding the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 and their subsequent top-level coverup implicate both the Israeli and United States governments. This is a sole case in the annals of US Naval history and a blatant injustice to the American dead, wounded and the rest of the survivors. USS Liberty veteran and author, Jim Ennes, observes, “The attack on the USS Liberty remains the only major maritime incident in all US history that has not been publicly investigated by the United States Congress.”

“It Helps to Show That We’re Peaceful”

This scene, recorded by Jim Ennes in his book, shows just how innocently the Liberty entered the Israeli abattoir on the day of the attack:

At about 10:30 we received another visit from the flying boxcar,
now more curious and coming closer. Watching the airplane through
binoculars, I told the quartermaster to call the captain by telephone
to inform him of the visit. The airplane paralleled our course to
starboard, turning left in front of the ship in a pattern that was now
becoming routine. Another left turn and he appeared on our port
side. Again I checked our flag, found it flying freely as usual, and
noted that the relative wind was still from dead ahead and of sufficient
speed to display the colors clearly.

“Well, they certainly know who we are by now, don’t they?” said
Captain McGonagle, who had come to the bridge
quickly in response
to the telephone call. “It’s good that they are checking
us out this
carefully. This way there won’t be any mistakes. Early this

afternoon they’ll probably come out by boat to give us a closer look. “It’s
good that we have sunbathers on deck,” added McGonagle. “It helps to
show that we’re peaceful.”

The Israeli Navy and Air Force Could Not Sink the Liberty

This betrayal, I submit, set the all-time low mark in American military, diplomatic, and presidential history.

Ironically, the combined efforts of Israeli air force jets employing rockets, fragmentation bombs, and napalm; and navy torpedo boats were unable to sink the old repurposed Worldl War II Victory ship. The torpedo boats launched five torpedoes, four of which missed their target, though the fifth blasted a 40-foot breach in the Liberty’s hull and converted 25 of her crew members into a mass of bloody collateral damage. But they did not succeed in sinking the ageing, repurposed World War II Victory ship, the crew of which managed to maintain it afloat as palpable evidence of Israel’s cynical betrayal of their American ally.

After the attack and the removal of the dead and wounded, the Liberty limped under its own power to a drydock in Malta where the ship was given a cosmetic going over so that, from the outside, it looked as if nothing had happened to it. When it arrived back at it’s home port, observers had no reason to suspect that it had come under any attack. Shortly afterwards the Liberty was decomissioned and junked.

If the Israeli assault was an exercise in unalloyed evil, the United States’ response might be considered even worse. The US government’s coverup, spearheaded by President Lyndon Johnson personally, turned the country’s back on 294 Americans who had been strafed, napalmed, machine gunned, and torpedoed in the line of duty, with 34 of them killed and 174 wounded.  His priority was to excuse and cloak the worst offense in American maritime history, with complete indifference to the crew members of the Liberty, who had lost limbs and lives in a gratuitous attack by a trusted ally. Is there any cogent explanation for the President’s ghoulish procedure?

Beware the Help from the Lobby

Research since the events has distilled a credible explanation: The Israeli government threatened President Johnson with turning loose the powerful US Israel lobby–the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)–and their affilliates across the country. Their power, even in those days, was such that their campaign donations could profoundly influence US elections. And Johnson was coming up to the 1968 re-election campaign. The prima facie evidence indicates that the president felt his re-election hinged on the support of the Israel lobby in the US. He opted, of course, for re-election. His choice to stay in office entailed betraying the honor of 294 hard suffering Americans and of the United States itself, though setbacks in the Vietnam War later convinced him to abandon his campaign for re-election. This betrayal, I submit, set the all-time low mark in American military, diplomatic, and presidential history.

Only one ship approached the Liberty to offer help. Here’s Ennes’ account:

On the bridge, men continued to scan the sky and to search the
horizon for American ships or airplanes. No American forces were
sighted. The first sighting was not American, but Russian. Soviet
guided missile destroyer 626/4 arrived after midnight-hours ahead
of Martin’s forces-to send a flashing-light message in English.
DO YOU NEED HELP? asked the Russian.
NO, THANK YOU, the conning officer replied.
I WILL STAND BY IN CASE YOU NEED ME, the Russian answered.
Thus the Soviet skipper remained near Liberty to wait with her
for the arrival of American ships.

While the Liberty survivors were gathering the body parts of their mates and stowing them in plastic bags for shipment home, the US-Israeli partnership went sailing blithely on as if nothing had happened. In fact, in the public perception, thanks to a near-perfect coverup, nothing had happened. Bad things can occur by accident in war. Everybody knows that except the Liberty’s surviving crew members. They lived that apocalyptic day, perceived its intentionality first hand, and endured the horror of the attack–and will continue to endure it–till their dying days. Their survivors’ association (www.usslibertysurvivors.org) continues to struggle to keep the Liberty’s story alive and to insist upon a proper congressional investigation but, after half a century, there’s not much hope left.

“Friendly Betrayal” Is Like “Friendly Fire”

We have learned what was lost on that clear, sunny day in 1967. Besides an ageing Victory ship and 34 members of its crew, America lost its international reputation for honesty, trust, and simple decency, though it gained fame for the lowest form of state cynicism. More recent history has shown that the gruesome mechanisms that carried the day in 1967 have been substantially reinforced since 1967. The US Israeli lobby is all powerful in the US Congress and the White House today. This is from the NY Times, July 23, 2019:

WASHINGTON — The House…on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution condemning the boycott-Israel movement as one that “promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace.” The 398-to-17 vote, with five members voting present, came after a debate that was equally lopsided; no one in either party spoke against the measure. 

In an ironic reflection of the “USS Liberty Incident,” President Donald Trump still depends upon AIPAC & Co. to secure his re-election in 2020.

As for the state of Israel, it enjoys its far-right Likud government and its perennial president Netanyahu. It remains the darling of American subsidies, mainly for military materiel.  The Israelis are still freely grabbing Palestinian land and casting a lustful eye on Iran. According to MiddleEastMonitor.com, they have made common cause with the Saudis in the devastation of Yemen. In short, it’s bloody business as usual, and the remaining survivors of the Liberty will soon be gone and forgotten, buried under a heavy load of “friendly” betrayal.

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USS Liberty–Crew Murdered by Israel, Betrayed by Their Commander in Chief 1/2

Never forget

Friend or Foe?

It’s been five decades and a bit since the “US Liberty Incident” and I’ve been living in the dark all this time. I suspect you may have, too. When the Israeli air force and navy launched a devastating unprovoked attack on an American technical research  (electronic spy) ship in international waters just thirteen miles off the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six Day War, I naturally accepted the US government’s explanation: that it was due to a tragic case of misidentification on the part of the Israelis.

That they should knowingly attack a United States ship for no cogent reason seemed unlikely to me. The Israelis were, after all, friends, allies and massive American aid recipients. It couldn’t happen. Besides, President Lyndon Johnson, himself, declared that it was a tragic accident, putting the whole matter to rest. Johnson was lying, as we shall see.

Liberty_cover
The other night I’m wandering around YouTube when I run across a 2014 documentary called The Day Israel Attacked America, Al Jazerra investigates the shocking truth behind a deadly Israeli attack on a US naval vessel. Al Jazeera is the Qatari online news channel. I’ll listen to anybody if they’ve got reasons. This time they had reasons in spades. What I found most convincing–and most horrifying–was the live testimony of the surviving crew members. One of them, Lt. James Ennes, then age 24, wrote it down in a book 13 years later: Assault on the Liberty–USS Liberty Memorial. Ennes was one of many crew members who continued to work to keep the ship afloat and help the wounded throughout the attack, though wounded himself.

His notes on the dust cover set the scene vividly:

In June, 1967, jet aircraft and motor torpedo boats of Israel brutally assaulted an American naval vessel, USS Liberty, in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea. The attack was preceded by more than six hours of intense low-level surveillance by Israeli photo-reconnaissance aircraft, which buzzed the intelligence ship thirteen times, sometimes flying as low as 200 feet directly overhead. The reconnaissance pilots were heard by intercept operators in Germany and by American airborne intercept operators reporting to their headquarters that they could see an American flag and men sunbathing on deck.

The carefully orchestrated assault that followed was initiated by high-performance jet aircraft, was followed up by slower and more maneuverable jets carrying napalm, and was finally turned over to lethal torpedo boats which fired five torpedoes. Four missed. The one torpedo that hit the ship blasted a forty-foot hole in the ship’s side.

The attack lasted more than two hours — killing 34 Americans and wounding 174 others — and inflicted 821 rocket and machine-gun holes. And when the Liberty stubbornly remained afloat despite her damage, Israeli forces machine-gunned her life rafts and sent troop-carrying helicopters in to finish the job. US Air Force intercept operators heard Israeli jets being vectored to “the American ship” which they were ordered to sink quickly. Those who have seen these transcripts insist that they leave no doubt that the Israelis knew they were attacking an American ship.

Before USS Liberty arrived in the area, U.S. Sixth Fleet Commander Admiral William Martin promised to provide air support within ten minutes if an emergency arose. Yet when the ship did come under attack, the White House blocked any air rescue for more than 90 minutes. Officers on the bridge of the aircraft carrier Saratoga heard Liberty’s radio operators calling for help while bombs burst in the background, but were forbidden to help. When Navy jet aircraft were finally authorized to come to the ship’s aid, the Israeli government suddenly ended the attack and withdrew, claiming that they had mistaken the ship for an Egyptian horse transport named El Quseir. Only then did the identity of the assailants become known.

Details of the attack were hushed up in both countries. Israel claimed that her forces mistook USS Liberty for an Egyptian ship, and our government publicly accepted that excuse despite evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, in top secret diplomatic mail, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk accused the Israelis of demonstrating “blatant disregard for human life” and said that the attack was no accident. Then our government downplayed the intensity of the surveillance and the severity of the attack and imposed a news blackout to keep the official story under control. The official version is that the Liberty was reconnoitered only three times and then only from great distance. The American people were told that the air attack lasted only five minutes and that it was followed by a single torpedo and an immediate apology and offer of assistance.

Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Liberty incident, said that he, “cannot accept the claim by the Israelis that this was a case of mistaken identity.”

 

Questions Left Pending

No Congressional investigation regarding the USS Liberty Incident was ever carried out, though the surviving crew members have been clamoring for one since the events occurred. (See the USS Liberty Veterans Association website: https://www.usslibertyveterans.org/)

Nevertheless, a 1967 US Naval Court of Inquiry investigation concluded that the testimony record revealed “a shallow investigation, plagued by myriad disagreements between the captain and his crew.” (Although severely wounded. Comdr. W. L. McGonagle, the commanding officer, remained at the conn to guide the ship out of shallow water. He was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor. There was no suggestion of a quid pro quo.)

According to the record of proceedings, four days were spent hearing testimony: two days for fourteen survivors of the attack and several U.S. Navy expert witnesses, and two partial days for two expert U.S. Navy witnesses. No testimony was heard from Israeli personnel involved. The conclusion of this somewhat haphazard inquiry, according to Wikipedia, was that:

The official U.S. records of the Liberty incident were designated top-secret and closed to the general public. The U.S. government and Israel jointly stated: “That the Israeli attack upon the USS Liberty had been the result of error, and nothing more.” However, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Liberty incident, said that he, “cannot accept the claim by the Israelis that this was a case of mistaken identity.”

President Johnson Himself Led the Hasty Coverup

Pentagon officials waited nearly forty minutes to inform Johnson, who was in an important meeting. Then National Security Advisor Walt Rostow telephoned the President to tell him that a U.S. Navy ship was in trouble.

Jim Ennes describes the President’s reaction:

The immediate White House reaction to the attack, I am told
by a former staff member, was to accept Israel’s apology at face
value even though there was considerable skepticism that the 
attack was entirely accidental. The President could ill afford a 
confrontation with Israel.His major concern was to bring about 
an end to the war before the Soviet Union stepped in; a 
confrontation with Israel would likely destroy the leverage he 
needed.

After some discussion, Johnson detailed Clark Clifford to head an 
investigation into the circumstances of the attack, and the White
House resolved to bite its collective tongue until the Clifford report 
came in. By this time, the Israeli government had hastily summoned 
the US naval attache to report that an unidentified “maybe Navy” 
ship had been erroneously attacked. 

When the Clifford report eventually came in, it contained no
evidence that the attack was deliberate, and White House tolerance
of the affair as a “feasible” error of war thus became permanent.

As soon as President Johnson learned of the attack and spoke with the Israelis on the subject, he launched an immediate all-points coverup which included swearing the surviving crew to silence and threatening them with prosecution if they should leak any information regarding the events they lived aboard the Liberty on June 8, 1967.

Three Questions

Three questions immediately arise: Why did the Israelis do it?  Why did the American forces in the area stand off. And why such an urgent coverup on the part of the US President? The vital issues posed by the USS Liberty case are moral questions of the first rank. The Israeli military command knowingly designed and executed an operation the object of which was to sink the Liberty and assure that its crew members were all killed. It was not just to neutralize the Liberty’s offensive capabilities–which were nil insofar as its armament was limited to four merely testimonial 50-caliber machine guns, useless against the array of armament the Israelis turned loose on them. The Israelis knew what they were doing and they were aware of just how irregular it was. What possible justification could they have for the proposed cold-blooded murder of the entire crew of a harmless American ship. Subsequent research suggests two possibilities:

  1. The object of the operation was to sink the ship, eliminate the crew to the last man and blame the outrage on the Egyptians, a classic false-flag operation. In order for it to succeed they had to assure that the ship was at the bottom of the sea and not a single witness was left alive. This is the least convincing explanation.
  2. Aware that the Liberty was monitoring radio messages in the area, the Israeli command feared that, as one of the United States’ most sophisticated National Security Agency’s (NSA) listening operations, it would pick up the chatter regarding the Israeli’s planned land grab in the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights programmed for the following day. This was an illegal operation under international law, one that they had previously renounced, but it was nevertheless carried out and remains in force until today, more than half a century later. This version makes more sense.

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