War Crimes Times ● WarCrimesTimes.org
NEWS & VIEWS
Fall 2009 2
prisoners by the hundreds, afact that the entire Israeli armyleadership knew about andcondoned, according to thearmy’s own historian.” Inother words, one war crimewas used to conceal another.Why did the United Stateslet Israel get away with this?In the narrow, immediatesense, there is no mystery.According to an admiralquoted by Bamford, “PresidentLyndon Johnson came on witha comment that he didn’t careif the ship sunk, he would notembarrass his allies.” That’show it had to happen: a com-mand from the top overrulingeven the views of the Secre-tary of State, and explicitlyforbidding acknowledgementand investigation; even thesurviving sailors were threat-ened with court-martial if theyspoke out.We may safely infer twolevels of motivation. First,LBJ and the U.S. High Com-mand had already decided thatIsrael was to be a prime“strategic asset” in the pursuitof imperial aims, in the MiddleEast and elsewhere. And sec-ond, it is impossible to overes-timate the political threat posed by the Israel Lobby towhoever challenges the Zioniststate. Mere massacre of American seamen, mere hu-miliation of the Superpower:none of this can stand in the balance against the power of Israel in the United States.The impunity given to Is-rael for its destruction of theLiberty is scarcely an isolatedevent. It may be the grossestepisode to have affectedAmerica directly, but it is onlyone in an unending series of human rights violations ex-tending from the founding of the Jewish State right up to thelatest atrocity in Gaza. Every-where we look in this line of criminality we see it enabled by impunity conferred by theUnited States and anchored atmultiple places in our society,from the Congress to academiaand the media. But the attack on the Liberty and its cover-upwere exceptionally outrageous,even within the grim litany of human rights violations. Itsexposure, therefore, can play avital role in breaking the chainof impunity and bringingabout justice in the MiddleEast. We need to force Con-gress to begin the investigationthat has been postponed for 42years. This is a story that can-not be allowed to fade away.
War Crimes Times
reports on war crimes, war criminals, and on the need to prosecute war criminals.
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Death by Ally: 1967 Attack on U.S.by Israel
WCT Editorial Team: Kim Carlyle, Susan Carlyle, Mike Ferner,Clare Hanrahan, Stack Kenny, and Tarak Kauff Veterans For Peace Chapter 099PO Box 356Mars Hill, NC 28754
launched their missiles. It wasfortunate that only one torpedostruck its target, tearing anenormous hole in the hull, elsethe ship would have sunk ut-terly, all lives lost, as was ob-viously the Israeli intention.But even so, 34 sailors andtechnicians died while 174were wounded and the shipwas for all intents destroyed. Itwas the worst disaster to besuffered by the United States Navy since the World War II and itwas the work of our greatest ally,America’s “strategic asset.”Most remarkable and distress-ing, the dreadful end of theLiberty has become, officiallyspeaking, a non-event, virtu-ally unrecorded in our newsmedia of record and basicallyignored by our government.I was keenly attentive to theSix Day War as it unfolded, andthough I recall seeing newsstories about the destruction of the Liberty, the notion that themayhem might have been de-liberate barely entered mymind. It was just too “cognitivelydissonant.” Instead, I found thestrenuous Israeli insistencethat a “tragic accident” hadoccurred persuasive by de-fault. This had nothing to dowith its merits, everything todo with the fact that neither acompelling alternative expla-nation nor any criticism of Israel’s behavior was ever publicly advanced by the U.S.Israel’s version filled the vac-uum, and our pro-Zionist me-dia, as usual, accommodated it.How were we to know thatthe Israeli investigations of theevent were inadequate, andindeed, bogus? Or that a furi-ous debate was raging at thehighest levels of the UnitedStates government. This wasnot about whether Israel haddeliberately attacked the ship, but whether tolet them getaway with it or not. On one sidewere officialslike Secretaryof State Rusk and high mili-
by Joel Kovel
Not all crimes of war arecommitted against helplesscivilian populations.The rising sun of June 8,1967 shone upon an unusualship in international waters off the corner of the Mediterra-nean defined by Gaza to theEast and the Nile Delta to theSouth. It was the USS Liberty,the largest and best equippedof the seven-vessel fleetlaunched by the National Se-curity Agency, the top surveil-lance faculty of the UnitedStates. Loaded with state-of-the-art equipment, the Libertyhad arrived to monitor the SixDay war of 1967 between Is-rael and the adjacent Arabstates, at this moment enteringits fifth day. The Liberty feltsafe. After all, Israel was thegreat friend and client of theUnited States; and so when theIsraeli jets appeared in the skyat dawn to circle the communi-cations ship, the seamen andtechnicians may have musedabout the fact that the fighter- bombers were made in Amer-ica, indeed, were gifts fromUnited States, and that theIsraelis had sovereignty of thesky thanks to daring strikesthat had destroyed the Egyp-tian air force on June 4. Butsurely, on this cloudless day,the planes would see the largeAmerican flags prominently placed on the Liberty. Noth-ing, therefore, to worry about.But then, around noon, the planes returned and began bombing and strafing the de-fenseless Liberty, killing USsailors sunning themselves onthe deck and opening holes inthe hulls. They did this againand again—and then the tor- pedo boats appeared andtary officials; on the other De-fense Secretary McNamara andPresident Johnson, who werewilling to let bygones be by-gones to preserve the SpecialRelationship. And the relation-ship, once again, prevailed.There is no Statute of Limitations for war crimes. Now, forty-two years later,thanks to an unrelenting effort by survivors and their families,along with permanently out-raged military and intelligencecadre and a small but fiercelydedicated band of sleuths andactivists,* the truth is comingcloser and closer to the sur-face, and we can begin devel-oping the answers to somevery pressing questions:Was the attack on the Lib-erty, as Israel has claimed, a“tragic” case of mistaken iden-tity? The answer, flatly, is NO.We have the records of Israeli pilots telling their base insome anguish that the targetwas a United States ship and being ordered to take it out.Oliver Kirby, Deputy Director of the NSA, has stated: "I cantell you for an absolute cer-tainty [from intercepted com-munications] that the Israelisknew they were attacking anAmerican ship." Or DeanRusk: "I was never satisfiedwith the Israeli explana-tion....Through diplomaticchannels we refused to accepttheir explanations. I didn't be-lieve them then, and I don't believe them to this day. Theattack was outrageous."Why would Israel havedone such a thing? It stands toreason that the Israelis musthave thought it necessary todestroy the Liberty to preventdisclosure of something theyfelt had to be kept hidden.Here a degree of speculation isnecessary. James Bamford,definitive historian of the NSA, is probably closest to themark when he wrote that asthe Liberty was setting up itswork on June 8, “a scant dozenor so miles away, Israeli sol-diers were butchering[Egyptian] civilians and bound
USS Liberty before attack (above) and after (below).