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Leaving the USS Liberty Crew Behind

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

USS Liberty (AGTR-5) receives assistance from units of the Sixth Fleet, after she was attacked and seriously damaged by Israeli forces off the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967.  (US Navy photo)
USS Liberty (AGTR-5) receives assistance from units of the Sixth Fleet, after she was attacked and seriously damaged by Israeli forces off the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967.
(image by
(US Navy photo))

On June 8, 1967, Israeli leaders learned they could deliberately attack a U.S. Navy ship and try to send it, together with its entire crew, to the bottom of the Mediterranean -- with impunity. Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty, a state-of-the-art intelligence collection platform sailing in international waters off the Sinai, killing 34 of the 294 crew members and wounding more than 170.

On the 47th anniversary of that unprovoked attack let's be clear about what happened: Israeli messages intercepted on June 8, 1967, leave no doubt that sinking the USS Liberty was the mission assigned to the attacking Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats as the Six-Day War raged in the Middle East. Let me repeat: there is no doubt -- none -- that the mission of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was to destroy the USS Liberty and kill its entire crew.

Referring last week to the controversy of the swap of five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bode Bergdahl, President Barack Obama claimed, "The U.S. has always had a pretty sacred rule: We don't leave our men or women in uniform behind." The only exception, he might have added, is when Israeli forces shoot them up; then mum's the word.

Mr. President, try explaining that "pretty sacred rule" to the USS Liberty survivors. I know them well enough to sense the hollow echo that Obama's claim will leave in their ears -- and in the ears of the families of those who did not survive.

The crew of the USS Liberty has been "left behind," in a figurative as well as a physical sense. There is no way to retrieve the bodies of those washed out to sea through the large hole made by the Israeli torpedo that hit the Liberty amidships, killing 26 of the crew.

There is a way, however, to stop throwing salt in the survivors' wounds, as every U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson has done in acquiescing to the false narrative that it was all a terrible case of mistaken identity and confusion by Israeli command and control. That salt burns -- especially on anniversaries of the tragedy, raising troubling questions about the power of the Israel Lobby and the Israeli government over U.S. politicians.

In apparent fear of the Israel Lobby and not wanting to offend the Israeli government, U.S. officials, including the Navy, have refused to come clean on what happened 47 years ago. The mainstream U.S. media has been a willing partner in this failure to face the facts and demand accountability.

No Accident

Here, for example, is the text of an intercepted Israeli conversation, just one of many pieces of hard, unambiguous evidence that the Israeli attack was not a mistake:

Israeli pilot to ground control: "This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?"

Ground control: "Yes, follow orders...."

Israeli pilot: "But, sir, it's an American ship -- I can see the flag!"

Ground control: "Never mind; hit it!"

The Israelis would have been able to glory in reporting "mission accomplished, ship sunk, all crew killed" save for the bravery and surefootedness of then-23 year-old Navy seaman Terry Halbardier, whose actions spelled the difference between the murder of 34 of the crew and the intended massacre of all 294.

Halbardier skated across the Liberty's slippery deck while it was being strafed in order to connect a communications cable and enable the Liberty to send out an SOS. The Israelis intercepted that message and, out of fear of how the U.S. Sixth Fleet would respond, immediately broke off the attack, returned to their bases, and sent an "oops" message to Washington confessing to their unfortunate "mistake."

As things turned out, the Israelis didn't need to be so concerned. When President Johnson learned that the USS America and USS Saratoga had launched warplanes to do battle with the forces attacking the Liberty, he told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to call Sixth Fleet commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geiss and tell him to order the warplanes to return immediately to their carriers.

According to J.Q. "Tony" Hart, a chief petty officer who monitored these conversations from a U.S. Navy communications relay station in Morocco, Geiss shot back that one of his ships was under attack. Tellingly, McNamara responded: "President Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally over a few sailors."

Getting Away With Murder

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 
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Well done Ray McGovern for writing about the USS L... by Paul Barbara on Sunday, Jun 8, 2014 at 3:16:03 PM
Obama - has "a need to look forward" - sourcePhoto... by Lance Ciepiela on Sunday, Jun 8, 2014 at 6:35:31 PM
"The principle of leaving no one behind -- no matt... by Taylor Morgeson on Monday, Jun 9, 2014 at 8:19:22 AM
"McNamara responded: "President Johnson is not goi... by Paul Easton on Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 at 1:48:02 AM
I dont know anything for sure, but it strikes me t... by Paul Easton on Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 at 10:47:12 AM