USS Liberty: Battered Ships and American Reaction

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James Bamford, author of the recently published Body of Secrets (New York: Doubleday, 2001, 613 pages), is a serious scholar whose findings nevertheless are summarily dismissed out of hand by Israel’s ardent backers.  Despite these dismissals (for a debate, read Suzy Hansen’s “The Assault on the USS Liberty” April 25, 2001 in Salon.com website (http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2001/04/25/liberty/), Bamford has shed new light on an old issue. On June 8, 1967, a United States Navy and National Security Agency ship was fired upon for seventy-five minutes while in international waters near the Sinai Peninsula. The ship was subsequently harassed for several additional hours by menacing Israeli fighter jet flyovers and torpedo boats’ encroaching patrols. Thirty-four American sailors lost their lives and another 172 were wounded. The United States Congress held a few low level investigations of this tragedy and concluded that Israel’s version was the truth.  Strange, isn’t it, that there should have been no major, high profile investigations thus far into the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty. Remember, America entered the Vietnam conflict largely on the “public” pretext of self-defense after North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked two American destroyers, the USS Turner Joy and USS Maddox, on August 2 and 4, 1964, respectively, in the Tonkin Gulf (See: http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/shwv/articles/tonk-faq.htm).

Americans tend to be very sensitive about attacks on their vessels.  In fact, most of the wars we have waged have been because of maritime offenses, some real, some imagined, committed against our ships.  Consider the historical evidence of our nation’s deep involvement and commitment to maritime policies, and how often we went to war to answer an offense against our maritime interests:

1) The Navigation Acts of the 1760s imposed upon the British-American colonists a number of unpopular restrictions on the high seas.  These Acts laid the groundwork for rebellion.

2) The British Navy’s anti-smuggling interdiction tactics failed to stem the colonists’ need to circumvent British imposed restrictions and customs’ taxes; the subsequent creation of the arbitrary Royal Navy Admiralty Courts fed a simmering resentment that led to the American Revolution.

3) One of America’s earliest Revolutionary War Heroes was John Paul Jones, commander of the USS Bon Homme Richard, which sank the HMS Serapis off the French coast.

4) 1805-7: President Thomas Jefferson, himself a critic of former President Adams’ naval build-up program é Jefferson had campaigned as what we today would call a “fiscal conservative” é nevertheless, did not hesitate to send US warships against the Barbary Pirates in North Africa.

5) British “impressments” of over 40,000 American sailors é most whom were British nationals that were not accepted as US citizens by the Royal Navy, but rather seen as sailors gone AWOL é eventually led to the War of 1812 (though there were other causes as well, this one struck a chord).

6) The Monroe Doctrine was issued with the awareness that the Royal Navy would assist the US in keeping Spain out of her crumbling Latin American Empire.

7) The world’s oldest disarmament treaty é Rush-Bagot Treaty (1817) between Canada and the US, guarantees a warship free zone in the Great Lakes.

8) Expanding merchant and naval power largely facilitated American insistence upon an “Open Door” policy in Asia.

9) US entry or meddling in the Cuba-Spanish War (1895-1898) é incidentally, a war that the “Mambisi” (the Cuban revolutionaries led by the likes of Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo) were on the verge of winning — was generated by the blowing up of the USS Maine (Remember the Maine!) in Havana harbor.

10) America’s entry into the Great War was in part brought on by the German’s relentless U-Boat policy of unrestricted submarine warfare (1914-1918).

11) A Japanese attack on an American naval base in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 led to America’s entry into the Second World War.

12) The Cuban Missile crisis could have gone nuclear if the Soviets had decided to ram through Kennedy’s naval blockade of Cuba.

13) The Tonkin Gulf incident mentioned above got us into the Big Muddy in 1964.

14) The USS Pueblo incident on January 23, 1968, heightened tensions between the US and North Korea.

15) In 1975, President Ford sent US Marines against Cambodian Khmer Rouge “pirates” for their seizure of the USS Mayaguez, a merchant ship.

16) Saddam Hussein’s decision to float mines in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf led the US to place her naval ships into the region.  The results were two maritime tragedies: The Iraqi attack on the USS Stark that killed 37 American sailors, and the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus with 297 passengers in July 1987 by the USS Vicennes.  Both incidents were thoroughly investigated by the US Congress, and financial compensation was awarded in both cases.  It should be noted that Israel did compensate the US for the attack on the USS Liberty.

One can see clearly that Americans get a bit fretful when someone messes with their ships.  So if it is true that the US Congress has never conducted a high level investigation into the USS Liberty attack, then it can only be seen as yet another testament to the remarkable, indeed astonishing power of the American-Jewish-Israeli Lobby.  Arguments that deny such a lobby’s existence é incidentally, there is nothing illegal about such a lobby or its activities, it is simply “hardball politics,” and American Jews deserve credit for learning how to play the American political game é belong in the same rusty bucket with Holocaust denial.  This Thursday night, August 9, 2001, the History Channel will air that special on the USS Liberty that it was supposed to air back in February.  The program may spur Americans to write their Congresspersons and call for an investigation.  The Congress recently investigated what occurred to the USS Indianapolis in August 1945; former Senator Bob Kerrey only recently engaged in “damage control” over a story about a massacre he possibly (most likely) ordered nearly thirty years ago in Vietnam; so it is never too late to investigate what really happened on June 8, 1967 to the USS Liberty.  There is no statute of limitations on war crimes.  Heck, Israelis and Jews all over the world know that!  Just ask Adolf Eichmann.

Mr. Michael Lopez-Calderon taught High School Social Studies in Miami, Florida for seven years until March 2, 2001, when he was asked to leave the Jewish Day school where he had taught for the past five years. Michael was asked to leave for having posted pro-Palestinian comments on Palestine Media Watch’s subscriber-only e-mail. He remains an activist in the Miami area.

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