Leaving the USS Liberty Crew Behind

Exclusive: Justifying the swap of Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bergdahl, President Obama cited a principle of never leaving U.S. soldiers behind, but that rule was violated in the shabby treatment of the USS Liberty crew, attacked 47 years ago by Israeli warplanes, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

On June 8, 1967, Israeli leaders learned they could deliberately attack a U.S. Navy ship and try to send it, together with its entire crew, to the bottom of the Mediterranean with impunity. Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty, a state-of-the-art intelligence collection platform sailing in international waters off the Sinai, killing 34 of the 294 crew members and wounding more than 170.

On the 47th anniversary of that unprovoked attack let’s be clear about what happened: Israeli messages intercepted on June 8, 1967, leave no doubt that sinking the USS Liberty was the mission assigned to the attacking Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats as the Six-Day War raged in the Middle East. Let me repeat: there is no doubt none that the mission of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was to destroy the USS Liberty and kill its entire crew.

USS Liberty (AGTR-5) receives assistance from units of the Sixth Fleet, after she was attacked and seriously damaged by Israeli forces off the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967.  (US Navy photo)

USS Liberty (AGTR-5) receives assistance from units of the Sixth Fleet, after she was attacked and seriously damaged by Israeli forces off the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967. (US Navy photo)

Referring last week to the controversy of the swap of five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bode Bergdahl, President Barack Obama claimed, “The U.S. has always had a pretty sacred rule: We don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind.” The only exception, he might have added, is when Israeli forces shoot them up; then mum’s the word.

Mr. President, try explaining that “pretty sacred rule” to the USS Liberty survivors. I know them well enough to sense the hollow echo that Obama’s claim will leave in their ears and in the ears of the families of those who did not survive.

The crew of the USS Liberty has been “left behind,” in a figurative as well as a physical sense. There is no way to retrieve the bodies of those washed out to sea through the large hole made by the Israeli torpedo that hit the Liberty amidships, killing 26 of the crew.

There is a way, however, to stop throwing salt in the survivors’ wounds, as every U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson has done in acquiescing to the false narrative that it was all a terrible case of mistaken identity and confusion by Israeli command and control. That salt burns especially on anniversaries of the tragedy, raising troubling questions about the power of the Israel Lobby and the Israeli government over U.S. politicians.

In apparent fear of the Israel Lobby and not wanting to offend the Israeli government, U.S. officials including the Navy have refused to come clean on what happened 47 years ago. The mainstream U.S. media has been a willing partner in this failure to face the facts and demand accountability.

No Accident

Here, for example, is the text of an intercepted Israeli conversation, just one of many pieces of hard, unambiguous evidence that the Israeli attack was not a mistake:

Israeli pilot to ground control: “This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?”

Ground control: “Yes, follow orders.” …

Israeli pilot: “But, sir, it’s an American ship I can see the flag!”

Ground control: “Never mind; hit it!”

The Israelis would have been able to glory in reporting “mission accomplished, ship sunk, all crew killed” save for the bravery and surefootedness of then-23 year-old Navy seaman Terry Halbardier, whose actions spelled the difference between the murder of 34 of the crew and the intended massacre of all 294.

Halbardier skated across the Liberty’s slippery deck while it was being strafed in order to connect a communications cable and enable the Liberty to send out an SOS. The Israelis intercepted that message and, out of fear of how the U.S. Sixth Fleet would respond, immediately broke off the attack, returned to their bases, and sent an “oops” message to Washington confessing to their unfortunate “mistake.”

As things turned out, the Israelis didn’t need to be so concerned. When President Johnson learned that the USS America and USS Saratoga had launched warplanes to do battle with the forces attacking the Liberty, he told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to call Sixth Fleet commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geiss and tell him to order the warplanes to return immediately to their carriers.

According to J.Q. “Tony” Hart, a chief petty officer who monitored these conversations from a U.S. Navy communications relay station in Morocco, Geiss shot back that one of his ships was under attack. Tellingly, McNamara responded: “President Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally over a few sailors.”

Getting Away With Murder

For the Israelis, the tight U-turn by the U.S. warplanes over the Mediterranean was proof positive that the Israeli government can literally get away with murder, including killing U.S. servicemen, and that Official Washington and its servile media could be counted upon to cover up the deliberate nature of the attack.

John Crewdson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune, asked McNamara about this many years later. McNamara’s answer is worth reading carefully; he said he had “absolutely no recollection of what I did that day,” except that “I have a memory that I didn’t know at the time what was going on.”

Crewsdon has written the most detailed and accurate account of the Israeli attack on the Liberty; it appeared in the Chicago Tribune, and also in the Baltimore Sun, on Oct. 2, 2007. Read it and you’ll understand why Crewdson got no Pulitzer for his investigative reporting on the Liberty. Instead, the Tribune laid him off in November 2008 after 24 years.

Several of the Liberty survivors have become friends of mine. I have listened to their stories, as Crewdson did. When June 8 comes around each year I remember them. And on special occasions, as when Terry Halbardier was finally awarded the Silver Star for his bravery, I write about them.

The mainstream U.S. media has avoided the USS Liberty case like the plague. I just checked the Washington Post and surprise, surprise it has missed the opportunity for the 46th consecutive year, to mention the Liberty anniversary.

On the few occasions when the mainstream U.S. media outlets are forced to address what happened, they blithely ignore the incredibly rich array of hard evidence and still put out the false narrative of the “mistaken” Israeli attack on the Liberty.

And they attempt to conflate fact with speculation, asking why Israel would deliberately attack a ship of the U.S. Navy. Why Tel Aviv wanted the Liberty and its entire crew on the bottom of the Mediterranean remains a matter of speculation, but there are plausible theories including Israel’s determination to keep the details of its war plans secret from everyone, including the U.S. government.

But there is no doubt that destroying the Liberty and its crew was the mission assigned to Israel’s warplanes and torpedo boats. One Navy Admiral with a conscience, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and before that Chief of Naval Operations) Thomas Moorer, has “broken ranks,” so to speak. Moorer helped lead an independent, blue-ribbon commission to investigate what happened to the Liberty.

The following are among the commission’s findings made public in October 2003:

-That the attack, by a U.S. ally, was a “deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill its entire crew”

-That the attack included the machine-gunning of stretcher-bearers and life rafts

-That “the White House deliberately prevented the U.S. Navy from coming to the defense of the [ship] … never before in naval history has a rescue mission been cancelled when an American ship was under attack”

-That surviving crew members were later threatened with “court-martial, imprisonment, or worse” if they talked to anyone about what had happened to them; and were “abandoned by their own government.”

Doing Justice

Will the USS Liberty survivors ever enjoy the opportunity to know and to tell the real story with all its evil cruelties? Or will silence continue to reign? In a different context, Russian dissident author Alexandr Solzhenitzyn wrote this warning about what silence about evil does to the foundations of justice:

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

President Obama, the crew of the USS Liberty has been “left behind” for way too many years. Do the right thing by them. Face down those who warn that you cannot risk Israel’s displeasure. And add more substance to your rhetoric about our “pretty sacred rule” that we do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry and intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for the next 27 years.

28 comments for “Leaving the USS Liberty Crew Behind

  1. daniel
    June 15, 2014 at 16:33

    The shooting down of the airliner by the Vincennes ”could not have been a mistake.” The plane was a regularly scheduled civilian flight, Mr. Velayati said, on a well-charted international airway; it was flying at a normal speed for civilian planes and was at the proper altitude, 12,000 feet, and climbing, according to the pilot’s last report. The Vincennes had reported its radar showed the plane was flying at only 9,000 feet and was descending, in what seemed to be a prelude to an attack.

    The shoot down was at 10:30 or so in the morning. I am not aware of any evidence of bad weather at the time but not sure on that.

    Any committees out there for this event? What happened to the shooters? Awarded metals.

    Why its the Liberty still a big issue when the Vicennes is totally forgotten? Only two reasons I think all will agree (1) mainly the dead are American and (2) it involves Israel.

    Does this not show how racist we all are? We care so much more about American men when 10x that number of civilians, including many Iranian children were killed and it is not even discussed anymore.

    I am biased in favor of Israel so that may effect my ability to be fair. But it seems that the claim it couldn’t have been an accident is not true because these types of accidents- unexplainable etc.- happen often.

    June 13, 2014 at 03:24

    I thought John Loftus and Mark Aarons expressed the theory that the Liberty under direction from LBJ was providing live signals intelligence to the Egyptians to pinpoint the Israeli tank positions, to curry favor with the Arabs by turning the tide of battle in the Six Day War, and the Israelis found out about it and were forced to stop it. The Israelis only sought to burn down the Liberty’s antennae. What about that intelligence?

    • F. G. Sanford
      June 13, 2014 at 07:24

      John Loftus has made an entire career out of kissing Israeli asses, so it doesn’t surprise me a bit.

  3. June 11, 2014 at 10:56

    the involvement of Kissinger is new to me….facts? proves?
    If I remember correctly, one of the book authors on the subject died in “mysterious circumstances”….
    and by the way, Morrow’s mention of LBJ is interesting: read Joachim Joesten’s book
    on this “murderous” guy, 1968! recently reprinted.
    andreas w. mytze

  4. Fritz Leftowitz
    June 10, 2014 at 14:25

    All Zionists are not jews(i.e.;Joe Biden, Dick cheney)

    All Jews are not Zionists.

    Many jews complain of the tyranny of the Zionists over them and serious complications of living peaceably with others becuz of the actions of the Zionists.

  5. anarchyst
    June 9, 2014 at 20:06

    Obtain and watch “Dead In the Water”, a documentary on the deliberate attack on the USS Liberty. It is known that nefarious elements both in Israel and the USA conspired to “sanitize” this murderous attack. IF it was a case of “mistaken identity”, why did the attack go on for HOURS??
    Both Israeli and certain US officials (Lyndon Johnson and Henry Kissinger, for one) wanted the crew of the USS Liberty DEAD because the crew was privy to information on a massacre by Israelis on an Egyptian city as well as a “false flag” operation where Israel hoped to draw the US into a war with Egypt. The “Six-day-war was NOT a response to an attack by Arab forces, but was a “pre-emptive strike” that was designed to gain Israel land.
    It is curious to note that the remaining survivors of the attack were warned not to discuss the “incident” under pain of courts martial and were scattered throughout the Navy.
    The Captain was presented with the Medal of Honor, not at the White House (which is protocol) but at an obscure Naval base.
    There are books that have been written about these acts of TREASON by our own government.
    The attack on the USS Liberty will not go away, despite Israel’s and traitorous US officials attempts to stifle investigation into this act.

  6. Arakiba
    June 9, 2014 at 16:56

    The Israelis do not see non-Jewish lives as being worth much. We saw this with the Liberty, and we continue to see this in how they treat the Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian). To deny it is to bury our heads in the sand.

    • John
      June 9, 2014 at 19:50

      Arakiba, its a revelation of the dangers when certain people meld a combo of religion and politics and think they have it right. Religion should be a personal thing, and the message in most religions is to do your best to help others less fortunate than yourself.
      It is my understanding that some Zionists groups in the US at some point pushed to stop Jews escaping the persecution in Europe from entering the US, but be directed towards Palestine to help fulfill the Zionist idea.
      All through history the mix of religious ideologies and politics can have awful effects. The extremes in all religions think they have it right and God is on their side. The true meaning of faith is lost.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    June 9, 2014 at 15:33

    Personally, I’m gonna wait for the Hollywood version to dramatize this epic saga in the annals of Naval heroism. Hollywood will create a sequel to “Fire on the Forrestal” based on the same themes as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Twenty Four”. The hero of the operation will be Johnny “Wet Start” McStain, the intrepid secret agent rotting in a Vietnamese POW camp. He gets tortured every day by Russian operatives in a race against the clock to reveal the secret mission entrusted to the USS Liberty. Johnny isn’t just a Naval Aviator. He’s also a crack cryptographic expert. The line of questioning during his enhanced interrogation allows him to put two and two together and deduce the plot. USS Liberty is a pawn in an elaborate scheme to discredit the Israeli Intelligence Services. Operation “Hanoi Hilton Canary” is a brilliant scheme in which Johnny appears to be aiding the enemy, but the propaganda messages he collaborates to fabricate contain a code based on alternative vowels and consonants. Only a sexy young female CIA agent, Golda, recognizes the nature of the coded messages, but if she reveals the truth, her cover as a “double agent” could be blown and endanger Johnny “Wet Start”. Throughout the film, the audience is treated to flashbacks of steamy interludes. Golda imagines Johnny’s suffering at the hands of his captors. Naked and sweating, she writhes in satin sheets and the audience is treated to the irony of moral conundrum: are Golda’s frenzied contortions just troubling nightmares…or fantasies of passionate sexual self-gratification? If she acts, Johnny’s suffering will end, but the plot will be revealed. The Liberty sailors will be saved, but the elusive Russian submarine tracked by Liberty’s Extremely Low Frequency radio monitoring capabilities will be tipped off. Golda’s Mossad handlers convince her to sacrifice Johnny with a promise that they will divert the Russian submarine with a false flag attack coordinated by the Sixth Fleet Carrier Battle Group. But a spy aboard the Liberty manages to direct a coded message to the Nato listening post on Cypress leading it to believe the real Israeli objective is to sink the Liberty. Luckily, Golda is able to convince the CIA that the real Israeli target is the Russian submarine. But she must reveal her double-agent status to convince them. The Sixth Fleet Commander calls off the counter-attack, but only after a scene in which LBJ wrestles with the moral dilemma of risking Liberty sailors’ lives in order to preserve a National Security strategic advantage. Unfortunately, the Russian Submarine gets off one torpedo before the Israelis can sink it. By heroically accepting false accusations of guilt, the Mossad cuts a deal to save Golda, who enters politics under a new identity. She completes a successful career as Madeleine Assbright, but is tragically still haunted by her memories of Johnny “Wet Start” and the love they never shared. It’s about time the truth came out. See it soon at a theater near you!

  8. June 9, 2014 at 12:48

    Thanks for keeping the memory alive. I’ve taken the liberty of reblogging this here, with links and commentary.
    Remembering the Liberty

  9. Goeran Vesterlund
    June 9, 2014 at 10:25

    Thank you, Consortiumnews and Ray McGovern! Having read John Crewdson’s article as well, I am 100% convinced that this is one of the most shameful cover-ups in U.S. history. But why on Earth did the Chosen ones choose to do this?

    Is the truth at last getting out? Or is the strangling grip of AIPAC still strong enough to prevent it?

  10. John francis lee
    June 9, 2014 at 06:35

    It surely is a fact that the Israelis pulled the trigger … but who ordered the hit?

    I see lots of risk but little reward for the Israelis to have done this on their own.

    It seems clear that the USS Liberty was purposefully sent to be sunk and her crew killed … but the Israelis were not in command. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were in command, according to James Ennes, Jr.

    The first planes launched to ‘protect’ (faux vengance) the USS Liberty were nuclear armed … I think the trail leads back to Dulles and Angleton at Ray’s home away from home at the CIA. I think they wanted to nuke Nasser. They thought they could ‘win’ a nuclear war with the USSR.

    I think Lyndon Johnson’s part in the betrayal lay in noting who was actually behind the whole thing … and then remembering just why it was that he became President …

    Being as close to the source as he is/was, it’s always a treat and a shame to read Ray McGovern. It’s inspiring to see that he’s seen through years of indoctrination, but it’s a shame to see that he’s still keeping the Company’s secrets.

    I saw Ray say on RT that unlike the other guests who had come to Russia to honor Edward Snowden that he had regrets on ‘whistle blowing’ … because he hadn’t blown the whistle himself.

    It’s never to late to late, Ray … Mae West said it … just put your lips together and blow. Please. Bring down the most evil of the evil agencies spawned in postwar imperialist America. Bring down the CIA.

    • John
      June 9, 2014 at 19:30

      From what I’ve read, Johnson had given Israel permission to attack Egypt but no other. Israel’s plan was to attack Syria after taking out the Egyptian airforce and doing other damage (at the time Israel took out the Egyptian airforce, the radars had been switched off so Egyptian politicians could visit their few units in the Sinai – in defensive position and small in number – “Politicide” by Baruch Kimmerling). Egypt was in no position to fight a war having just been routed in a war to its south. In fact Egypt hoped the Americans would step in as the situation became tense and reduce the fears. Israel didn’t want its communications intercepted by the US before delivering their attack and being told to back off, and so the Liberty was in their sites.

      • John
        June 10, 2014 at 19:28

        An addendum: In my last few lines, I mean that Israel didn’t want the US to know about it’s plan to assault Syria, not its attack on Egypt.

  11. incontinent reader
    June 8, 2014 at 23:27

    Great article. This is an injustice we should never forget, and one to which we should bear witness again and again until the record is corrected and Israel is held fully accountable. Nor should we ignore that Senator McCain’s father was complicit in whitewashing the investigation- a whitewash which the Senator repeatedly supports as he has sometimes castigated the remaining survivors of the USS Liberty still seeking justice- and that John Sidney, Jr. was a prisoner of war that was never abandoned. Indeed. as an admiral’s son (about which the North Vietnamese were fully aware) he may have received preferential treatment while in captivity, and, if the allegations of some of his fellow prisoners are true, because he participated in over 30 propaganda videos for his captors.

    As for the trade of Berdahl for five indefinitely detained prisoners who were never prosecuted or charged, Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo has said he thought this trade was a “good deal” and that he didn’t recall their names and was sure there was not enough evidence against the five Afghan prisoners to initiate a prosecution. (See: http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/bergdahl-deal-good-morris/2014/06/07/id/575747/. ) Curiously, while some of the text remains, the actual Fox News interview podcast interview of Davis by Alan Colmes has been mysteriously pulled from the internet (“file not found”).
 (See: http://radio.foxnews.com/2014/06/05/col-morris-davis-bergdahl-exchange-a-pretty-good-deal-3/ )

    You and Paul Pillar, and Ann Wright (who set up the State Department’s Afghan mission after we invaded under the false pretext of capturing the alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 attack- i.e., bin Laden, even though no evidence of his complicity was ever produced at the time or since) have focused on the real issues at stake. As part of a petition campaign, Col. Wright recently wrote that: “Fox News pushed for the US to go to war with Iraq and Afghanistan, and they say they support our troops. If they actually support our troops, they should be talking about the real cost of war–– lives lost, torture, indefinite imprisonment, assassin drones, night raids, billions of dollars missing, sole source contracts, and more.”
The naysayers eager are unwilling to question the legitimacy of the Afghan war or the faux terrorist lists that were drawn up to include those Afghans defending their country against our illegal invasion, nor are they willing to allow any of our soldiers like Bergdahl, who were in the trenches, and who saw and experienced what was really happening, to tell us the truth. But I guess for FOX- and I am thinking also of people in Congress like McCain and Lindsey Graham- killing thousands of people and squandering a trillion dollars while committing a horrendous war crime is less serious than saving a few nickels in budget fights at home that increasingly impoverish our people and break their spirit while lining the pockets of Congressmen (and women), and even more so the P&L of the companies for which they are shilling at the expense the American people and their national interest.

  12. rosemerry
    June 8, 2014 at 16:48

    I remember that the eyewitness book on the Liberty which was even in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Nobody can pretend with any credibility that this was an accident (another disgrace was begging Israel to allow the award to Halbardier) and I think John McCain’s father was involved in the “incident” as well.
    An important reminder from Ray?

    • Bill Bodden
      June 8, 2014 at 17:50

      Try a web search for “uss liberty admiral mccain” Very interesting.

  13. historicvs
    June 8, 2014 at 15:39

    It is perhaps ironic to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn in this context. I am guessing that he would not be mentioned if there was an English translation of his book “Zweihundert Jahre zusammen, Die russisch-jüdische Geschichte (200 Years Together. The Russian-Jewish History)” published by Herbig at Munich in 2002. It chronicles the misfortunes that he claims Jews inflicted on the long-suffering Russian people, with particular emphasis on the Russian Revolution and the early Bolshevik period, in which Jews played pivotal roles.

    • June 9, 2014 at 12:44

      Not sure what your point is. But in the current atmosphere when the Russians are implicitly blamed for the evils of communism it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that there were Russian dissidents who helped to bring about the demise of communism.

  14. June 8, 2014 at 15:13

    LYNDON JOHNSON ORCHESTRATED THE ATTACK ON THE USS LIBERTY. The only way to understand this is to recognize that Lyndon Johnson was a lunatic and a murderous psychopath as well as the man who orchestrated the JFK assassination.

    Basically LBJ told Israel to sink the USS Liberty so that the crime could be blamed on Egypt and the USA would have a false flag pretext to attack, bomb and remove Nasser of Egypt from power.


    Read the 2003 book Operation Cyanide by Peter Hounam.

  15. Willow
    June 8, 2014 at 15:09

    The U.S.S. Liberty episode was nothing less than a deliberate attack on the American ship by the Israelis. All evidence points to this and none points away. Like the earlier Panang and the later Pueblo, the sailors were set up, but at least the Panang and Pueblo were not shot up by “friendly forces”. None of the Israeli explanations for the attack make sense. What does make sense is cutting American information from the scene.

  16. tjoe
    June 8, 2014 at 14:01

    Jews are ALWAYS victims. They are “chosen”…remember!

    • Larry
      June 8, 2014 at 20:46

      That may be true for some, tjoe, but not for all, and no more true than it is for any other group. In fact, because of your racist shark-jumping, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts you yourself feel strongly victimized anonymously by unknown Jews and probably other minorities too. Am I wrong? Aren’t you a self-‘chosen’ victim yourself? Pretty weak-minded stuff you have there.

      • Tobysgirl
        June 9, 2014 at 09:05

        Thank you, Larry. I get really sick of these sorts of comments. If you can’t distinguish between Israeli and Jewish people, you can’t distinguish between the U.S. government and American people.

  17. charles Caruso
    June 8, 2014 at 13:10

    Well, it was the chosen people who did it, so I guess it was OK.
    Johnson didnt have the guts to let U.S. planes come to the rescue.
    The nightmare of Tel Aviv rule will end soon.

  18. Bill Bodden
    June 8, 2014 at 13:00

    I have always suspected the crew of the USS Stark got similar treatment after an Iraqi jet shot Exocet missiles into it in the Persian/Arabian Gulf on May 17, 1987. At that time Saddam Hussein was supposed to be a friend of the United States while the Reagan administration was double-dealing with the Iranians. The Iraqi jet shot the missile into the Stark after Reagan’s collusion with Iran was exposed, but it was written off as an “accident.”

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