By Richard Edmondson
This Thursday, June 8, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Israeli attack upon the USS Liberty. Will President Trump bother to pay tribute to the 34 US sailors who lost their lives that day? Will he express any sort of condolences to their families? Will he take the time to at least maybe post a tweet acknowledging his awareness of what happened 50 years ago?
One would certainly hope so, but I find myself doubtful. Thirty-four dead Americans. One hundred seventy-four wounded. This was the result of the attack upon the USS Liberty, an attack which lasted for more than two hours, an attack upon a flagged US vessel that was carried out by an erstwhile putative “ally.” But because the “ally” was Israel, I have a strong feeling the president will shy away from saying much if anything at all about it. For the likely result, as we well know, would be a tempest. It would be the top story on CNN. More pilloring. More talk of impeachment. More comedians doing jokes about beheading the president.
Yes. If Trump wanted to be gutsy, he could post a tweet–oh…just saying that the attack occurred, that it was carried out by Israel, and that US servicemen died. And if he really wanted to be bold, he could call into question Israel’s claim that it was an accident. He could do this by simply mentioning, without giving his own personal yea or nay, what the survivors have contended–that the attack was not an accident, that the Israelis fully knew they were attacking an American ship.
And if Donald Trump wanted to be, dared to be, fearlessly audacious about all this, if he wanted to engage in a stalwart pursuit of the truth, he could call for a reopening of the official investigation–and if he wanted to be smart and cagey about issuing such a call, he could couch it in terms of paying honor and respect to the men who gave their lives that day. He could say we owe it to their memories. We also owe it to their families, to their descendants. He could additionally point out that the survivors of the attack are elderly now, and that time for conducting a formal investigation in which they could give testimonies under oath is running out. If we wait another ten years many of them will have passed away.
All this he could do. But will he?
One of the Liberty survivors is Ron Grantski, now 70 years old. Grantski lives in Modesto, California, and recently he gave an interview to his hometown newspaper, the Modesto Bee:
The Bee’s print version of the story can be found here. The article, by reporter Jeff Jardine, includes the information that someone once left an threatening message on Grantski’s voice mail telling him to “stop talking about the USS Liberty and Israel” or “something will happen to you.”
It also mentions that Grantski’s job on board the USS Liberty was ship communications. Specifically he was a cryotographer, and one of his duties was to copy the messages that were transmitted. The Liberty was a spy ship. It eavesdropped on radio communications, including communications transmitted by Israelis.
“I had top-secret crypto clearance – the highest you could get,” he told the paper. “They [the Israelis] would change the station in the middle of a message and someone else would say, ‘Ski, he’s on .. ’ whatever station, and I’d switch to that one.’ They were using lots of Morse Code, and sending at 50 to 70 words per minute, which is pretty darned fast to be copying in code.”
One message in particular he remembers–a message in which the Israelis talked about attacking a US target and blaming it on the Arabs. “Unbeknownst to us, it was our ship that was going to be attacked,” Grantski told the Bee.
The story also mentions that Grantski currently is in poor health, and that he is unable to attend a meeting of the USS Liberty Association in Norfolk, VA in observance of the anniversary. “But he will be with them in spirit,” Jardine writes.
And the article closes with a quote from the US veteran: “It’s important that the true story comes out,” he said.
Suppose Trump were to open a new inquiry into the attack upon the USS Liberty. Suppose, for instance, he appointed a commission specifically for this purpose. If the commission’s investigation were to be conducted in a transparent manner–if its proceedings, for instance…including testimonies from the Liberty survivors…were carried out in public–it would go a long way toward fulfilling Trump’s promise to make America great again.
But of course this would require bucking the Israeli lobby. Trump would find himself in almost open combat with AIPAC. Does he have the courage or the will to carry out such an enterprise? I seriously doubt it, although of course I would love to be proven wrong.
At any rate, below is an article about the attack on the USS Liberty written by Jeffrey St. Clair and published several days ago at Counterpunch. It provides an excellent account of the events of June 8, 1967, as well as the aftermath and the coverup waged by US officials. Some of it you may have heard before; other parts may be new to you. But the article, drawing in large part from the book, Assault on the Liberty, by James Ennes Jr., provides a comprehensive overview of the train of events, and when you put the information related here together with that in the Modesto Bee article, it leaves little room for doubt that Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty could have been anything other than intentional.
Infamy at Sea: Israel’s Attack on the US Liberty 50 Years Later
By Jeffrey St. Clair
In early June of 1967, at the onset of the Six Day War, the Pentagon sent the USS Liberty from Spain into international waters off the coast of Gaza to monitor the progress of Israel’s attack on the Arab states. The Liberty was a lightly armed surveillance ship.
Only hours after the Liberty arrived it was spotted by the Israeli military. The IDF sent out reconnaissance planes to identify the ship. They made eight trips over a period of three hours. The Liberty was flying a large US flag and was easily recognizable as an American vessel.
Soon more planes came. These were Israeli Mirage III fighters, armed with rockets and machine guns. As off-duty officers sunbathed on the deck, the fighters opened fire on the defenseless ship with rockets and machine guns.
A few minutes later a second wave of planes streaked overhead, French-built Mystere jets, which not only pelted the ship with gunfire but also with napalm bomblets, coating the deck with the flaming jelly. By now, the Liberty was on fire and dozens were wounded and killed, excluding several of the ship’s top officers.
The Liberty’s radio team tried to issue a distress call, but discovered the frequencies had been jammed by the Israeli planes with what one communications specialist called “a buzzsaw sound.” Finally, an open channel was found and the Liberty got out a message it was under attack to the USS America, the Sixth Fleet’s large aircraft carrier.
Two F-4s left the carrier to come to the Liberty’s aid. Apparently, the jets were armed only with nuclear weapons. When word reached the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara became irate and ordered the jets to return. “Tell the Sixth Fleet to get those aircraft back immediately,” he barked. McNamara’s injunction was reiterated in saltier terms by Admiral David L. McDonald, the chief of Naval Operations: “You get those fucking airplanes back on deck, and you get them back down.” The planes turned around. And the attack on the Liberty continued.
After the Israeli fighter jets had emptied their arsenal of rockets, three Israeli attack boats approached the Liberty. Two torpedoes were launched at the crippled ship, one tore a 40-foot wide hole in the hull, flooding the lower compartments, and killing more than a dozen American sailors.
As the Liberty listed in the choppy seas, its deck aflame, crew members dropped life rafts into the water and prepared to scuttle the ship. Given the number of wounded, this was going to be a dangerous operation. But it soon proved impossible, as the Israeli attack boats strafed the rafts with machine gun fire. No body was going to get out alive that way.
After more than two hours of unremitting assault, the Israelis finally halted their attack. One of the torpedo boats approached the Liberty. An officer asked in English over a bullhorn: “Do you need any help?”
The wounded commander of the Liberty, Lt. William McGonagle, instructed the quartermaster to respond emphatically: “Fuck you.”
The Israeli boat turned and left.
A Soviet destroyer responded before the US Navy, even though a US submarine, on a covert mission, was apparently in the area and had monitored the attack. The Soviet ship reached the Liberty six hours before the USS Davis. The captain of the Soviet ship offered his aid, but the Liberty’s conning officer refused.
Finally, 16 hours after the attack two US destroyers reached the Liberty. By that time, 34 US sailors were dead and 174 injured, many seriously. As the wounded were being evacuated, an officer with the Office of Naval Intelligence instructed the men not to talk about their ordeal with the press.
The following morning Israel launched a surprise invasion of Syria, breaching the new cease-fire agreement and seizing control of the Golan Heights.
Within three weeks, the Navy put out a 700-page report, exonerating the Israelis, claiming the attack had been accidental and that the Israelis had pulled back as soon as they realized their mistake. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara suggested the whole affair should be forgotten. “These errors do occur,” McNamara concluded.
In Assault on the Liberty, a harrowing first-hand account by James Ennes Jr., McNamara’s version of events is proven to be as big a sham as his concurrent lies about Vietnam. Ennes’s book created a media storm when it was first published by Random House in 1980, including (predictably) charges that Ennes was a liar and an anti-Semite. Still, the book sold more than 40,000 copies, but was eventually allowed to go out of print. Now Ennes has published an updated version, which incorporates much new evidence that the Israeli attack was deliberate and that the US government went to extraordinary lengths to disguise the truth.
It’s a story of Israel aggression, Pentagon incompetence, official lies, and a cover-up that persists to this day. The book gains much of its power from the immediacy of Ennes’s first-hand account of the attack and the lies that followed.
Now, decades later, Ennes warns that the bloodbath on board the Liberty and its aftermath should serve as a tragic cautionary tale about the continuing ties between the US government and the government of Israel.
The Attack on the Liberty is the kind of book that makes your blood seethe. Ennes skillfully documents the life of the average sailor on one of the more peculiar vessels in the US Navy, with an attention for detail that reminds one of Dana or O’Brien. After all, the year was 1967 and most of the men on the Liberty were certainly glad to be on a non-combat ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, rather than in the Gulf of Tonkin or Mekong Delta.
But this isn’t Two Years Before the Mast. In fact, Ennes’s tour on the Liberty last only a few short weeks. He had scarcely settled into a routine before his new ship was shattered before his eyes.
Ennes joined the Liberty in May of 1967, as an Electronics Material Officer. Serving on a “spook ship”, as the Liberty was known to Navy wives, was supposed to be a sure path to career enhancement. The Liberty’s normal routine was to ply the African coast, tuning in its eavesdropping equipment on the electronic traffic in the region.
The Liberty had barely reached Africa when it received a flash message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sail from the Ivory Coast to the Mediterranean, where it was to re-deploy off the coast of the Sinai to monitor the Israeli attack on Egypt and the allied Arab nations.
As the war intensified, the Liberty sent a request to the fleet headquarters requesting an escort. It was denied by Admiral William Martin. The Liberty moved alone to a position in international waters about 13 miles from the shore at El Arish, then under furious siege by the IDF.
On June 6, the Joint Chiefs sent Admiral McCain, father of the senator from Arizona, an urgent message instructing him to move the Liberty out of the war zone to a position at least 100 miles off the Gaza Coast. McCain never forwarded the message to the ship.
A little after seven in the morning on June 8, Ennes entered the bridge of the Liberty to take the morning watch. Ennes was told that an hour earlier a “flying boxcar” (later identified as a twin-engine Nord 2501 Noratlas) had flown over the ship at a low level.
Ennes says he noticed that the ship’s American flag had become stained with soot and ordered a new flag run up the mast. The morning was clear and calm, with a light breeze.
At 9 am, Ennes spotted another reconnaissance plane, which circled the Liberty. An hour later two Israeli fighter jets buzzed the ship. Over the next four hours, Israeli planes flew over the Liberty five more times.
When the first fighter jet struck, a little before two in the afternoon, Ennes was scanning the skies from the starboard side of the bridge, binoculars in his hands. A rocket hit the ship just below where Ennes was standing, the fragments shredded the men closest to him.
After the explosion, Ennes noticed that he was the only man left standing. But he also had been hit by more than 20 shards of shrapnel and the force of the blast had shattered his left leg. As he crawled into the pilothouse, a second fighter jet streaked above them and unleashed its payload on the hobbled Liberty.
At that point, Ennes says the crew of the Liberty had no idea who was attacking them or why. For a few moments, they suspected it might be the Soviets, after an officer mistakenly identified the fighters as MIG-15s. They knew that the Egyptian air force already had been decimated by the Israelis. The idea that the Israelis might be attacking them didn’t occur to them until one of the crew spotted a Star of David on the wing of one of the French-built Mystere jets.
Ennes was finally taken below deck to a makeshift dressing station, with other wounded men. It was hardly a safe harbor. As Ennes worried that his fractured leg might slice through his femoral artery leaving him to bleed to death, the Liberty was pummeled by rockets, machine-gun fire and an Italian-made torpedo packed with 1,000-pounds of explosive.
After the attack ended, Ennes was approached by his friend Pat O’Malley, a junior officer, who had just sent a list of killed and wounded to the Bureau of Naval Personnel. He got an immediate message back. “They said, ‘Wounded in what action? Killed in what action?’,” O’Malley told Ennes. “They said it wasn’t an ‘action,’ it was an accident. I’d like for them to come out here and see the difference between an action and an accident. Stupid bastards.”
The cover-up had begun.
The Pentagon lied to the public about the attack on the Liberty from the very beginning. In a decision personally approved by the loathsome McNamara, the Pentagon denied to the press that the Liberty was an intelligence ship, referring to it instead as a Technical Research ship, as if it were little more than a military version of Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso.
The military press corps on the USS America, where most of the wounded sailors had been taken, were placed under extreme restrictions. All of the stories filed from the carrier were first routed through the Pentagon for security clearance, objectionable material was removed with barely a bleat of protest from the reporters or their publications.
Predictably, Israel’s first response was to blame the victim, a tactic that has served them so well in the Palestinian situation. First, the IDF alleged that it had asked the State Department and the Pentagon to identify any US ships in the area and was told that there were none. Then the Israeli government charged that the Liberty failed to fly its flag and didn’t respond to calls for it to identify itself…