Yesterday I attended a commemoration service at the USS Liberty memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Present were a number of surviving crewmembers as well as veterans like myself and other Americans who are committed to ensuring that the story of the Liberty will not die in hopes that someday the United States government will have the courage to acknowledge what actually happened on that fateful day.
But in truth the attack on the USS Liberty by Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, has almost faded from memory, with a younger generation completely unaware that a United States naval vessel was once deliberately attacked and nearly sunk by America’s “greatest friend and ally” Israel. The attack was followed by a cover-up that demonstrated clearly that at least one president of the United States even back nearly fifty years ago valued his relationship with the state of Israel above his loyalty to his own country.
It was in truth the worst attack ever carried out on a US Naval vessel in peace time. Thirty-four American sailors, marines and civilian personnel were killed and 171 more wounded in the two hour assault, which was clearly intended to destroy the intelligence gathering vessel operating in international waters collecting information on the ongoing Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Israelis, whose planes had their Star of David markings covered up so Egypt could be blamed, attacked the ship repeatedly from the air and using gunboats from the sea. The incredible courage and determination of the surviving crew was the only thing that kept the Liberty from sinking.
The Israelis and their political and media supporters in the United States have always claimed the attack was a tragic mistake while many of the Liberty crew have indicated their firm belief that it was anything but, that the vessel was flying an oversized American flag and was clearly and easily identifiable as a US Navy vessel. The ship’s commanding officer Captain William McGonagle was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic role in keeping the ship afloat, though President Lyndon Baines Johnson broke with tradition and refused to hold the medal ceremony in the White House, also declining to award it personally, delegating that task to the Secretary of the Navy in an unpublicized presentation made at the Washington Navy Yard. The additional medals given to other crew members in the aftermath of the attack made the USS Liberty the most decorated ship in the history of the United States Navy.
The Liberty crew was sworn to secrecy over the incident and a hastily convened and conducted court of inquiry headed by Admiral John McCain acted under orders from Washington to declare the attack a case of mistaken identity. The inquiry’s senior legal counsel Captain Ward Boston, who subsequently declared the attack to be a “deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew,” also described how “President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” The court’s findings were rewritten and sections relating to Israeli war crimes, to include the machine gunning of life rafts, were excised. Following in his father’s footsteps, Senator John McCain of Arizona has used his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to effectively block any reconvening of a board of inquiry to reexamine the evidence. Most of the documents relating to the Liberty incident have never been released to the public in spite of the 48 years that have passed since the attack took place.
One has to hope that both Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara are now burning in hell as a consequence of their treason. To those who might object that even LBJ could not have sunk so low as to allow an American warship to be attacked it should be observed that his refusal to allow air cover, otherwise inexplicable, almost certainly means that the situation was being carefully managed to produce a “correct” outcome, exonerating Israel from any blame. One might profitably recall that Lyndon Johnson was possibly the most pro-Israel president in American history, tilting heavily towards the Jewish state on foreign policy issues starting with his time as a congressman all the way through his years in the White House. When he was president he declared that the United States had a de facto “strategic alliance” with Israel, possibly the first admission that there was developing what is now defined as a “special relationship” that subordinates Washington’s actual interests to those of Tel Aviv.
Back in the 1960’s, before exposure of the lies underpinning the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that escalated the war in Vietnam, Americans generally trusted their government. But the George W. Bush administration’s deception about Iraq followed by WikiLeaks and the Snowden revelations have demonstrated that the United States has a secret government that operates with little in the way of transparency or restraint. Unfortunately, it has had that kind of government for a long time and the fate of the USS Liberty is undoubtedly a manifestation of how the White House and Defense Department actually colluded in the deaths of American servicemen and then engaged in a cover up to conceal what it had done, all to protect Israel.
For the USS Liberty it is past time to open the windows and introduce a breath of fresh air. Lyndon B. Johnson is gone and so is his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, conspirators who deliberately left the USS Liberty to its fate. But there are many Liberty survivors who are still looking for answers and it is time to provide what they need and give them peace. It is not too late to convene a panel of inquiry and to release the Defense Department papers relating to the Israeli attack. It is not too late to have Congress declare June 8th “Remember the USS Liberty Day.”
Above all, what happened to the Liberty should serve as a lesson for all those who believe that the persistent pandering to Israel by America’s political class really doesn’t matter, that it is all political theater and that everyone has to do it. They are wrong as the USS Liberty incident reveals that there is a price to be paid in blood when one accommodates a rogue state like Israel.
The philosopher David Hume observed that “Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few.” The facility with which the Israel Lobby manipulates our political system, up to the level of a highly corrupt President like LBJ, on behalf of a tiny state with values that most Americans would find abhorrent, never ceases to amaze. In remembering the Liberty we must also call for an end to the ability of a war criminal like Benjamin Netanyahu to come to our Congress and not only tell us what to do but also be greeted by 23 standing ovations. If our elected officials truly love our country they must have the courage to say “no” the next time Netanyahu comes around. And they must deliver both recognition and justice to the USS Liberty survivors now, today.