Friday, January 16, 2009

Who Goes There?

Out, damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?

--Macbeth by William Shakespeare

And who will call Israel to account? Israel does what Israel wants as the only thing opposing them is tiny Gaza with its homemade rockets. And though it has been said that the U.S. is the only nation that can halt the genocide and murder of Palestinians at the bloody hands of Israel perhaps this is no longer true.

Though the only nation that is solidly behind the Israeli assault on Gaza, the great American public, as well as our Israel fawning Congress is it possible that Americans cannot tell their friends from their enemies?


In the face of worldwide criticism — apart from the United States, where the public squarely backs Israel, according to a recent McClatchy/Ipsos poll — Israelis are defiant. The independent newspaper Haaretz reported Thursday that 82 percent of Israelis surveyed said the country's military hadn't "gone too far" in its use of force in Gaza.

Of course Americans have a short memory and mostly have only the vaguest idea why they support the murderous slaughter barfing out malformed thoughts such as “well Israel is of the west” and other such half baked ideas soaked in ignorance so perhaps it is a good time to recall the incident of the USS Liberty that was attacked by the IDF killing 37 U.S. sailors and wounding 174 many of them seriously. As is often the case in such matters where the needs of the government are at odds with the needs of the many that they rule the tale of the USS Liberty is a tale twice told and as is said in mystery novels murder will out. I do not bring this up to demonize the people of Israel some of whom do not support the Gaza assault for it is a tale that illustrates how little the lives of any nation’s people mean to their government and how quickly people forget the past. It is also a tale that reveals that war crimes are nothing new to the Israeli government.

Jeffery St. Claire revisits the incident of the USS Liberty describing how it was covered up by the U.S. government who value their own positions of power more than the value your life.


In early June of 1967, at the onset of the Six Day War, the Pentagon sent the USS Liberty from Spain into international waters off the coast of Gaza to monitor the progress of Israel's attack on the Arab states. The Liberty was a lightly armed surveillance ship.

Only hours after the Liberty arrived it was spotted by the Israeli military. The IDF sent out reconnaissance planes to identify the ship. They made eight trips over a period of three hours. The Liberty was flying a large US flag and was easily recognizable as an American vessel.

A few hours later more planes came. These were Israeli Mirage III fighters, armed with rockets and machine guns. As off-duty officers sunbathed on the deck, the fighters opened fire on the defenseless ship with rockets and machine guns.

A few minutes later a second wave of planes streaked overhead, French-built Mystere jets, which not only pelted the ship with gunfire but also with napalm bomblets, coating the deck with the flaming jelly. By now, the Liberty was on fire and dozens were wounded and killed, excluding several of the ship's top officers.

The Liberty's radio team tried to issue a distress call, but discovered the frequencies had been jammed by the Israeli planes with what one communications specialist called "a buzzsaw sound." Finally, an open channel was found and the Liberty got out a message it was under attack to the USS America, the Sixth Fleet's large aircraft carrier.

Two F-4s left the carrier to come to the Liberty's aid. Apparently, the jets were armed only with nuclear weapons. When word reached the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara became irate and ordered the jets to return. "Tell the Sixth Fleet to get those aircraft back immediately," he barked. McNamara's injunction was reiterated in saltier terms by Admiral David L. McDonald, the chief of Naval Operations: "You get those fucking airplanes back on deck, and you get them back down." The planes turned around. And the attack on the Liberty continued.

After the Israeli fighter jets had emptied their arsenal of rockets, three Israeli attack boats approached the Liberty. Two torpedoes were launched at the crippled ship, one tore a 40-foot wide hole in the hull, flooding the lower compartments, and killing more than a dozen American sailors.

As the Liberty listed in the choppy seas, its deck aflame, crew members dropped life rafts into the water and prepared to scuttle the ship. Given the number of wounded, this was going to be a dangerous operation. But it soon proved impossible, as the Israeli attack boats strafed the rafts with machine gun fire. No body was going to get out alive that way.

After more than two hours of unremitting assault, the Israelis finally halted their attack. One of the torpedo boats approached the Liberty. An officer asked in English over a bullhorn: "Do you need any help?"

The wounded commander of the Liberty, Lt. William McGonagle, instructed the quartermaster to respond emphatically: "Fuck you."

The Israeli boat turned and left.

Our national leaders are ever so fond of laving their heartfelt love on those who they so easily and arbitrarily send to their deaths while they sit at home getting their palms greased by the so-called “defense” industry but when it comes to saving their own asses brother it is every man for himself for there is much more to this tale than the attack itself which is the manner in which the whole episode was covered up by our vaunted heroes in the government who we are told are serving their nation out of an unswerving patriotism.

The Pentagon lied to the public about the attack on the Liberty from the very beginning. In a decision personally approved by the loathsome McNamara, the Pentagon denied to the press that the Liberty was an intelligence ship, referring to it instead as a Technical Research ship, as if it were little more than a military version of Jacques Cousteau's Calypso.

The military press corps on the USS America, where most of the wounded sailors had been taken, were placed under extreme restrictions. All of the stories filed from the carrier were first routed through the Pentagon for security clearance, objectionable material was removed with barely a bleat of protest from the reporters or their publications.

Predictably, Israel's first response was to blame the victim, a tactic that has served them so well in the Palestinian situation. First, the IDF alleged that it had asked the State Department and the Pentagon to identify any US ships in the area and was told that there were none. Then the Israeli government charged that the Liberty failed to fly its flag and didn't respond to calls for it to identify itself. The Israelis contended that they assumed the Liberty was an Egyptian supply ship called El Quseir, which, even though it was a rusting transport ship then docked in Alexandria, the IDF said it suspected of shelling Israeli troops from the sea. Under these circumstances, the Israeli's said they were justified in opening fire on the Liberty. The Israelis said that they halted the attack almost immediately, when they realized their mistake.

"The Liberty contributed decisively toward its identification as an enemy ship," the IDF report concluded. This was a blatant falsehood, since the Israelis had identified the Liberty at least six hours prior to the attack on the ship.

Even though the Pentagon knew better, it gave credence to the Israeli account by saying that perhaps the Liberty's flag had lain limp on the flagpole in a windless sea. The Pentagon also suggested that the attack might have lasted less than 20 minutes.

Yes, certainly, Israel blamed the victims, the crew of the USS liberty, a ploy that they still use today by blaming the Palestinians for the bloody attack on Gaza where the victims more often than not are civilians -- men, women, and children. And today just as in 1967 our own government concurs with all their might. Some things never seem to change. For what is first and foremost for any national leader is retaining their seats of power which almost always takes precedent over the well being of the citizenry. But wave your flags boys and girls, be proud, be patriotic, be a sucker till they toss the dirt over your grave.

How tightly does the Israeli lobby control the Hill? For the first time in history, an attack on an America ship was not subjected to a public investigation by Congress. In 1980, Adlai Stevenson and Barry Goldwater planned to open a senate hearing into the Liberty affair. Then Jimmy Carter intervened by brokering a deal with Menachem Begin, where Israel agreed to pony up $6 million to pay for damages to the ship. A State Department press release announced the payment said, "The book is now closed on the USS Liberty."

It certainly was the last chapter for Adlai Stevenson. He ran for governor of Illinois the following year, where his less than perfect record on Israel, and his unsettling questions about the Liberty affair, became an issue in the campaign. Big money flowed into the coffers of his Republican opponent, Big Jim Thompson, and Stevenson went down to a narrow defeat.

But the book wasn't closed for the sailors either, of course. After a Newsweek story exposed the gist of what really happened on that day in the Mediterranean, an enraged Admiral McCain placed all the sailors under a gag order. When one sailor told an officer that he was having problems living with the cover-up, he was told: "Forget about it, that's an order."

The Navy went to bizarre lengths to keep the crew of the Liberty from telling what they knew. When gag orders didn't work, they threatened sanctions. Ennes tells of the confinement and interrogation of two Liberty sailors that sounds like something right out of the CIA's MK-Ultra program.

"In an incredible abuse of authority, military officers held two young Liberty sailors against their will in a locked and heavily guarded psychiatric ward of the base hospital," Ennes writes. "For days these men were drugged and questioned about their recollections of the attack by a 'therapist' who admitted to being untrained in either psychiatry or psychology. At one point, they avoided electroshock only by bolting from the room and demanding to see the commanding officer."

Since coming home, the veterans who have tried to tell of their ordeal have been harassed relentlessly. They've been branded as drunks, bigots, liars and frauds. Often, it turns out, these slurs have been leaked by the Pentagon. And, oh yeah, they've also been painted as anti-Semites.

Well thank you Jimmy Carter. But what the hell, building houses excuses everything I suppose. And here we see the reward for those who serve in the armed forces and the thanks they receive by being branded as drunks, bigots, liars and frauds even though these terms would be most appropriately applied to our glorious leaders. When will we ever learn?

There's another factor. The Liberty was positioned just off the coast from the town of El Arish. In fact, Ennes and others had used town's mosque tower to fix the location of the ship along the otherwise featureless desert shoreline. The IDF had seized El Arish and had used the airport there as a prisoner of war camp. On the very day the Liberty was attacked, the IDF was in the process of executing as many as 1,000 Palestinian and Egyptian POWs, a war crime that they surely wanted to conceal from prying eyes. According to Gabriel Bron, now an Israeli reporter, who witnessed part of the massacre as a soldier: "The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death."

The bigger question is why the US government would participate so enthusiastically in the cover-up of a war crime against its own sailors. Well, the Pentagon has never been slow to hide its own incompetence. And there's plenty of that in the Liberty affair: bungled communications, refusal to provide an escort, situating the defenseless Liberty too close to a raging battle, the inability to intervene in the attack and the inexcusably long time it took to reach the battered ship and its wounded.

That's but par for the course. But something else was going on that would only come to light later. Through most of the 1960s, the US congress had imposed a ban on the sale of arms to both Israel and Jordan. But at the time of the Liberty attack, the Pentagon (and its allies in the White House and on the Hill) was seeking to have this proscription overturned. The top brass certainly knew that any evidence of a deliberate attack on a US Navy ship by the IDF would scuttle their plans. So they hushed it up.

The relationship between Israel and the United States can best be described as a marriage made in hell. It has been devastatingly destructive to both the U.S and Israel in more ways than one. For the U.S. our relationship with Israel has cost us billions of dollars each year and through the influence of the Israel lobby Americans have been subjected to the worst of the worst as far as leadership goes. All those who wish to assume the mantle of power must first bow and scrape before the Israel lobby pledging their undying fealty to Israel which has helped to embroil us in endless war and even blowback which came in the form of 9/11. For Israel, by allowing them to have their way, they have created more enemies where there were few before. Just for example people don’t lob missiles at other people just out of a whim. There is generally a reason for it and for Israel it has been their ruthless and bloody colonialism and expansion where there is never enough. Indeed the U.S. has helped create a Frankenstein monster with an insatiable appetite for more and more land.

Lastly I call your attention to the execution of 1,000 Palestinian and Egyptian POWs which is clearly a war crime as is their present day murders of the hapless Palestinians, prisoners of Gaza.

But who is the real enemy? As always our worst enemy is our own government which is just as true for the people of Israel as it is for us.


At January 16, 2009 6:13 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

I recognize that as an Arab-American my view is not objective, but in my eyes much of the support for Israel among Americans seems predicated on the perception that they're the only white folks in the middle east.

You see polls differentiating levels of support for the Israeli government according to political affiliation, but never according to race. I'd be very curious about that metric, but you know Gallup, CNN, et al aren't gonna touch that.

At January 16, 2009 7:26 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Beautifully said Jonathan and right on the money. I have heard very little mention of the racist factor in regards to the ongoing slaughter in Gaza and its relationship to American support for Israel but it has been there all along like an underground river where it is unseen except for its effects.


Post a Comment

<< Home