Prisoners of Congressional Politics No More

In a move that frees the survivors the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty from the shackles of congressional politics, these vets should finally get the investigation they have been seeking.

Details of a war crimes report were presented by Liberty Veterans board member Moe Shafer and Rear Admiral Merlin Staring, USN Ret. — a former Navy JAG who was involved with the initial inquiry into the attack. By establishing sufficient evidence that Israel committed war crimes, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is obligated to initiate an inquiry under Dept. of Defense directives — an investigation that should have been carried out 38 years ago.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just Arabs and Israelis who were killed during the infamous Six Day War. In fact, thirty-four young American men gave their lives defending the USS Liberty against a sustained Israeli air and sea attack. 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, 172 others were wounded. Surprisingly, there was never a comprehensive public Congressional investigation though it is considered the only naval incident of its kind in American history.

‘What we are seeking is to be treated exactly the same as every other US military unit which has been similarly attacked,’ Joe Meadors, a Liberty signalman told me recently.

Well, Joe, what Congress was unwilling to do, the DoD has to now.

Why wasn’t there an honest and open congressional investigation? Well, some Israelis insist that there have been five such investigations. Indeed, Senators John McCain, Ted Kennedy, Tim Wirth, and Congressmen Hank Brown and Larry Hopkins all assigned a staff person to inquire into the circumstances. Kennedy wrote that ‘Everything humanly possible must be done to find the truth.’ But that statement was the extent of his willingness. No Member of Congress was willing to risk his/her standing with Israel by asking hard questions about what happened, except for Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

Israel still insists that they mistook the Liberty for the out-of-service Egyptian supply vessel El Quseir. After all, the Liberty and El Quseir both had a single smokestack in mid-ship. But that’s where the similarity ends. The Liberty was not only significantly larger than El Quseir, but both the deckhouse arrangement and profile were different.

As Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chief of Naval Operations and later Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff was quoted in the Washington Post (June 15, 1991), ‘To suggest that they [the IDF] couldn’t identify the ship is … ridiculous. … Anybody who could not identify the Liberty could not tell the difference between the White House and the Washington Monument.’

And George Christian, Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson. wrote to Liberty survivor and best-selling author James Ennes in 1978,. ‘No one in the White House believed that the attack was an accident

The Liberty also displayed a bright, clean American flag. That flag is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Israel frequently defends its action by claiming that this attack was a case of ‘friendly fire.’ But survivors say that doesn’t wash as the attack occurred on a clear day with unlimited visibility after 13 reconnaissance over-flights were made. Israeli intelligence even admitted, prior to the outbreak, of knowing ‘the exact location of all opposition forces and equipment – military and civilian.’

One should also consider Israeli air force intelligence General Yeshuah Bareket’s comments during a Thames Television documentary concerning the Liberty attack: ‘The ship is an obstacle or is disturbing our operations in the area.’ In addition to the subsequent attack by planes, torpedo boats and helicopters, the Israelis also bombed the Liberty with napalm and shells. A total of 821 rocket and machine-gun holes were later reportedly counted in the Liberty’s hull.

And so, it’s a disappointment that the US Congress accepted a foreign government’s version of the attack without even considering the eyewitness accounts of survivors. Further, as Dr. Richard Kiepfer, the ship’s medical officer remarked, ‘Never before in the history of the United States Navy has a Navy Board of Inquiry ignored the testimony of American military eyewitnesses and taken, on faith, the word of their attackers.’

They did and so did Congress. At a time when support for our troops is at a pinnacle, one would have hoped that our elected reps matched deeds and words. Let’s hope that the Pentagon will do the right thing and bring closure to the Liberty vets.