Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2002, page 22
Refusal to Investigate Israel’s 1967 Attack on USS Liberty a “No-Brainer”: One Legislator’s Story
By Marlin Schneider
In the summer of 1998 I received an e-mail from a Wisconsin citizen in Oshkosh who asked all the members of the Wisconsin legislature to see if anyone would introduce a resolution requesting Congress to investigate an attack by the Israelis in 1967 on a ship called the USS Liberty. This seemed to me like a no-brainer that would be supported by Wisconsin veterans wanting to help another group of veterans denied their right to petition their government for a redress of grievances. I looked into the issue a bit and discovered that, indeed, the ship had been attacked, an apology offered, reparations paid—but that the veterans of that ship were still being denied a full-scale congressional investigation, which they believed necessary to finally bring closure to the issue.
The Liberty veterans believed that the attack on their ship was deliberate and not friendly fire, and that it had been covered up by the United States Navy and the State Department for years because of fear of reprisals by influential people who would bring down any politician with the audacity even to ask questions about the attack. Some of the people who later talked to me both within and outside our own capitol warned me to beware of massive political contributions against me and even potential assassination. I laughed that off because I have never been anti-Israel and, in fact, the people who got me to run for office in the first place in 1970 were Jewish constituents whom I admired because in the 1950s they had taken on Sen. Joseph McCarthy right here in central Wisconsin. Moreover, one of my former assistants was the daughter of a rabbi incarcerated at Buchenwald who now works for a Jewish organization in New York City. I also thought that a lowly state legislator was too small a potato for anyone really to care much about.
In my naiveté I learned that the only “no-brainer” around here was me. The resolution was introduced in the 1999-2000 session and sent to our committee on Veterans and Military Affairs. It got a unanimous vote in committee after they heard testimony about the incident. Curiously, however, it suddenly got held up in the Rules Committee by the Republican majority leader. I had promised the people who had asked me to introduce the legislation that I would make a motion to pull the bill from the Rules Committee if the majority leader wouldn’t report it out. Little did I know the trouble this would cause me in the Democratic caucus. My Democratic colleagues became very angry with me for wanting to move this bill, and demanded that I not do so.
In my then-30 years in the Wisconsin Assembly, this was the first time I had heard anyone ask another member to go back on his or her word. I refused. I made the motion on the floor in the spring 2000 session and was soundly defeated by both sides of the aisle. After the 2000 elections, in a secret Democratic caucus, I was sacked as assistant Democratic leader and removed from a leadership position because I had had the audacity not to back down earlier that year. Set free from the constraints of “leadership,” I introduced the resolution again in the current session. This time, however, I toned down the rhetoric of the resolution to try and satisfy its critics.
“I was (and am) considering leaving the Democratic Party over this issue.”
Alas, even that doesn’t satisfy them. They do not want this matter investigated. They called me an “anti-Semite” and a “racist.” I told them that I would not accept that line of bull, and the words we had in secret caucus were very harsh. In November, on the floor of the Assembly, after I was once again even more soundly defeated, I told them I was (and am) considering leaving the Democratic Party over this issue. I could not in good faith support a party which cannot see fit to support me. Even more importantly, however, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can see fit to provide this group of veterans their just due in seeking their Constitutional right to petitioning their government for a redress of grievances.
Amid all this rancor I had the most marvelous opportunity last summer to meet with five USS Liberty veterans in Grafton, Wisconsin, where a library is named in honor of the ship. I watched as men now in middle age still break down and cry over the events of 34 years ago. My colleagues told me that we should just forget this because it happened 34 years ago. I replied that I could not recall anyone saying that the Israelis should have just forgotten Adolph Eichmann because World War II had long since been over. To that I received no response. When I met with the survivors of the ship I told them that, if I had to go down, I could think of no better reason than to go down with the men of the USS Liberty.
Interestingly, one of those killed on the Liberty was from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. One of the boys killed on the USS Cole also was from Fond du Lac. Nobody said we shouldn’t have a full investigation of that terrorist act. On the day the Assembly took up a resolution on the Liberty we had taken up and passed a resolution on Puerto Rico and had a group of “former” Marines from Fond du Lac present the colors. We then passed a resolution honoring the members of our Assembly who also are serving or who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Such patriotism does not seem to extend to the veterans of the USS Liberty, however.
It is very hard to deal with this issue because the press will not cover it. Even when I wrote to each and every major Wisconsin veterans organization, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I did not get even the courtesy of a response. From Wisconsin’s congressional delegation I either received State Department drivel or, mostly, no response at all. One member did express an interest and I intend to share The History Channel’s report on the Liberty with him. I received no response when I wrote to the previous Israeli government. When I wrote to Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who hosted a meeting of Liberty survivors, and to the majority leader of the Minnesota Senate I likewise was stonewalled, and am still awaiting a response. Maybe Jesse just doesn’t correspond with cheeseheads.
I am very angry about this. These were American sailors. They are still loyal to their country. Their country is disloyal to them. History is replete with examples of cover-up and scapegoating by those in power in the United States government. Pearl Harbor, the USS Indianapolis, the USS Iowa, the USS Stark, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the USS Pueblo—all are examples of scapegoating or flat out cover-up. The USS Liberty is just the worst example. These men and their families deserve as much respect and honor and love as all others who have served our country. Their country—especially those who “serve” in the Congress of the United States—doesn’t have the guts to stand up for them. These sailors and intelligence officials deserve “the love and thanks of man and woman.” The summer soldiers and the phony sunshine patriots in legislative bodies from Madison to Washington deserve nothing but contempt for letting them down. ❑
Marlin Schneider is a former assistant Democratic leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly.
E-Mails of Thanks to Rep. Marlin Schneider
I would guess 90 percent of Wisconsin refuses to admit the USS Liberty was a United States ship! Since June 8, 1967, we have been treated as though we were not a part of the Navy. I feel like the captain of the USS Indianapolis must have felt when they had a Japanese officer testify against him. Otherwise, how could the country I love and served and am still serving (I feel) treat me and my shipmates this way? I see all the flag-waving and the patriotic feeling in the nation now. Even during this time when all men and women serving are being honored, and duly so, we are still “A Ship Without a Country.” It breaks my heart and wounds my spirit. We are separated from all who have served and our right to a fair trial investigation is stripped away. A ship named in the name of Lady Liberty treated so mean! Surely there is a tear in her eye this day.
R. Larry Weaver, Liberty Survivor DAV
P.S. I will be having my 26th major surgery in the 3rd week of January. All are a result of the rocket and cannon fire that hit me June 8, 1967. I have been an in-patient or out-patient ever since.
God Bless you for having the guts to attempt to find closure for the survivors, relatives and friends of the USS Liberty. It is hard for guys like me to understand why this hasn’t been cleared up by now. What is there with our case that makes Congress clam up and afraid to discuss the attack, much less open up the investigation? How can Washington ignore the obvious atrocity committed on June 8, 1967? We need more politicians like you to stand up for our rights!
Alan W. Easton, Survivor, E-7 USN-Ret
I sent a message of support to Mr. Schneider thanking him for his bravery to bring up the Liberty story. It takes guts politically for anyone to mention it publicly. I know this because it happened to me.
I’m like a tar baby on this issue, though, I just don’t go away and never will. The Liberty men DESERVE to be heard in Congress. It is not a lot to ask our Congress to do so.
Gary Brandeland, MD
Thank you, Assemblyman Schneider, for being an American first! So many of us have cried out for justice for the crew of the USS Liberty—the murdered and the survivors—but we cannot break through the wall of protection for “our ally.” With friends like this, who needs enemies?
As an American civilian whose brothers served in World War II, I have cried out since1967 and my frustration is beyond belief. Two weeks after the horrible attack, I wrote my first (but not last) “letter to the editor” to Life Magazine asking why they did not publish the pictures and names of those killed. They printed the letter, but not their pictures or names.
Thank you for your courage and true patriotism to the United States and our servicemen and women. When will Americans stand up and be counted as Americans only—not with dual citizenship—Israeli and American? My philosophy is, be proud of your heritage and your faith—but be an American!!!! Thank you for being so.
God Bless—we need more true Americans like you. Thank you for standing up to the Israel (right or wrong) supporters. Let us take down the Star of David from Capitol Hill and return the Stars and Stripes. Can we hope this will happen in our lifetime?
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Thank you for listening.