The Ongoing Whitewash of Israel's Attack on the USS Liberty in 1967

Roundup: Talking About History

George Beres, in an article submitted to HNN on January 16, 2004. (Mr. Beres served three years on Oregon's Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East. He also has been a member of the Oregon Greek Orthodox Committee for Peace & Justice.)

History becomes painfully vivid when it deals with violent death-- especially when the reason for death remains a matter of dispute decades later. That was the uncomfortable setting when a U.S. Naval inquiry in early January went through the motions of considering what happened on June 8, 1967, when Israeli warplanes attacked the U.S. spy ship, Liberty, in international waters off the coast of Egypt. Those motions were reminiscent of a similar pattern followed in a 1967 inquiry into what happened. Conclusion of the Bush government today remained unchanged from that of the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration of 1967, which ruled the cause was "negligence on the part of Israel-- and the United States."

The passing of 37 years did nothing to cool the anger of navy veterans who believe their well-being in the line of fire is compromised when their government gives higher priority to controversial alliances with other nations. One, Paul Findley of Jacksonville, Ill, has special perspective. The navy veteran of World War II was a U.S Congressman from Illinois in the 1970s and '80s. He also wrote the definitive book -- They Dare to Speak Out -- about what he describes as the successful effort of Israeli lobbiests to control U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. In his view, the "whitewash" of the Liberty attack is the product of U.S. subservience to Israeli demands in the Middle East.

Findley has made a study of what happened to the Liberty, and still is in disbelief over what he sees as the failure of the U.S. to speak out against, and seek redress for, what happened that tragic spring day. He has spoken with survivors of the attack, hearing firsthand about: the two-hour surprise attack on the unarmed "spy" ship of an ally by Israeli warplanes; how repeated sorties, plus torpedo strikes, attempted to sink the ship; how U.S. sailors in lifeboats were sprayed by machine gun fire from Israeli planes.

Then he reads-- again-- the claim of the Israeli military that the ship, flying U.S. flags and wearing markings in English instead of Arabic, was mistaken for an Egyptian ship as the Six-Day war between Israel and Arab states was escalating. His anger peaks as he says:

Of all the reasons for moral condemnation that have emerged from the Middle East during the 40 years I have closely observed the region, the assault on the USS Liberty ranks as most despicable. It was ugly barbarism when Israeli air and sea forces assaulted the Liberty for two hours on a clear and sunny day, attempting to destroy the clearly marked U.S. vessel and its entire crew.

When Findley asks why negligence is attributed to the United States, he is told the ship failed to notify Israeli authorities it would be in the waters off Egypt. When the explanation is challenged, a U.S. spokesman, anonymous, replies: "The mistaken identity was an example of Murphy's Law: If anything can go wrong, it will."

Navy Captain Ward Boston, senior legal counsel for the 1967 inquiry, places no stock in Murphy's Law. Now 80, Capt. Boston said: "President Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told me to conclude it was an accident, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary." Boston today repeats his earlier contention that "the evidence conclusively showed deliberate effort to sink the ship and kill its crew," and that its clearly visible markings precluded any possibility of mistaken identity.

As one who once was involved in legislative assistance to Israel, Findley points out: "The deliberate butchery came at the very moment the U.S.
government was donating critical military assistance to Israel in its war against Arab states. Israel's reasons for this perfidy may be disputed, but further debate over the baseless excuse of mistaken identity is not needed. It was a deliberate scheme for total destruction.

As a World War II navy veteran, I feel like screaming in outrage whenever I think of the plight of Liberty shipmates and the merciless agony inflicted on them by the Israelis. As a veteran of the Congress, I am ashamed neither side of the House has the patriotism and decency to authorize a thorough hearing to lay out the truth for us to see. What a terrible price our government is paying to shield the government of Israel from the condemnation it richly deserves.

Ray McGovern put the Liberty controversy into current context in a recent speech in Taos, N.M. The longtime veteran of the CIA said in a broadcast
address: "Our one-sided support of Israel is the main reason for the mess in the Middle East and our attack on Iraq." He said the influence Israeli lobbiests have on both political parties is seen by the reaction of Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, leader for the Democratic presidential nomination, when they said one of his statements placed Israel in jeopardy: "Gov. Dean had to be out of his mind when he agreed to retract his statement that the U.S. needs a more even-handed policy in the Middle East."

Paul Findley would take a more realistic view of that turnaround, describing the reversal as only the latest response to many years of intimidation by Israel of U.S. political figures.

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