Liberty, Freedom, and the Attack on the USS Liberty

In most languages the terms “liberty” and “freedom” are interchangeable, but there is a fine distinction. Freedom is more general, implying simple exemption from any control or influence by another person or agency; liberty implies laws, a system of order and restraint.

One might say that liberty is the freedom to obey the rules.

Folks taken to task for social improprieties sometimes say: “Hey, it’s a free country.”

People who might know better if politics didn’t stink them up often say: “America is spreading freedom and democracy.”

Benjamin Franklin knew better, but that didn’t stop him from saying that people willing to give up freedom to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.

“Land of the free, home of the brave….”

In his speech to the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry concluded with, “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” So let’s go from here with the term, liberty.

Especially since 9/11, our liberties have been under savage attack. The Constitution is strafed and bombed as the US is marched toward a fascist police state—even torpedoed by much the same forces that labor to cover up the attack on the USS Liberty back on June 8, 1967….

The world’s most sophisticated intelligence ship, the USS Liberty was a $40,000,000 Signals Intelligence platform (SIGNIT) with a crew of 294.

About 6 am local time, an Israeli reconnaissance plane spotted the USS Liberty just outside Israeli coastal radar. Throughout the day, more Israeli reconnaissance planes flew out and orbited the ship at least eight times altogether. Meanwhile, the flight officer who originally spotted the ship teamed with an air-naval liaison officer at Israeli air force headquarters, and they consulted Janes’ Fighting Ships. At 11:00 am they identified the ship as the USS Liberty.

At 2 pm Israeli fighter jets attacked the USS Liberty, initially targeting the command bridge, communications antennas, and the four .50 caliber machine guns placed to repel boarders. After those fighters spent their ordnance, consecutive new waves engaged, adding napalm to the rocket and 30 mm cannon fire. Intense radio jamming contributed to stifling the Liberty‘s calls for help to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

Thirty-five minutes into the air attack, fighters disengaged. Three Israeli torpedo boats closed in for a surface attack, launching five torpedoes—one struck the Liberty opposite its research spaces. The torpedo boats then moved up and down port and starboard, raking the ship with cannon and machine gun fire, targeting anyone who came above decks, destroying firefighting equipment and life rafts.

The Liberty’s defenseless crew eventually patched different systems together and got a distress message through to the Sixth Fleet.

The USS Saratoga and USS America both launched fighters to aid the Liberty; the message for them to destroy the attackers upon arrival was sent “clear” (not encrypted). The torpedo boats suddenly broke off their attack and began radioing the USS Liberty, asking if she needed assistance. An Israeli naval officer notified the US Naval Attaché at the embassy in Tel Aviv, and apologized for Israeli forces mistakenly attacking an American ship.

Then for the first and only time in our history, rescue aircraft were recalled before arriving at the attack site….

So, 17 miles off the coast of Gaza, after eight hours of aerial surveillance, Israel attacked the USS Liberty for two hours, killing 34 and wounding 173. Besides the torpedo and napalm damage, 861 holes the size of a man’s hand and larger were counted, plus thousands of .50 caliber machine gun holes. The SIGINT platform was so damaged the ship never again sailed on a mission. The USS Liberty was sold as scrap for $102,666.66.

Israel freely acknowledged that the ship was American, had remained in international waters; and claimed they never made positive identification before attacking.

Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent a letter to the Ambassador of Israel stating that we expected them to take disciplinary measures as required by international law, and that was it. There were no disciplinary measures—at least not in Israel. Closing off the affair was a rushed and phony American inquiry into the attack, plus threats to surviving crew members of “court-martial, imprisonment, or worse” if they exposed the truth. Perpetual pressure from the pro-Israel lobby in our country has kept this the only serious naval incident never to be investigated by Congress. To this day no surviving crewman has been allowed to officially and publicly testify about the attack.

Richard Helms, CIA Director in 1967, later wrote in his memoirs, “…there could be no doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing in attacking the Liberty.”

In 2005, a request was issued to the Secretary of the Army, as Executive Agent for the Secretary of Defense, regarding investigation of war crimes committed against U.S. Military personnel, on behalf of the USS Liberty Veterans Association, Inc. High-level intrigues trumped the request, kept the top-secret lid welded over the truth.

What happened to the USS Liberty seems an excellent metaphor for what is happening to the liberty of Americans. Though torpedoed by the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012), the Constitution still floats. Will it be sold as scrap, like the USS Liberty?

The NDAA torpedo, with its warhead of provisions regarding indefinite military detention of anyone, without charge, nearly blew away the Bill of Rights. A green light for government to disappear American citizens? Sure, “suspicion” of some kind of “connection” with a terrorist group is a requirement for being disappeared, but the suspicion can be anything, even nothing but a whim, even nothing at all.

“Evidence? We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence!”

The bottom line of the NDAA, beneath all the specific and carefully-worded incoherence: If there is something the government does not like about a citizen, whatever rights they might’ve still had are gone.

But just when it seemed the Constitution might sink in terms of protecting citizens from corporate government out of control, good news floats from the courts, blocking the NDAA—for now at least, pointing toward future missions? With such extensive damage, perhaps the only hope for the USS Constitution is dry dock, massive repairs, and further protection as the NDAA rises toward the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Congress and the Obama administration keep circling the remains.

Rand Clifford’s novels Castling, Timing, Priest Lake Cathedral, and Voices of Vires are published by StarChief Press, and will be available soon as e-books. Read other articles by Rand.