Former Republican Congressman Paul Findley spoke the following words yesterday on the 45th anniversary of Israel’s deliberate attack on the USS Liberty:
June 8, 1967 is a day that will live in infamy. I am here to explain why. I state facts. I use plain language.
On that the day, the state of Israel, publicly posing as a close friend of the United States, almost succeeded in a deadly scheme to destroy a U.S. Navy ship and all sailors aboard, then blame the crime on an Arab government. Why? To stir American fury against all Arabs and bind America tightly in a permanent military alliance with Israel.
That scheme almost succeeded. Listen to the details.
The USS Liberty was an intelligence -gathering ship patrolling the eastern Mediterranean in the late days of the Arab-Israel war of 1967. Like today, America was Israel’s only major benefactor in the world. President Lyndon Johnson’s secret decisions that day played a major role in making the United States today subservient to Israel. Sadly, the facts remain little known.
The Liberty had only a couple of machine guns aboard.. Its identity was well marked. Its U.S. flag fluttered in a brisk breeze throughout bright daylight hours of June 8, 1967. During morning hours, unmarked aircraft closely circled the Liberty.
The attack began at 2 p.m. and lasted more than an hour. When Israeli aircraft shot Liberty’s U.S. flag to pieces, a larger one was immediately hoisted in its place. Flying low, the planes strafed the deck with rocket fire and napalm, disabled all antennae, punctured the hull with hundreds of holes. When the ship seemed doomed, life rafts made of rubber were lowered into the sea but fighter planes shot them to pieces.
An Israeli torpedo boat, firing at close range, blasted a hole thirty-nine feet wide, only inches above water line.
Miraculously, just before the ship’s electrical equipment went dead, Seaman Terry Halbardier crawled across open deck amid lethal strafing and strung a cable from a damaged antenna to the transmission cabin. This made possible the broadcast of a lone SOS appeal for help. Wounded by shrapnel during his crawl, Halbardier’s bravery saved the Liberty and crew from total destruction. One more torpedo hit would have sent the ship and crew to the bottom of the sea.
The distress message was heard aboard the USS Saratoga, a carrier patrolling near Crete. In response, the Saratoga launched fighter planes to defend the Liberty and reported the launch to carrier group commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis aboard the carrier America. Geis relayed the information to the White House.
Although aware the Liberty was still under attack, Johnson ordered Geis to cancel the rescue attempt. On the Saratoga’s bridge, distraught sailors watched as the U.S. fighter craft turned back. On the ship’s radio they heard final frantic pleas for help from the Liberty. Amid the pleas were background sounds of shells exploding. Minutes later, Israeli commanders, by then aware of the Liberty’s radioed plea for help, halted the attack.
Aboard the Liberty, 34 U.S. sailors were dead and 171 seriously wounded. Years later, two Navy veterans gave me details of the verbal exchange when President Johnson ordered the callback. Radioman Tony Hart, serving at a U.S. radio relay station in Morocco, listened intently to the entire conversation between President Johnson and Secretary McNamara in the White House and Admiral Geis at sea. This is what Hart recalls Secretary McNamara said to Geis, “Get those planes back on deck.” Geis replied, “But the Liberty is under attack and needs help.” McNamara shouted, “Get those goddam planes back on deck.” Aghast at the order, Geis, “Mr. Secretary, I wish to appeal that order to higher authority.” McNamara said, “I already have the president’s authority to call the planes back. He is right here.” Hart recalls Johnson then came on the phone and said to Geis, “I don’t care if the ship goes down, I’m not going to war with an ally over a couple of sailors.” The stunned admiral said, “Aye, aye, sir.”
Until his death, the admiral agonized over what, despite the presidential order, he might have done to help the Liberty crew.
Over the years, I have attended several reunions of Liberty survivors and remain in close communication with several of them. During a recent gathering, retired Commander David Lewis, the senior Liberty intelligence officer, provided new details. He was critically injured in the assault and, after being airlifted to the Saratoga sick bay, he was summoned to the private cabin of Admiral Geis to hear details of the call-back. The deeply shaken admiral told Lewis he feared he would be ordered to remain silent about his verbal exchange with the president and McNamara. He wanted Lewis, as a senior officer on the Liberty, to know exactly what was said.
Commander Davis told me, “Johnson’s order was probably the first time in history U.S. military forces were refused permission to help defend a U.S. Navy ship under attack.” Israeli officials, caught in a premeditated crime against a U.S. Navy ship, admitted the attackers were Israeli, then falsely claimed the assault was a case of mistaken identity. What a cruel lie.
Johnson accepted Israel’s lie without protest, although convincing evidence the assault was deliberate was already available at highest levels of his administration.
The president quickly dispatched Admiral Isaac C. Kidd and staff to carry out what from the start was a bogus Court of Inquiry. Before leaving. Kidd was instructed to issue a finding that cleared Israel of any blame.
Kidd and staff traveled to the Mediterranean, where the admiral personally threatened surviving crewmen, some of them still in hospital beds. Seaman John Hrankowski, one of the badly injured survivors, described the scene. “Admiral Kidd put on the stars and his uniform cap and said sternly: ‘If you tell anyone what actually happened, you will pay a fine, or go to prison, or worse.’” Hrankowski recalled: “We trembled. I was scared. He didn’t have to explain what the word worse meant.” After a week’s tour that included only limited, superficial interviews, Kidd’s group issued a finding that absolved Israel of any wrongdoing. Forty years later, retired Navy Captain Ward Boston, the chief legal officer who had traveled with Admiral Kidd, publicly confessed that both he and Kidd privately believed at the time of the inquiry the assault was deliberate. In a public, sworn statement distributed widely,Bostonstated that before the inquiry began, Johnson ordered Kidd to issue a finding that cleared Israel of blame. Even today U.S. officials cling to the fiction of mistaken identity, acting as if Boston’s confession never occurred. Official navy records have been scrubbed clean of any reference to the launching of rescue aircraft or their callback on presidential order.
Kidd, already a distinguished senior four-star admiral, should have refused the presidential order. He should have upheld time-honored tradition by refusing to engage in deceit. By telling the truth, the American people—and the Congress–would know of the crime committed by Israel and likely prompt our government to proceed carefully in any future dealings with Israel.
You may ask: Why would Israel accept the high risk of public disclosure when it attempted to destroy the Liberty and its crew?
Commander Lewis told me he believes Israel wanted to sink the ship with no survivors, and then blame the crime onEgypt. This, he said, would create anti-Arab fury in theUnited Statesso intense Congress would declare war on Egypt and its Arab allies. Davisadded, “They wanted us to be in the war to consolidate their gains.
They feared that without active [U.S.] support [of Israel] world opinion would have forcedIsraelto withdraw from captured lands.” Lewis believes Israel’s scheme, if successful, would have locked America tightly and permanently with Israel and against Arabs.
Forty years later, the cover up was lifted but only slightly. Halbardier received the Silver Star medal for bravery.
In a supreme example of irony, Israel’s attempt to destroy the U.S. ship and crew did not damage the U.S.-Israeli relationship. The cover-up was so swift and so successful U.S. support of Israel’s war agenda actually emerged greatly magnified. After the Liberty assault, aid to Israel increased from a trickle to a rising flood–unconditional financial, military, and diplomatic support of Israel, ultimately costing America billions of dollars and hundreds of lives.
We are honored to have survivors of the Liberty with us today. I am a Navy veteran from World War II.
Retired men of the Navy, I am deeply ashamed at the government cover up that keeps the American people unaware of your bravery and sacrifice. Gentlemen, I salute you. You are among the U.S. Navy’s greatest heroes. Sadly, you are unsung heroes.