Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010, Page 57

Human Rights

What Happened to the USS Liberty?

On June 8, 1967, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) deliberately attacked an American ship, the USS Liberty, in international waters off the Egyptian coast. Seventy percent of the crew became casualties, with 34 killed and 173 wounded.

Ernie Gallo, one of the survivors, spoke to a riveted audience at First United Church of Tampa, FL. A graduate of Philadelphia Wireless Technical Institute and undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, he completed a 29-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency.

But in 1967, Gallo was serving in the Navy Reserve on the USS Liberty when it was attacked by the IDF. Israeli planes had been flying over the ship throughout the morning, close enough to the Liberty so that its crewmembers could see the pilots' faces. Because of this, the sailors were very relaxed and comfortable, since Israel supposedly was an ally. Many of the men were sunbathing on the deck at the time of the ensuing attack—first by three Israeli fighter jets, two attack aircraft and three torpedo boats. In response to an SOS from the Liberty, the nearby USS Saratoga launched fighter aircraft to assist the unarmed American ship. Incredibly, the planes were recalled by the White House and the Liberty was left on its own. The IDF even destroyed the life boats, but miraculously the Liberty did not sink. The attack ended when the Israelis intercepted a message that help for the Liberty was on its way, a message that was not true because the help had been recalled.

Help finally did arrive—18 hours later. Surviving crewmembers were told never to discuss the attack with anyone—even family—under penalty of court martial. To further ensure silence, no two survivors were reassigned together. Some of the crew did talk about it, however, as far back as 1980. Their demand has been consistent—they want an investigation of the incident, an investigation required by law, an investigation that never happened. They want to know why their government abandoned them—why this cover-up?

In his concluding comments, Gallo said, "Since 1967, there is something very diabolical about the U.S.-Israeli relationship... The USS Liberty is a microcosm of a much bigger story as to what changed in 1967...That is, Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had a balanced Middle East policy. The Israelis and Muslims were treated the same. However, President Kennedy became upset and suspicious about Israel developing nuclear weapons....With President Johnson, things changed. From that point on, a now nuclear-armed Israel could do no wrong, and we became the primary arms supplier. In January 1968 the arms embargo against Israel was lifted and the sale of American weapons began to flow. By 1971 Israel was buying $600 million worth of American-made weapons a year. Two years later, the purchase topped $3 billion...What did President Eisenhower warn us about? The military-industrial lobby.

"Americans need to take back the halls of Congresss...I never want to see our military or citizenry attacked by the IDF ever again—ever again," Gallo concluded.

Melva Underbakke