The Israeli military has attacked a flotilla of
international peace activists, killing as many as 19 innocent civilians
while they were carrying ten tons of aid to break the Israeli blockade
of Gaza. This is not the first time the Israeli military has attacked a
nonthreatening entity in international waters.
Damage to USS Liberty, June 1967. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
On June 8, 1967, while sailing in international waters, the US Navy intelligence ship USS Liberty was attacked by air and naval forces of the state of Israel. Of the Liberty's crew of 294, more than half were killed or wounded. More than 40 years later, survivors are still seeking justice.
The Israeli forces attacked with full knowledge that the Liberty was an American ship, yet survivors have been forbidden to tell their story under oath to the American public.
Joe Meadors was on the Liberty during the attack.
"I watched some jets pass us then turn left after they passed our ship, then they started strafing [attacking repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft] us," Meadors told Truthout.
"The attack lasted 90 minutes, during which we got a message off to the 6th fleet asking for assistance, and we learned later, Joe Tully, commanding officer of the USS Saratoga, launched aircraft within minutes of the attack, but he told us later they were recalled before they reached the horizon. We found this out 20 years after the attack."
Meadors said he and his group, the USS Liberty Veterans Association, believe that Rear Adm. Lawrence Geis, the Sixth Fleet carrier division commander at the time of the attack, was following orders from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who called off the Navy's rescue mission for the USS Liberty.
Meadors, along with other survivors of the attack, have been engaged in what has evolved into a more than 40-year struggle to find justice.
"The most frustrating thing has been a lack of reaction from the US government," Meadors explained, "On June 8, 2005 we filed a war crimes report, and they [the US Government] are required to investigate these allegations. They've created reports about our mission, but they never did conduct an actual investigation of the attack itself."
Meadors and the other veterans he works with to bring about a governmental investigation of the attack take the position that they should not have to force the government to do this.
In 2003, an independent commission of highly regarded experts was created to look into the matter. The Moorer Commission, named after its chairman, included Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, United States Navy (Ret.), former chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Raymond G. Davis, United States Marine Corps and former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
Findings of this commission included: "Israel launched a two-hour air and naval attack against USS Liberty ... Israeli torpedo boats later returned to machine-gun at close range three of the Liberty's life rafts that had been lowered into the water by survivors to rescue the most seriously wounded ... Israel's attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew."
Ray McGovern is a senior CIA analyst who served under seven presidents - from John Kennedy to George H. W. Bush.
McGovern is clear about why he believes the US government continues to refuse to launch an investigation. "For the same reason that President Johnson called back the fighter/bombers; i.e., so as not to embarrass our friend Israel," McGovern explained to Truthout, "It is my view that the killing of 34 USS Liberty crew and wounded more than 170 others and the fact that the US Navy, Congress, executive branch not only prohibited the survivors to speak about it, but also launched faux 'inquiries,' is the poster child for what is wrong with the US relationship with Israel, showing the penchant of senior US officials to sacrifice honesty, justice, and US servicemen on the sacral altar of "compassionate attachment" to Israel."
McGovern added that, in his view, the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty is "the archetypical example of how Israel was given convincing affirmation of its belief that it can get away with murder, literally, and the US Gulliver would be bound to ignore it ... or even mount 'official' inquiries to explain it away."
Bryce Lockwood survived the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty and was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions during the attack, when he saved at least one wounded sailor's life.