Remember the Liberty!

Justin is traveling, his column will be back on Monday.

It was 40 years ago this June 8 that the USS Liberty – a large, armorless, refitted freighter that was gathering intelligence in the Mediterranean at the outset of the Six Day War – was attacked by Israeli fighter jets and torpedoes. Thirty-four U.S. sailors were killed, and 172 were wounded. The Liberty limped back to Malta. A U.S. Navy court of inquiry was on board investigating the damage, but – for some reason – the investigators were not allowed to proceed to Israel to find out what really went on. Orders from the top echelons of the Pentagon nixed the inquiry, and today, the families of the fallen still haven’t gotten any answers as to why Israel was allowed to get away with it without even so much as a slap on the wrist – nor even any public acknowledgment that it was a deliberate attack.

Far from apologizing, the Israelis have to this day denied that they attacked the Liberty on purpose, and – incredibly – they stoutly maintain that the whole thing was an “accident.” This in spite of the fact that the Liberty was proudly flying a U.S. flag and was easily identifiable as an American vessel. The Israel Lobby has even gone so far as to publish a book, The Liberty Incident, by Jay Cristol, that makes the case for the “accidental” scenario, but the survivors’ families – and a number of credible commentators – aren’t buying it. One of those commentators is a former captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps assigned to the Liberty investigation, Ward Boston, who has signed an affidavit stating unequivocally:

“The evidence was clear. Both Admiral [Isaac C.] Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack … was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. It was our shared belief, based on the documentary evidence and testimony we received firsthand, that the Israeli attack was planned and deliberate.”

Capt. Boston says that Adm. Kidd, who was in charge of the subsequent inquiry, frequently referred to the Israelis as “murderous bastards,” and a number of intelligence experts and U.S. officials seem to concur, albeit not in precisely those terms. Says former CIA director Richard Helms: “The board of inquiry [concluded] that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing in attacking the Liberty.” Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk says:

“I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. … Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”

Even more outrageous was the cover-up by the Pentagon – and the White House of Lyndon “Hey Hey LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?” Johnson. According to officer David Lewis, who was below deck at the time of the attack:

“[6th Rear Fleet Adm. Lawrence Geis] told me that since I was the senior Liberty survivor on board he wanted to tell me in confidence what had actually transpired. He told me that upon receipt of our SOS, aircraft were launched to come to our assistance, and then Washington was notified. He said that [Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara] had ordered that the aircraft be returned to the carrier, which was done. RADM Geis then said that he speculated that Washington may have suspected that the aircraft carried nuclear weapons so he put together another flight of conventional aircraft that had no capability of carrying nuclear weapons. These he launched to assist us and again notified Washington of his actions. Again McNamara ordered the aircraft recalled. He requested confirmation of the order being unable to believe that Washington would let us sink. This time President Johnson ordered the recall with the comment that he did not care if every man drowned and the ship sank, but that he would not embarrass his allies.”

Rather than embarrass his “allies,” the president of the United States caved in to the Lobby and buried the truth about the death of American servicemen under a mountain of obfuscation and official silence. As Tim Fischer, a former deputy prime minister of Australia and a former army officer, put it in The Age:

“If Israel did deliberately attack the most powerful nation on Earth, it knows it can do so and get away with murder. Worse still, U.S. military personnel now know that if the truth is politically inconvenient, they and their legacy are expendable.”

When it comes to the calculations of the Lobby, we are all expendable – that is the bitter lesson we are learning as a futile war in the Middle East not only rages on but threatens to expand beyond the borders of Iraq. Our “ally” Israel is an albatross hung ’round our necks, and it is slowly strangling America’s chances of defeating Islamic extremism in the battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide. Will no one rid us of this troublesome “ally”?

I’m afraid they won’t. The power of the Lobby, as explicated by scholars John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, is as formidable as ever, if not more so. They ensure that there is no real debate over our Middle Eastern policy, either in Congress or in the councils of government policymakers. Their spies are allowed to get away with all sorts of activities that any other foreign power would soon feel Washington’s wrath over. Their demands are considered the starting point for all policy decisions, and they are rewarded for their lack of loyalty to their main benefactor by being showered with all manner of gifts: “foreign aid,” loan guarantees, and technology transfers that have enabled them to build up a military capacityincluding nuclear weapons – that knows no rival in the region.

The attack on the Liberty and the subsequent whitewash of the Israelis is proof – if any more were needed – that Israel enjoys a position of preeminence within the councils of state that belies its small size and relative weakness as a settler colony totally dependent on outside infusions of support.

Critics may aver that this is all ancient history, that there is no reason to bring up the attack on the Liberty, and even if it wasn’t an accident, it’s time to let bygones be bygones. The Lobby constantly asserts that anyone who even mentions this “incident” is nothing but an anti-Semite, because, after all, why talk about it now? The reason is that it underscores the utter falsity of the argument that Israeli and American interests are uniquely and perpetually in perfect alignment. The Israelis attacked the Liberty, according to several books and a BBC documentary on the subject, in order to prevent the U.S. government from learning of Israeli plans to occupy the Golan Heights – a sliver of land that rightfully belongs to Syria, and which is still causing a great many problems for U.S. interests in the region. The stunning fact of the American government’s complicity in hiding the truth about an attack on its own soldiers is all we need to know about what’s wrong with American foreign policy – and what is the exact source of the problem.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].