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The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored

On this 2016 Memorial Day, much like all Memorial Day commemorations since 1968, no official recognition or memorial services  will be held to honor the 34 dead  and the 167 wounded US Navy Men.

In what has to be one of the most cowardly and expedient political decisions made by a Commander in Chief, politicians, and top brass to uphold the constitution of the United States and to defend American citizens, Lyndon Johnson and his underlings orchestrated a cover up of epic proportions.

Today no one will hear about the Israeli June 8, 1967 assault on the USS Liberty, an attack so cowardly and so heinous that it exposes Israel’s penchant for manufacturing facts and its ability to manipulate American leadership and the media to gloss over its dastardly deeds.

On that infamous 8th day of June 1967, and in an act of cowardly and  pre-meditated  murder,  the USS Liberty, even though she was flying the American flag,  was repeatedly attacked by Israeli French-made jet fighters and torpedo boats. When it was all said and done, 34 American navy men were killed and 167 were wounded. (See: Israel’s Attack on the USS Liberty, Revisited by Jeffrey St. Clair.)

One of the most treasured books in my personal library is an autographed copy of LCMDR’s James Ennes’ 1978 book under the title “Assault on the Liberty.” In a meticulously-documented narrative, this naval officer, defying US official policy, wrote a minute-by-minute account of the hours-long assault on an un-armed US ship. In chilling and vivid detail, the navy commander provides a chronological pre/during/and/post account of the unprovoked assault and the shameful complicity of  Lyndon Johnson in what has to be the most appalling US governmental cover up of a murderous act in which American servicemen were shamefully disposed as political fodder in a shabbily orchestrated and despicable chess game.

In the mid 1980’s I attended a LCMDR James Ennes lecture on said assault at a Washington, DC venue; hence my prized autographed book. In perhaps one of the most engaging and compelling lectures I’d ever attended, the Commander took a whole passel of cowardly politicians and top brass to task for walking out on the men they were sworn to protect. By the late seventies the by-then well-established and powerful Israeli Lobby, AIPAC (and all its tentacles under different labels), wielded great power to effect a pro-Zionist, pro-Israel government within a government.

As chilling and as  forceful as Commander Ennes’  presentation about the despicable assault was, his account of how he was stymied in his efforts to research, write and publish the book were equally horrifying. After the book was published and, as usual when it comes to Israeli transgressions, coast to coast efforts were made to prevent the book from being sold in bookstores. And, when the networks held live interviews with Commander Ennes, spineless TV anchors/hosts conducted gutless interviews and made sinister attempts to discredit him.

One of the things that was seared in my mind was the Commander’s comment during the question-answer session about the pernicious attempts not only to keep the book from being distributed, but the repeated, yet again, coast-to coast disappearance of books from public and university library  shelves. The folks who were not comfortable with the facts were, in 1984 fashion, pilfering and disposing of American naval history in a most deliberate and craven effort to reduce the lives of brave American servicemen to rubbish by maliciously deviant politicians and Israeli spokespeople and their ilk.

When it comes to Israeli crimes and policies and in typical fashion, American leaders’ rebukes of lily-livered Israeli violations of all decent international norms are but mere mousy, if not apologetic rebukes. Breaking away from Johnson’s acquiescence and timorous response, on June 10, 1967, Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent the following pusillanimous missive to the Israeli Ambassador:

“At the time of the attack, the USS Liberty was flying the American flag and its identification was clearly indicated in large white letters and numerals on its hull. … Experience demonstrates that both the flag and the identification number of the vessel were readily visible from the air…. Accordingly, there is every reason to believe that the USS Liberty was identified, or at least her nationality determined, by Israeli aircraft approximately one hour before the attack. … The subsequent attack by the torpedo boats, substantially after the vessel was or should have been identified by Israeli military forces, manifests the same reckless disregard for human life.”

Former noted US diplomat and UC Berkeley scholar George Lenczowski opined that: “It was significant that, in contrast to his secretary of state, President Johnson fully accepted the Israeli version of the tragic incident.” He further commented that “Johnson himself only included one small paragraph about the Liberty in his autobiography,  in which he accepted the Israeli explanation of  ‘error’, but also minimized the whole affair and distorted the actual number of dead and wounded, by lowering them from 34 to 10 and 171 to 100, respectively.”

Some observers believe that Johnson was Rasputinized by the duo Kalb brothers/reporters and needed sugar coated reports on his descent into the abyss of  an American created Vietnamese hell, that phony excuse “to keep the[Comminists] out of Southeast Asia.” As further proof of Johnson’s spineless complicity in the cover up, USS Liberty Captain William McGonagle  was awarded the coveted Medal of Honor not at the White House (as is customary), but in a hushed ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard. Adding insult to injury, the award, customarily presented by the President of the United States, was awarded in a muted and non-public ceremony by the Secretary of the Navy.

Evil is always orchestrated by evil men and women, and it is always stage-managed behind drawn curtains.

To quash the somewhat tepid concern of American citizens, other awards were presented behind drawn curtains, thus reducing the servicemen to extra, disposable characters. At no time, however, was Israel mentioned as a perpetrator.

There is no denying that The USS Liberty was an American spy ship; that, in the heat of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, it was spying on Russian, Egyptian, and Israeli communications; that it was sailing 30 miles north of the Sinai Peninsula, and that it was sailing in a westerly direction, well away from Israel and Egypt; that it was unarmed; that its several calls for help to the US’s 6th Fleet  headquarters were both disregarded and stymied by Washington; that the initial assault took out its communications tower was a deliberate act intended to render it incommunicado; that Israel had hoped to lay the blame on Egypt, hence begetting Washington’s wrath on Egypt; that Johnson entertained dropping nuclear bombs on Egypt (four nuclear armed US Navy planes in the Western Mediterranean were ordered back to ship); that the ship was in International Waters; that, with American official complicity, Israel, like no other country,  got away with killing and injuring Americans with not even a mild slap; that, perhaps most ironically, the umbilical cord which has pumped over 100 billion taxpayer dollars into Israeli coffers, will give (compliments of Barak Obama) this rogue nation an additional 45 billion dollars over a 10 year period, an amount which Netanyahu thinks too meager. Dude’s finagling  a much higher handout to which he, his government, and AIPAC feel entitled.

So, on this, the 2016 Memorial Day, let’s hear it for the USS Liberty dead and wounded. Let’s honor their memory by acknowledging their sacrifices. Let us have a moment of silence so that we, the living, will accord them and their families the dignity and respect they deserve and, most significantly, that their lives mattered, and that they should not be reduced to a meager footnote in the appendix of recorded   US history. Rather, they should be accorded the same tombstone on that hallowed ground of those who served.

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Raouf J. Halaby has just recently been awarded a Professor Emeritus status. He taught English and art for 42 years. He is a writer, a sculptor, a photographer, and an avid gardener. He can be reached at rrhalaby@suddenlink.net

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