Honoring the Forgotten of the USS Liberty

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For so many years, few in our country have wanted to acknowledge the attack on the USS Liberty. After all, we wouldn’t want to embarrass our “ally,” Israel. With a new book out about this tragic event and the History channel planning an exposé on the cover-up later this summer, it seems rather senseless to keep pretending this Israeli assault on our military never happened. This piece is dedicated to the memory of Captain William Loren McGonagle — recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the commander of the USS Liberty — and those who served our country on that fateful day of June 8, 1967.

It was this week, 34 years ago when the famous Six Day War in the Middle East took place. Numerous casualties occurred then, and the casualties resulting from Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem continue to occur now as Palestinians wage an uprising for their freedom. But what many Americans probably don’t realize is that there were American casualties in the 1967 war, as well.

Thirty-four young men gave their lives on June 8, 1967, defending the USS Liberty against a sustained air and sea attack by the armed forces of the State of Israel. The American intelligence ship USS Liberty was attacked for 75 minutes in international waters by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats. Besides the 34 men who gave their lives, 171 others were wounded.

Israel insisted that they mistook the USS Liberty for the out-of-service Egyptian horse carrier El Quseir. They also alleged that the American men brought the attack upon themselves by operating in a war zone without displaying a flag. According to the survivors, this was absolutely not the case. They were in international waters, far from any fighting, and flew a bright, clean, American flag. That flag is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland.

The argument of “friendly fire” has also been given. But according to Liberty survivors, this reasoning doesn’t wash as the attack occurred on a clear afternoon, after 13 reconnaissance over-flights were made. Most importantly, the US Board of Inquiry noted “the USS LIBERTY was the only non-Israeli ship in the area.” Israeli intelligence even admitted, prior to the outbreak, of knowing “the exact location of all opposition forces and equipment – military and civilian.”

If there is still any doubt that this attack was not intentional, one need only consider Israeli air force intelligence General Yeshayuah Bareket’s comments during the 1987 Thames Television documentary concerning the USS Liberty attack: “The ship is an obstacle or is disturbing our operations in the area.” So basically, our men were attacked and killed for more than an hour because they were in Israel’s way. As American taxpayers, who send billions of dollars in aid each year to Israel, we should not be satisfied with this kind of reasoning. Nor should we be satisfied by the silencing of the Liberty survivors.

I asked Jim Ennes, who was Officer-of-the-Deck at the time and author of the 1980 best-selling Assault on the Liberty, if he thought the USS Liberty incident would ever get its due respect in American history.

“In history… if history means the hearts and minds of the American people, I think we have that. If history means recognition by leaders of the US government and military, I think we have that.” said Ennes.

With the powerful influence of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill on his mind, Ennes then reflected, “If it means official recognition and acknowledgment by the Congress of the United States, I think that is less likely.”

He continued, “The USS Liberty was deliberately attacked by Israel, knowing we were an American ship, committing war crimes in the process, lying about the circumstances for 35 years, and then persuading the US Congress to accept their version of the attack without even considering the eyewitness accounts of survivors. That is a first in US history.”

Quoting the late Captain McGonagle, the only living recipient in modern history to receive his congressional medal from an official other than our President, “I think it’s about time that the state of Israel…provide the crew members of the Liberty and the rest of the American people the facts of what happened and why…the Liberty was attacked.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Sherri Muzher is a Freelance writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Former Executive Director of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation.

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