By Jamal Kanj
When signing up for the military, US soldiers swear to serve their country and defend the constitution with their life.
They march in harm’s way to the end of earth and sail the seas, following orders from their leaders. In return, they expect leaders to uphold the constitution and honor their sacrifices.
However, this was not the case for the 34 American sailors who lost their lives and the 171 injured when their leaders surrendered them on an Israeli altar on June 8, 1967.
The sailors were navigating international waters onboard the USS Liberty, a Navy technical research (eavesdropping) ship, when it came under a two-hour attack from Israeli jets and navy boats. The ship’s defenses were first pacified by aircraft cannons, rockets and US-made napalm before Israeli torpedo boats moved in for the kill. Israeli spin was swallowed up by the receptive US media, with a story that the ship was mistaken for an out-of-service Egyptian ship El Quseir. American officials accepted the Israeli tale, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
A US National Security Agency report discredited the Israeli claim by pointing out that the Egyptian ship “was approximately one-quarter of the Liberty’s tonnage, about one-half its length and offered a radically different silhouette”.
More than 25 years later, retired Captain Ward Boston released a signed affidavit accusing president Lyndon Johnson and secretary of defense Robert McNamara of telling those heading the Navy’s inquiry to “conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’.”
Boston, who worked as a senior legal counsel to the Navy Court of inquiry and who investigated the attack, issued a sworn statement at a Capitol Hill Conference in October 2003 explaining that he stayed silent for years because he’s a military man, and “when orders come … I follow them”.
Sharing the same frustration, retired Admiral Thomas Moorer – former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – described the official conclusion of the investigation as a whitewash and “one of the classic all-American cover-ups”. He asked why the US government would put Israel’s interests ahead of its own.
The cover-up was finally exposed by an Israeli pilot who was interviewed 15 years later by former Congressman Paul McCloskey about the attack. The senior pilot revealed that he informed headquarters the target appeared to be a US ship, but was told to ignore the American flag and proceed with the attack.
The pilot’s communication, which was eavesdropped by the US Embassy in Beirut, was confirmed by then US ambassador to Lebanon, Dwight Porter.
The reconnaissance ship was most likely destroyed to keep secret Israeli plans to invade the West Bank, following president Johnson’s assurances to the Jordanian monarch that the US would restrain Israel from attacking Jordan.
As part of a hollow apology, Israel paid $7 million to the families of the killed and injured American sailors and years later paid $17m for damages caused to the USS Liberty.
The compensation was less than the interest Israel makes on the annual US financial aid package. The irrational Israeli-American relationship is controlled by a small number of Israel-first pundits who place the welfare of a foreign country before the well-being of the US military and people.
It couldn’t be more striking today, when children of American soldiers serving overseas are warned that budget cuts might force their schools to take furlough days next year – while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbies to exempt Israel’s $3 billion aid package from budget sequestration.
This is even more absurd in light of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s recent report placing Israel two rankings ahead of the US in terms of the number of university graduates.
How ironic that financial aid for US students is slashed, while hard-earned US tax money is subsidizing Israel’s educational institutions – enabling the welfare recipient to surpass the bankroller.
– Jamal Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes weekly newspaper column and publishes on several websites on Arab world issues. He is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.)