Remember the Liberty! Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, by Phillip Nelson ©Trineday 2017
(Editor’s Note: The USS Liberty was attacked 50 years ago today — 8th June 1967. This topic is not going away, but I doubt we will hear from the MSM)
Article/Book Review by Greg Maybury
With the anniversary of the enormously consequential 1967 Six-Day War (SDW) between Israel and the Arab states (Egypt, Syria, Jordan) upon us, Phil Nelson’s book is a timely and welcome addition to the literature of that event and the key people involved, and indeed, the era. Although on its face about the deliberate attack by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) during that conflict on the US naval ‘sig-int’ ship the USS Liberty, with the loss of 34 lives and over 170 casualties, it’s much more than that.
Along with showcasing one of the most disgraceful episodes in U.S. military history — to say little of the self-serving, hypocritical and callous manner in which the political and military establishment treats its service personnel — “Remember the Liberty!” presents us an opportunity to place into broader, more urgent relief, the history of America’s increasingly dangerous — some might say existentially so — relationship with Israel, in addition to probing the role of both nations in past events and those unfolding as we speak in and across the Greater Middle East.
His just released tome moreover, crucially invites us to reexamine the virtually unexplored, indeed, wilfully neglected role played in these events by arguably America’s most psychologically unhinged and criminally ‘sectionable’ of Oval Officeholders, one whose political ascendancy and White House tenure may have been the most consequential of all.
We’re talking here the then president of the US, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), he of the Gulf of Tonkin fame.
As the author reveals, had things gone the way as LBJ had planned, it almost certainly would’ve triggered the most cataclysmic consequences of all for humanity. Suffice to say that to the extent there might have been anyone around to write about it after, by way of comparison, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis would’ve ended up a mere footnote in history.
On all counts then, Nelson’s book provides us ample context and perspective within which to contemplate all of this and more.
The truly astonishing story in this new book then is about one of the most explosive and hidden secrets in US history — one that has never been previously told in such a transformative way. It is made all the more explosive because it involves Israel.
Based on all available evidence, this is the most authentic, complete, up to date — and it has to be said, disturbing — account of the Liberty tragedy and its subsequent cover-up; the war in which it took place and that war’s own hidden backstory; and the real perpetrators behind both of these, along with revelations about their motivations and intrigues. No matter what you read elsewhere, I can pretty much guarantee you’re not getting the ‘full monty’. And for those looking to write about the Liberty going forward, don’t put pen to paper without it. Whether you’re in the mainstream or alternative media camps, you’ll just look like you’ve not done your homework!
“Remember the Liberty!” explores how a sitting US president collaborated with Israeli leaders in the fomentation of what became known as the Six-Day War between them and their Arab neighbors. The so-called “spontaneous war” had been planned for months — possibly even as early as two years before — to be a war that would ensure a victory for Israel; the weakening of her enemies in neighboring Arab nations; and the acquisition of additional territories for Israel. These were all incentives to create ‘buy-in’ from Israeli leaders to this diabolical quid pro quo between them and LBJ, which might not otherwise have been forthcoming.
But the man known as “Landslide Lyndon” had his own ulterior motives in facilitating the Six-Day War: For the estimable LBJ, his highest priority was always about the ruthless accumulation of power, and in this case, it was about holding onto said power by ensuring his re-election the following year. Upset by his loss of popularity generally and with Jewish voters in particular, he wanted to give Israel as much covert – and ultimately, had the plan succeeded, overt – support as possible in the plan to engage their neighbors in that war, including the creation of a pretext to join them in attacking Egypt.
After the botched plan was implemented, the ship refused to sink even after being hit by a torpedo (more on this shortly), leading the attack to be abandoned and a massive cover-up set in motion, which included serious threats to the crewmembers to “keep their lips sealed.”
As ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern put it in the book’s Foreword (see Consortium News “Not Remembering the Liberty”), those orders “put steroids to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffered by many of the survivors.” That cover-up is still in place (barely), but now completely exposed. Indeed, we can now say with certainty it is the worst best-kept secret in the history of the US-Israeli relationship.
Written in conjunction with three of the remaining survivors, Ernie Gallo, Ron Kukal and Phil Tourney, the book includes harrowing first-hand accounts from them. It’s perhaps apposite to cite just one account of the numerous disturbing, poignant of those written for the book, this one by Tourney. With his shipmate Rick Aimetti helping him, they,
“….found some fire hoses and began hosing off the deck with a “suicide nozzle” on it that sprayed water in a very concentrated, high-pressure stream.
It took both of us to handle this hose, because it was like a giant python and one man could not do it alone. It was the most gruesome, heartbreaking task we’ve ever done because every piece of flesh was the remains of one of our fellow sailors, many of whom were friends. As [we] went about this ungodly task, tears streamed down our faces and I prayed to God for forgiveness in how we were forced to treat the remains of these men so sacrilegiously.
In the gun-tubs we found a shoe with a foot still in it, which we put aside for collection. Many of the bloodstains would not come off, even with that special hose, because of the previous day’s heat – not just baking under the sun’s heat, but from the rockets and napalm that had be dropped on the ship by the attacking [planes].
We found out the hard way how hot our government’s most brutal weapon can burn: It can get as hot as 2,200°F, which explains why that blood could not be completely cleansed from the steel decks.”
Remember the Liberty! places much more focus on the brutality and ruthlessness with which the Johnson administration and the U.S. Navy hierarchy treated the sailors themselves, not only then, but, significantly, continuing even now. It began even before, during and immediately after the attack but – because of the threats of prison “or worse” if they ever uttered a word about it, even to their wives or parents – it festered for decades, while they had to live with the horrors they experienced. It meant keeping their appalling memories to themselves for 15-20 years before they felt safe enough to even discuss it with anyone else. Their stories relate how they have continued to be marginalized and dismissed by the MSM and accused of anti-Semitism by Israeli defenders in knee-jerk fashion. In fact, the book contains an entire chapter dedicated to this point.
A Few Dead Sailors
Another very significant point – never previously noted in any other book on this “incident” – is how, after the motor torpedo boats had fired four torpedoes and all had missed the target, the fifth torpedo which hit the Liberty was fired, according to one sailor’s account, as the result of a presidential order to one of his own ships. The severely wounded sailor who discovered this part of the story – a well-respected man of impeccable reputation – was nearly killed during the attack, only saved by another sailor who came to his rescue and helped him to the medics, holding his intestines inside his abdomen until he got his fellow sailor to the ship’s only doctor. When he was finally released from the hospital and returned to the U.S., he then discovered that his Navy records had been fudged to hide the fact that he was even on the ship, so he had to hire an investigator to prove it in order to get his disability acknowledged. His investigator had high-level Pentagon contacts who revealed many of the hidden secrets to him, and that’s how the survivor found out about that “fifth torpedo.” No one else has ever come forward to verify his story, and allow their names to be released, so, accordingly, Nelson has been rightly cautious in his rendering of this part of the narrative. But it is what it is. For those folks who have read Nelson’s earlier books on LBJ, they will know such a monumental act of treachery and treason was not beyond him. By Nelson’s reckoning, he wanted the ship sunk! LBJ – interestingly, a former, albeit less than distinguished, Navy man himself — was not prepped to allow a “few dead sailors” to cause any “embarrassment” to an important ally like Israel, and one assumes, to himself.
Many other books have been written on the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty. Some of those present the case put forth by the U.S. and Israeli governments’ “official story” (e.g. AJ Cristol, or Michael Oren), developed to perpetuate the contrived cover-up narrative, hiding the incriminating facts and essentially writing it off as a freak “accident.” You know, the “Fog of War” thing! But that was never the reaction of the State Department officials of the time, or the Navy brass who were not under orders to conduct a phony investigation designed to cover it up. One of them, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer, observed that the president’s handling of the Liberty attack was “…the most disgraceful act I witnessed in my entire military career.” Tellingly, the man who wrote the original fabricated Navy “Court of Inquiry” report on the incident – the report used by those same authors as the basis for their books – eventually retracted all of it: Former Navy Captain Ward Boston Jr., JAGC, in 2004 wrote a scathing denunciation of the book by Cristol, admitting that the original Navy report was designed to cover up the truths and replace them with bald-faced lies, as is detailed in Remember the Liberty!
The many books which have attempted to lay out the real facts behind the attack all come to the conclusion that the brutal 2+ hour attack was not only intentional. It was designed not to just put the ship out of commission, but to ensure that it sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean. These books (e.g. by James Ennes, Peter Hounam, James Scott and others) do not mention the primary factor that actually caused the attack in the first place, and which then necessitated the massive cover-up. Some of the best books (e.g. Hounam’s Operation Cyanide) did suggest that something strange was going on at the White House, and posited that Johnson’s political travails — of which there were plenty — might have something to do with the chain of events.
Remember the Liberty! though is the first book to factor LBJ’s psychopathological issues – again of which like his “travails”, there were many — into the calculus. Again, anyone who’s read Nelson’s earlier books on the man will know what we’re talking about here. Only by understanding his obsession in winning back the political support of Jewish people who’d abandoned him because of his shambolic Vietnam policies — along with the monomaniacal nature of Number 36 — can one understand what really happened. Like his previous “false flag” ‘op’ – the phantom ‘attack’ at the Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese gunboats on two U.S. Navy destroyers, conveniently occurring just three months before the 1964 elections, which helped him win his landslide election – he thought this attack would secure his re-election the following year. Yet the opposite happened: when the Liberty did not sink — and his devious “false flag” plan to use it as a pretext for blaming the attack on Egypt and join Israel in their victorious “Six-Day War” collapsed – it was his re-election chances that were deep-sixed. Nine months later he reluctantly announced that he would remove himself from the 1968 elections to the very office he had lusted for his entire life. And as they say, the rest is history. Except that with these things, it never is of course!
Of the two principals involved, the conflicted — in both cases ulterior — goals of the Six-Day War are the root cause of the turbulence in the Middle East which the world has witnessed for the last five decades. Numerous ironies abound, such as the fact that over half of the U.S. foreign aid budget goes to Israel, a well-developed, prosperous economic power set amidst some of the most poverty-ridden nations in the world. And it was through the paradox of Johnson’s most sordid, devious manipulations that the U.S.-Israel relationship became so entwined in the aftermath of the Liberty attack: Suddenly, U.S. policy was transformed from being “neutral” towards all countries in the area – as earlier administrations had tried to remain, to avoid being seen as partial to either side – to that of openly, aggressively, backing Israel in all possible ways, including its acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, an ambition which LBJ’s predecessor JFK had adamantly opposed. (Regarding the latter, Google “Mordechai Vanunu”.)
This book will undoubtedly cop plenty of flak for its controversial assertions, even from some purportedly liberal/left-wing quarters, with many folks therein still resist embracing the real truth about Johnson the man, the consequential nature and character of both his presidential tenure and his political career overall, and his overarching position in the historical firmament. Bizarrely, LBJ is still regarded in many quarters as some kind of “liberal” icon largely due to the so-called “Great Society”, a busted flush by any measure when one considers the individual state today of most the key areas where the program was supposed to improve the lives of Americans. These included ambitious reforms in everything from immigration, consumer protection, civil rights, housing and urban development, health, education, along with addressing major issues of economic inequality, to name the key areas. And although Johnson can’t be blamed for all of the failures of these reform measures, still well might we ask, what does American have to show for the Great Society today? Or well might we ask, how much more successful might they have been had he not blown the budget in — and allowed himself to so distracted by — the Vietnam debacle, one for which he was totally responsible, and for which he can and should rightly be blamed?
For their part, the formidable Israel Lobby and the uber-partisan “Friends of Israel” will attack this book and its author with a vengeance likely to metaphorically match the attack on the Liberty itself, with the same ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’ mindset. But any criticisms of it being biased against Israel will be misplaced. If anything, it finally puts the principal blame for the attack right where it has always belonged: upon the man also known as “Lyin’ Lyndon”. By Nelson’s reckoning, Israeli leaders at the time were only taking such actions because Johnson had insisted on them doing so as a pre-condition for his assistance in their plans for extending Israeli borders into Palestine. This of course, does not absolve Israel of culpability in this war crime — not by a long shot from the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building — nor does it let the country off the hook for taking full and unconditional responsibility for it now.
But for those folks with a more (ahem), nuanced view of the 36th POTUS — exposed in sordid, excruciating detail in Nelson’s earlier books on the man (see here and here) — there may or may not be any surprises herein. He was as some folks were wont to say, a man to see with the bark off! The fact that LBJ’s diabolical plan failed, and the Liberty did not sink thanks to the heroic efforts of the survivors, undoubtedly saved the world from the nuclear conflagration which might have otherwise occurred, with Jerusalem – the “city of peace” – at ground zero. They say Americans don’t do irony. This writer once again begs to differ.
“Remember the Liberty!” is then both a tale of betrayal, abandonment, and justice denied, and truth ruthlessly suppressed. It is also one of great courage and determination, and what we might term here Down Under, ‘mateship forged under fire’. Moreover, it is one of authentic patriotism, not the dodgy variety that passes for such in and around the rarefied environs of the Beltway. For their efforts in saving the ship, they helped avert the unthinkable, an achievement for which we all must be forever truly grateful. I hope readers are all able to see their way clear of keeping this story alive by buying the book and alerting interested friends, family and acquaintances to this very important — if shameful — piece of American history. This will be the ‘last shot in the locker’ as it were these veterans and their families have to obtain some critical mass public recognition, accompanied by some measure of justice and redress for what they’ve been put through, and continue to go through. To say nothing of the all important, much sought after closure. After all, we’d want all that for ourselves wouldn’t we?
Editor/Founder, Pox Amerikana
(Disclaimer: In case folks might be wondering, I’ve not benefitted in any way shape or form from my involvement in this project, nor do I expect or wish to. Moreover, from my understanding, Nelson himself has a generous royalty sharing arrangement with his co-authors — as noted, all Liberty survivors. For my part, this has been a labor of love from the get-go. I just happen to be blessed (or cursed) with an overdeveloped sense of justice and an abiding, sleep-depriving commitment to seeking and communicating historical truth, the latter an increasingly rare ambition in this the era of fake news and alternative facts, and the former a concept that Washington’s political elites and their assorted hacks, flacks, and lackeys would struggle to recognise if their careers depended on it. Which sadly in most cases it does.)
—Greg Maybury is a Perth, Australia-based writer and blogger. Separate to this review, he has published an in-depth, lengthy analysis and commentary of the people and events covered by Nelson’s book. This analysis/commentary is in two parts, and can be found on his blog.