Best Way to Honor the USS Liberty
Is With an Investigation
by Sherri Muzher
May 24, 2003
When the USS Lincoln pulled into its San Diego port two weeks ago, the military servicemen were greeted by hundreds of proud and enthusiastic well-wishers. Supporting our troops has never been more important
And nobody can attest to this more than the survivors of the USS Liberty, which was attacked by the armed forces of Israel on June 8, 1967 during the infamous Middle East Six Day War.
Thirty-four young American men gave their lives defending the USS Liberty against a sustained Israeli air and sea attack. The American intelligence ship USS Liberty was attacked for 75 minutes in international waters by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats. Besides the 34 men who gave their lives, 171 others were wounded. Surprisingly, there has never been a complete and comprehensive public Congressional investigation though it is considered the only naval incident of its kind in American history.
'What we are seeking is to have that recognition removed from us and to have us treated exactly the same as every other US military unit which has been similarly attacked,' Joe Meadors said, one of two signalmen aboard the Liberty.
'I do have hope that we will get our chance to testify before Congress,' John Hrankowski, a fireman for the carrier, concurred. 'There are too many people coming out from that era and now telling what really happened that June 8th day.'
Israel still insists that they mistook the Liberty for the out-of-service Egyptian supply vessel El Quseir. After all, the Liberty and El Quseir both had a single smokestack in mid-ship. But that's where the similarity ends. The Liberty was not only significantly larger than El Quseir, but Jim Ennes, who was Officer-of-the-Deck at the time, said both the deckhouse arrangement and profile were different. The Court of Inquiry even noted that 'if Liberty could be mistaken for El Quseir, then any coastal freighter in the world was in danger,' Ennes said.
The Liberty also displayed a bright, clean American flag. That flag is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland.
The argument of 'friendly fire' has been given. But survivors say this reasoning doesn't wash as the attack occurred on a clear afternoon, after 13 reconnaissance over-flights were made. Israeli intelligence even admitted, prior to the outbreak, of knowing 'the exact location of all opposition forces and equipment - military and civilian.'
One should also consider Israeli air force intelligence General Yeshuah Bareket's comments during a Thames Television documentary concerning the Liberty attack: 'The ship is an obstacle or is disturbing our operations in the area.' In addition to the subsequent attack by planes, torpedo boats and helicopters, the Israelis also bombed the Liberty with napalm and shells. A total of 821 rocket and machine-gun holes were later reportedly counted in the Liberty's hull.
Could it still have been a 'tragic case of misidentification' as Israel insists? Or was the attack launched to prevent the US from finding out about the killing of Egyptian POWs nearby? A congressional investigation might finally shed light on this.
Ennes, also author of the 1980 best-selling 'Assault on the Liberty' clearly hopes for a congressional inquiry though he is disappointed with Congress. Israel persuaded 'the US Congress to accept their version of the attack without even considering the eyewitness accounts of survivors,' Ennes said. 'That is a first in US history.'
The other first came when USS Liberty Captain William McGonagle became the only living recipient to have received his Congressional Medal of Honor for valor by an official other than our president.
So why hasn't there been an honest and open congressional investigation? Well, some Israelis insist that there have been five such investigations. Indeed, Senators John McCain, Ted Kennedy, Tim Wirth, and Congressmen Hank Brown and Larry Hopkins all assigned a staff person to inquire into the circumstances. But a legislator assigning a staff person to look into the details is not the same as the US Congress conducting a full-fledged investigation.
'Our leaders have learned to take care of the troops since then and I give them a lot of credit for NOT sticking with the old adage that ‘The troops are expendable,' Hrankowski reflected after the USS Lincoln homecoming.
One way to prove that the lives of those who suffered during the harrowing attack on the Liberty are not expendable is to give them a hearing, once and for all. At a time when support for US troops is at its pinnacle, it's the least that Congress can do.
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American lawyer, writer and activist based in Detroit, Michigan, whose work appears in Palestine Chronicle (www.palestinechronicle.com) and other publications.