Does Liberty matter?
By Ahmed Amr
Should the long dormant file on the USS Liberty be opened again? Is there any new development that would warrant a congressional investigation? The survivors of the Israeli assault on the Liberty have been lobbying Capitol Hill to probe the matter for thirty-six years. Why should a single sworn affidavit by a retired Navy captain make a difference? Does the USS Liberty still matter?
The answer to all these questions is yes. Does that mean we will get a congressional hearing? May be. Maybe not. There are plenty of reasons for pessimism. A detailed and compelling narrative of the Liberty 'incident' has long been available in the form of a book by one of the officers who survived the assault, Lt. James Ennes. Anyone who has read his "Assault on the Liberty" or attended one of his lectures will likely arrive at the same conclusion as Eric Margolis who called it 'America's most shameful secret'.
Along with other survivors, Ennes has set up a web site (www.ussliberty.org) that tracks developments relating to the assault. No single American has contributed more to keeping the issue alive than Ennes. For over three decades, Jim Ennes has led the futile effort to bring this matter to closure. He has adamantly maintained that the Israeli attack was deliberate and that there was a government cover-up. Many senior Navy officers have backed up his allegations, including Admiral Thomas Moorer.
For all their trouble, nothing has come of their efforts. Ennes himself has become 'weary' of his long crusade to shed light on the deliberate and pre-meditated slaughter of young American sailors off the Sinai coast in 1967.
Why is there a sudden interest in this old bit of Navy history? No reason except that one of the principal actors involved in the cover-up has broken his silence. The 'John Dean' of the USS Liberty has emerged from the shadows with a signed affidavit confirming that there was a cover-up and that he played a role in it. Captain Ward Boston has joined the fray. It is now left to others to get his story past the thick walls of the pro-Israeli spin machine.
On October 13, 2003 Captain Ward Boston appeared at a press conference on Capitol Hill. Most mass media outlets didn't even bother to show up. But his account of the cover-up that followed the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was briefly mentioned in an AP article. For a couple of hours, the AP article was even featured on Yahoo. The next day, the story was ancient history.
If you read the AP story, you would hardly notice that this retired navy officer had just dropped a major bombshell on Capitol Hill. After thirty-six years of silence, Captain Ward Boston had decided to come forward with a signed affidavit that revealed the fact that Israeli attack on the Liberty was deliberate.
What made Ward Boston such an expert on the Liberty 'incident'? Nothing except that he was the Navy attorney who led the military investigation into whether the attack was deliberate or accidental. What made the story of his affidavit worthy of further attention? Nothing except that his sworn affidavit stated that President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara had ordered him to conclude that the attack was accidental, regardless of the evidence to the contrary. Was anyone else going to back up his serious allegation? Nobody, except retired Admiral Thomas Moorer, who was chief of naval operations at the time of the attack. He later became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Moorer had arrived at his conclusions by investigating the Liberty 'incident' with an independent panel of former senior military officials and retired diplomats.
The AP story quoted Admiral Moorer as saying that the USS Liberty was "one of the classic all-American cover-ups." Admiral Moorer also asked a pertinent question: "Why would our government put Israel's interest ahead of our own?"
Going over the text of the Associated Press article is very instructive. An Israeli Embassy spokesman, Mark Regev, gets the last word with a gorilla sized sound bite of 41 choice words. Count them yourself. "I can say unequivocally that the Liberty tragedy was a terrible accident, that the Israeli pilots involved believed they were attacking an enemy ship. This was in the middle of a war. This is something that we are not proud of."
So, we have Admiral Moorer, who went to the trouble of showing up in a wheelchair to demand a congressional investigation, coming in second at seventeen words. Less than half the space devoted to the Israeli Embassy spokesman who only had to pick up the phone.
What about Captain Ward Boston, who was supposedly the subject of this AP story. He was left to defend why he took so long to 'share the truth'. Notice the carefully placed quotes around those three words. That is how an Associated Press 'journalist' makes you doubt the good Captain. Boston was left to defend his tardiness. What was his response to the incredulous unidentified staffer from the AP? "When orders come … I follow them." What are those three dots in the middle of the quote? Who knows? I suspect the Captain had used up his full allotment of five words.
Although the AP staffer managed to get a hold of the spin man at the Israeli embassy, his calls to the Navy were not "immediately returned". So, did he give the Navy five minutes or ten minutes? Your guess is as good as mine.
The unidentified 'journalist' who filed this AP story was at the press conference. He noticed that Admiral Moorer was in a wheelchair. And he had done a bit of research before showing up at the conference and noticed that that independent panel that had investigated the USS Liberty attack included James Akins, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia. So now you had cause to also doubt the Admiral's story. The intention behind including that little detail was for the reader to suspect that the whole matter was just a sly attempt by the Saudi's 'lobby' to smear the Israelis.
The bulk of the article was devoted to Israeli denials. The picture of the USS Liberty that accompanied the article was of a vessel that looked like it was on its maiden voyage. It is hard to believe that the Associated Press didn't have a file copy of what the ship looked like after the Israeli assault. On final thing that got my attention was that the AP article was also credited to Haaretz, an Israeli paper.
Now, here is a little bombshell to drop on the AP story. After getting that long quote from the Israeli Embassy, the AP 'journalist' called Captain Boston in Coronado, California, a lovely little island off the coast of San Diego where many Navy officers like to spend their retirement years. It is over three thousand miles from Capitol Hill. So, guess what? Boston "did not return calls seeking comment". Once Again, Captain Boston was tardy making his way home from the news conference. He had missed his scheduled Concord jet from Capitol Hill to his front yard.
What is missing from this article? Well, The Associated Press 'forgot' to contact the one person who could really challenge the account of Captain Boston and Admiral Moorer. That would be Robert McNamara. If the phone doesn't ring, it is probably the Associated Press not calling McNamara.
So much for the AP. Here is the rest of the story.
Captain Ward Boston signed a sworn affidavit accusing the former Secretary of Defense of ordering him to cover up a deliberate attack by a foreign country on an American ship. The Israeli assault cost the lives of 34 sailors and wounded 174 others. Israeli jets strafed the surviving sailors in their life rafts, which happens to be a war crime.
This was not the Gulf of Tonkin assault that Johnson and McNamara used to escalate the war in Vietnam. Not a single American sailor was wounded in that fictitious 'assault'. In the case of the USS Liberty, a very anxious McNamara called back the Sixth Fleet F-4 planes that had taken off to challenge the Israeli jets. The Israeli air attacks continued for two hours, in an apparent attempt to kill every single sailor on the Liberty.
While the Israeli's continue to deny that the attack was deliberate, they have never denied that they attacked life rafts. They only claim that they thought the victims would be Egyptians on a horse transport ship called the El Quseir. So, even official Israeli denials leave them open to the charge that they were attempting to murder Egyptians in cold blood. On the same day, thirteen miles away in El-Arish, they were already murdering hundreds of Egyptian POWs.
Why would the Israelis deliberately try to sink an American ship? This is a list of plausible Israeli motives for the attack:
- Some have suggested that the Israeli attack against the USS Liberty, an intelligence ship, was meant to cover up the mass murder of Egyptian POWs at El-Arish.
- Another Israeli motive might have been to cover up their intention to attack Syria.
- Yet a third possible reason was to sink the Liberty, blame it on Egypt and get the Americans to 'retaliate' by nuking Cairo.
- To grasp the fourth motive, one should note that when the Liberty was assaulted the crew knew immediately that it couldn't have been Egyptian planes. The entire Egyptian air force had already been destroyed on the ground in a 'preemptive' Israeli strike on the first day of the six-day war. Which means that the USS Liberty already had intelligence proving that Israel had started the war. To this day, the Israeli narrative insists on propagating the canard that Egypt had fired the first shot. A few days after seizing Gaza and the Sinai, the Israelis attacked Syria and Jordan and invaded the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and the West Bank. Since the six-day war, the whole region has been devastated by the consequences of that aggression. Two generations of Middle Easterners have paid a stiff price in blood and treasure as a result of the carnage that followed.
Israel's motivations for attacking the liberty could have involved one or all four of the above. The Israelis know how to keep secrets. So, don't count on them coming clean any time soon. Israeli Archives on the systematic expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948 are still secret. Haim Ramon made an attempt to make them public in 1999, but Barak overruled him.
The Fourth Motive.
Captain Boston's confirmation of a Johnson/McNamara cover-up provided the vital link to answering Admiral Moorer's question. "Why would our government put Israel's interest ahead of our own?"
Which one of Israel's four plausible reasons would have motivated Johnson to cover-up an Israeli war crime that took the lives of so many American sailors?
- Why would Johnson care about Israel killing Egyptian POWs? He had his own headaches with American POWs and American war crimes in Vietnam. The Israelis launched their invasion with French weapons. In 1967, America was not the major supplier of arms to Israel. France was. LBJ could have just issued a one paragraph condemnation from the State Department and then actively moved to hold Israel accountable for the murder of American sailors on the high sea. He could have then sent The Sixth Fleet to teach the Israelis a lesson about decorum on the high seas.
- Why would Johnson be any more upset about an Israeli invasion of Syria than an Israeli invasion of Egypt? Why would one additional Israeli land grab matter? It certainly wouldn't warrant an American cover-up of an Israeli war crime against Americans. As far as the United States was concerned, it was just another case of one foreign country invading a couple of other foreign countries. An American president might object to that and decide to reverse it, as was the case in Kuwait. More likely, in the event of an Israeli invasion, he would make his reservations in the form of a reprimand from the State Department and close the file.
- Yet a third possible reason was to sink the Liberty, blame it on Egypt and get the Americans to 'retaliate'. This would hardly be a reason for Johnson and McNamara to cover-up for the Israelis. In fact, it would be all the more reason for Johnson to have confronted the Israelis. Not only for the assault on the USS Liberty. But also for trying to entrap America on a second front while McNamara was busy escalating the war in Vietnam. And for killing and wounding two hundred American sailors in the process. Those who remembered the Lavon affair in 1954, were quick to assume that this was Israel's major motivation for the attack. In 1954, Israeli agents attacked American offices in Egypt in an effort to create friction between Cairo and Washington.
- Only the fourth reason would match up the Israeli motivation with the Johnson/McNamara cover-up. Only the fourth reason would explain why eight American Presidents have avoided an investigation of the cover-up. If the USS Liberty crew had gathered information confirming that it was Israel that started the six-day war in 1967, they were not the first to get wind of that news. Johnson and McNamara already knew because they had given Israel a green light. There has always been strong evidence pointing to American complicity in the six-day war, but no solid proof. More on that later. That green light made Johnson and McNamara complicit not only for approving the invasion but also for one of the disastrous results of the invasion; the murder of so many American sailors. Johnson was in no position to point fingers at the Israelis. They would simply have gone public with the dirty little secret that Johnson and McNamara had given the nod to the invasion. Johnson's secret complicity in giving a green light to Israeli aggression gave birth to a cover-up of why the IDF also so fit to attack the USS Liberty.
- The fourth reason would also explain why the cover-up story has remained buried for thirty-six years. By late 1967, Israel had already started building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Not long after, settlements sprang up in Sinai and the Golan Heights. Even in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, the expultionist Israeli settler movement saw fit to confiscate thirty percent of the land to accommodate a few thousand of their zealots. The land grab of native Palestinian land continues unabated to this day. The settlement movement was accompanied by a regime of repression to 'entice' the native Palestinians to abandon what remained of their ancient land. It is a regime of brutality that continues to this day. That is not the scenario Johnson and McNamara counted on. They had more modest goals. The defeat of the Egyptian army would lead to the fall of Nasser's regime. Once that was accomplished, the Israelis would be told to withdraw to the 1967 borders. Mission accomplished. Johnson's miscalculation was vintage McNamara. The cost of their error in judgment keeps mounting every year. No American president would want to admit that the United States was a principal party in unleashing the many catastrophes that were born as a result of Johnson's decision to bless the Israeli invasion.
The amount of effort to avoid a probe of the cover-up makes the assault on the Liberty unique in American history. Eventually, most American transgressions against foreigners becomes part of the public record. In the last few years, the U.S. government has admitted to backing the generals in Greece, Brazil and Argentina and has shed light on the war crimes perpetrated in My Lai and No Gun Ri. Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska was outed a few years back for his involvement in war crimes that he himself labeled as 'atrocities'. Most recently, The Toledo Blade ran a compelling four part series on how the Tiger Force murdered hundreds of Vietnamese civilians and on the subsequent Pentagon cover-up. American involvement in Iran in 1953 is now official history. The list goes on. The coup in Guatemala in 1954. Nixon and Kissinger's role in subverting Allende in Chile in 1973. The green light to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. The official lies that ended up costing 58,000 American dead in Vietnam, not to mention the uncounted multitudes of Vietnamese and Cambodians that paid the price of McNamara's most notorious folly.
At some point, America's history of intervention becomes part of the public domain and we move on to new interventions.
Many other illicit actions can be added to the above list. The public has been given a single rationale for this secret foreign policy. It was the Cold War and bad things happened. You were either with us or against us. File closed.
In the case of the USS Liberty, the US government is not covering up American transgressions against the little people of the world. What makes the Liberty so unique is that Johnson and McNamara staged a cover-up of a war crime by a foreign government against American sailors.
So why would the American government air our 'Cold War' dirty laundry and refuse to investigate a deliberate Israeli war crime against the crew of an American Navy vessel?
The short answer is that Johnson had a secret agreement with the Israelis. It was very similar to the secret agreement struck by Israel, France, Britain in a French Chateau in Sevres on October 22, 1956. That Anglo-French agreement with Israel was titled "The Protocol of Sevres". It was a choreographed dance to invade Egypt after the Suez Canal was nationalized. The full text of the Protocols is provided below. Prime Minister Guy Mollet signed for France. Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan were there to represent Israel, accompanied by one Shimon Peres. Selwyn Lloyd, the Foreign Secretary, represented the English. The rest of this story is very well documented. (See chapter 17 of 'Suez' by Keith Kyle. Conference of Collusion.)
The Protocols of Sevres was a rather short document. It was supposed to remain secret. In fact, Article (C-6) states that "The arrangements of the present protocol must remain strictly secret". Article (C-5) is also interesting. "Israel undertakes not to attack Jordan during the period of operations against Egypt".
President Johnson's behavior immediately before and after the Israeli 'preemptive' strike have always suggested that he had signed an American version of the Protocols of Sevres. The day before the Israeli invasion, he had personally assured Nasser that Israel would not attack Egypt. When the United Nations Security Council intervened and called for a cease-fire, the American Ambassador was in no hurry to finalize a draft resolution. US Ambassador Arthur Goldberg famously said, "Gentlemen, take your time", giving the Israelis more time to complete their land grab. After the cease-fire agreement, the Israelis attacked Syria and ceased the Golan Heights.
How secret was the American-Israeli version of "The Protocols of Sevres"? So secret that Dean Rusk didn't know about it. He supported a full investigation of the Assault on the USS Liberty. So secret, that the only people alive today who know about it are probably McNamara and whoever signed it for the Israeli side, probably Abba Eban.
What would Johnson and McNamara hope to achieve from this sinister collusion with Israel? Again, the American Foreign ethos at the time was "If you are not with us, you are against us." The President and his Defense Secretary were probably only interested in humiliating Nasser for his pan-Arab politics, his socialism and his prominent involvement in the non-aligned movement. The non-aligned movement was considered a mere front for the Soviets. In America's Cold War eyes, Nehru and Tito and Nasser were considered as 'subversive' as Fidel Castro. Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia, another leader of the non-aligned movement, had already been taken care of. Nasser's Pan-Arab socialist ideology was anathema and a threat to the American oil colonies in the Gulf.
Johnson and McNamara almost succeeded in toppling Nasser. He resigned on June 9th, 1967. But millions of Egyptians took to the street and demanded that he remain in office. By all accounts, it was a spontaneous outpouring of affection and support for Nasser, a man who for all his faults, was considered as much a victim as any other Egyptian.
The Israeli trump card.
For the record, The Israelis broke article C-6 of the Sevres Protocol when it suited their purposes. The secret document was 'leaked' to embarrass Charles De Gaulle. His sin was that he punished Israel for the land grab in 1967 by imposing an arms embargo.
The still secret version of the American 'Sevres Protocol' would also explain why Johnson and McNamara wrote off the USS Liberty and its crew. Push comes to shove, the Israelis had a trump card.
Those waiting for the Israelis to give a confession on why they assaulted the USS Liberty had better have the patience of Job. Now that Captain Ward Boston has revealed his long held secret, the need for confessions should start with Robert McNamara. Perhaps he can be persuaded to lay down Israel's trump card. Once that domino falls, they rest will follow.
The survivors of the USS liberty should not concentrate their efforts on making Israel accountable. Even if the Israelis confess, their mass media boys would make certain that this 'old story' ended up buried next to the obituaries. Just take a look at how FOX and CNN sanitized the war crimes of Sharon from Qibya to Sabra and Shatila to Gaza and Jenin. Or how they managed to completely bury the devastating implications of Captain Boston's affidavit.
Given Captain Boston's sworn affidavit, we are now certain of one thing. There was a cover-up. We know it was Johnson and McNamara who ordered the cover-up. Johnson is now dead. So, we are left with McNamara to reveal his role and his motives for covering up this dark chapter of American history. This is a lot easier done than trying to take on the Israeli Lobby, their congressional majority or their mass media wizards.
We must demand that McNamara come forward to cleanse his soul. He has done it before and he should be persuaded to do it again. We don't need a congressional investigation that will never happen. We need one single American to come clean with the survivors of the USS Liberty and the families of the sailors who were butchered on the morning of June 8, 1967. That one person is McNamara.
This is not a story that should interest only the families of the murdered sailors and their mates who survived to tell the tale. Probing the atrocities against the USS Liberty is essential to understanding the horrible injustice inflicted on two generations of Middle Easterners by an American foreign policy that can only be described as cruel.
Does the Liberty Matter? Today, more than ever. More than any other incident, the USS Liberty gave the Israeli Lobby cause to believe that they could get away with anything. The Chicken Hawk neo-cons who are responsible for the campaign of deception that led to the war in Iraq are an integral part of a Likudnik cabal that has taken control of the American agenda for the sole purpose of serving Israeli interests. They know that they have blunt instruments like FOX TV and the Washington Post to emasculate any major politician that stands up to them. Over the years, as they move from one success to another, they have acquired an arrogance that used to be reserved for absolute monarchs. When you have a podium the size of CNN and the New York Times, it is not difficult to acquire a bad case of Napoleonic fever.
Any frontal assault against the Lobby and their media 'assets' is doomed to failure. The AP story on Captain Ward's revelation should serve as an example. The mass media lads have honed the art of muzzling Israel's critics to a fine science. Notice how they managed to bury the Plame affair, the mother of all Watergates. Why are none of their 'journalists' available to investigate the Likudnik Office of Special Plans (OSP) for cherry picking intelligence to make the case for war in Iraq? Consider the resources they let loose on Kobe, OJ Simpson, Chandra Levy, Lacy Peterson and that stain on Lewinsky's dress. Yet, they refuse to pay a morsel of attention to the monumental significance of Captain Boston's affidavit? And they have the audacity to casually dismiss a Former Joint Chief of Staffs who comes forward with a compelling story of a government 'cover-up'?
Yes, the USS Liberty matters. And we need to make certain that it continues to matter. Captain Ward Boston took his story to the big boys and they killed it. What is needed here is a plan of action that gets public attention over the heads of the mass media and against the neutered will of congress.
To avoid the frustrations that James Ennes has encountered over the last thirty-six years, a new approach is needed. The focus needs to be on McNamara, not on Israel or their slaves in the U.S. Congress. Captain Ward's affidavit completed half the job. McNamara's confession would finish the job and force both Congress and Israel's amen corner to take notice that the mystery surrounding the assault on the USS Liberty will be solved, one way or the other. And soon.
A modest Liberty plan.
- If the AP boys can't afford to make a call to McNamara, others can spring a little change to ask him about his role in covering up the Israeli assault on the USS Liberty. Implore Robert McNamara to come clean. For that to happen, the survivors of the Liberty and the survivors who lost loved ones on the Liberty must make a pledge not to sue McNamara and to forgive him in exchange for the truth. With a McNamara confession, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed against the U.S. government and the Israeli government. All we need is another Mea Culpa from McNamara, not an inquisition.
- Attempts need to be made to identify the pilots who took off from the Sixth Fleet to rescue their brethren on the USS Liberty. Ask them to follow the example of Captain Ward Boston and come forward with their stories. Why were they told to return instead of being allowed to challenge the Israeli jets?
- While media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch and Sulzberger are certain to avoid this story like the plague, there are still a few mid-sized independent American publishers who might well want to press McNamara and the Israelis for answers. The Toledo Blade is one place to start. The Seattle Times is family owned. The Atlanta Journal is independent. The Christian Science Monitor should be lobbied to follow up on Captain Boston's revelations. European journalists should also be encouraged to join the fray, especially the Guardian, the Independent and Le Monde. If your local paper is family owned and independent, it might have more resources to attach to this story than you might imagine. In covering the Tiger Force massacres, The Toledo Blade actually went to the expense of sending journalists to Vietnam and devoted two full time reporters to the story. They are now being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
- Find out where McNamara plays golf. Show up with your signs and let him know that Americans want him to answer a simple question before he tees off. Why the cover-up?
- Find out about McNamara's business interests. He is probably on a few Boards of Directors. Show up at their annual meetings with shareholders. You might have to buy a few shares to do that.
- Honor Captain Ward Boston, Lt. James Ennes and Admiral Thomas Moorer. The best way to do that is to support the web site www.ussliberty.org. Not just by visiting, but by sending them a check so they can make their presence known and expand their work. Let other web sites and independent media know about this incredible resource.
- Call up the Navy. And give them more than ten minutes to get back to you. A lot of Navy officers want the answers just as much as you do.
- Ask the local chapter of the American Veterans of foreign Wars or the American Legion to invite Ward, Ennes and Moorer to give a speech.
- Contact the Israeli Embassy and let them know you want answers. They won't respond and they won't call back. But you will feel better. Call up the Washington Post and The Associated Press and ask them to follow up on the Captain Boston's lead. They won't. But you will feel better still.
- Make the USS Liberty matter. Don't give up now. Let us help James Ennes run the final lap of his long struggle to honor the memory of those who perished on the USS Liberty. He said there was a cover-up and he was right. This one gutsy American used his liberty to wage battle on behalf of his mates and challenge his government and the mass media barons to tell America the truth. Because of his dedication, we now know for certain that there was a cover-up. We know McNamara was part of the cover-up. All we now need is for McNamara to tell us why.
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