A Talk in Colebrook, New Hampshire, 12/1/18: “Blood in the Water: How the United States and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty”

                 In 2014, I was completing a book about Lyndon Johnson. Titled “Faustian Bargains,” it focused on Johnson’s cronies and hangers-on, the favors he extracted from them and the bribes he offered in exchange. It portrayed the man as one of the great hypocrites in history, a racist who sponsored a civil rights bill. Johnson was a ruthless character who has been granted credibility by servile biographers.

                        Several writers I know believe that he had foreknowledge of the Kennedy assassination. I wasn’t sure. But I was glad to be done with him.

                         One evening, just before “Faustian Bargains was published, I received a call from a researcher based in Austin, Texas who had a question for me. Will you be discussing Johnson and his role in the attack on the USS Liberty? I drew a blank.

                     I had never heard of the USS Liberty.  Yet what if there was crucial information about Johnson that had eluded me. As soon as I hung up, I looked up “USS Liberty,” on google and there it was: films, narratives, interviews and a documentary called “Dead in the Water” that raised many questions about the hidden history of this event.

                            I discovered that so successful had been the cover-up of this murderous attack on unarmed sailors that much of the general public knew nothing about this extraordinary episode in American history in which an American intelligence ship had been attacked by a close and much favored ally, the state of Israel. On the afternoon of the attack, Israel admitted its role.  Occurring in the midst of the 1967 Six Day War, this attack was so vicious and protracted, involving rockets and machine guns and napalm as well as boats firing torpedoes, that it was apparent that the objective was to sink the Liberty and drown everyone on it; there were to be no survivors.

                    I added a chapter about the USS Liberty to “Faustian Bargains,” but there were perplexing issues that demanded further investigation. One was whose idea was this atrocity, this murder of innocents? Answering this we could penetrate motive : the why of the story. Why would Israel plan and execute so cruel and senseless an attack on their one ally (France had just broken with them)? What did Israel have to gain?

                    As one of my biographical subjects, the legendary detective story writer Dashiell Hammett, put it to a young fellow soldier stationed in Alaska where Hammett edited the base newspaper during World War II, anyone can reveal HOW something happened. Why don’t you try to find out why, Hammett asked? The chagrined soldier who was seeking his approval was Eliot Asinoff, who  went on to write a book about the Chicago Black Sox scandal, called “Eight Men Out.”

                 Why, I asked myself, would Israel attack an unarmed surveillance ship with the obvious motive to sink the ship and drown everyone on it?

                                 This is a question that has befuddled everyone who tackled this subject, even Jay Cristol, a Florida bankruptcy judge who wrote a book about Liberty from the Israeli point of view. Even Cristol is forced to ponder why Israel would so act against their own interests, even as, perplexed, he is forced to accept Israel’s claim that the whole thing was an “accident” and a “mistake” because they believed they were attacking an Egyptian horse carrier.

                           So I began the book that we are discussing today, “Blood In the Water.” Its subtitle, “How the United States and Israel conspired to ambush the USS Liberty,” reflects the thesis of the book. “Blood in the water” focuses on who was to blame, how the attack came to be, and, of course what Lyndon Johnson had to do with it. One of the books about the attack, by the way, was authored by the son of one of the surviving sailors, John Scott, who died recently; it leaves out Johnson’s role entirely. In 2014, James Scott would serve as the consultant for an al-Jazeera television documentary about the attack and it too leaves out Johnson’s devious, and cruel and well-documented role in these events. The major source for Johnson’s part is our own Commander Dave Lewis.

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Joan Mellen Interviewed on the Ochelli Effect

‎Joan Mellen was interviewed by Chuck Ochelli‎ on The Ochelli Effect Radio Show, October 26 at to discuss her book “Blood in the Water” on the sinking of the USS Liberty. Listen below.

Book Release Event for “Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty”, Dec. 1

Joan Mellen will present her new book, “Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty”

Saturday, December 1, in Colebrook, New Hampshire, a talk, discussion and book signing, complete with refreshments. 1 pm. to 5 pm. at the country club.

Colebrook Country Club and Motel

15 Abenaki Road

Colebrook NH

Praise for “Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty”

“Finally, the definitive reconstruction of the greatest moral and political scandal in American history, which demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the US government at its highest level conspired with Israel in 1967 to destroy a surveillance naval vessel, USS Liberty, and murder its own sailors to gain a pretext for launching an aggressive attack on Egypt. With this exposé, based on exhaustive research and extensive interviews, Joan Mellen has done an immense patriotic service. An extraordinary book that should be not only read but acted upon.”

—Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University

 

“With predictable moral courage and impressive literary deftness, Joan Mellen has now written a very important book which punctures the long-standing official explanations of what exactly happened when Israel attacked the intelligence ship U.S.S. Liberty during the frenzy of the Six Day War.  Like the JFK assassination, the truth about this incident has been deliberately buried for decades in misleading documents.  All along, Israel has proven to be an amazing success and a truly desperate enterprise.  Both aspects of its history come through in this inspired book.”

—Burton Hersh, Ted Kennedy’s primary biographer (“Edward Kennedy:  An Intimate Biography”) and the author of “Bobby and J. Edgar”, often cited as the “breakthrough book” about the JFK and RFK assassinations.  Hersh is also the author of The Old Boys:  The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA, currently mandatory reading for incoming CIA officers.

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Manchester Union Leader’s John Koziol on “Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty”

The Manchester Union Leader, the daily newspaper of Manchester, the largest city in the U.S. state of New Hampshire has published a leader article on Joan Mellen’s new book, “Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty”. Written by John Koziol, the article delves into the forthcoming book’s explosive revelation that  then-President Lyndon Johnson ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to attack and sink, with no survivors, the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 in an effort to promote regime change in Egypt.

With a North Country native at its core, a book to be released this fall will argue that then-President Lyndon Johnson ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to attack and sink, with no survivors, the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 in an effort to promote regime change in Egypt.

“Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty” by Joan Mellen, a professor of English and creative writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, explores this tragic episode of an attack by one of America’s allies that resulted in dozen of American deaths and nearly 200 injuries.

Deep in the midst of the Cold War, the NSA wanted to hear everything that the then-Soviet Union and its allies or proxies were saying anywhere in the world. The 456-foot Liberty — whose specialty was gathering electronic communications — was accordingly sent around the world.

On June 5, 1967, when Israel launched a strike against Egypt, Jordan and Syria — the so-called Six-Day War — she was ordered to proceed “at best speed” to the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

While Cmdr. William McGonagle, the ship’s captain, and his crew of 99 sailors directed the Liberty toward the Sinai Peninsula, inside the vessel, then-Lt. Cmdr. David Edwin Lewis, the Liberty’s chief intelligence officer and a 1949 graduate of Colebrook Academy, received a terse order for himself and the 194 other communications gatherers under his command: “Find out who’s doing what to whom.”

“But Israel,” said Lewis, during an interview last Wednesday at his Colebrook home, “didn’t want that” and on June 8, 1967, its military attacked the Liberty with the intent of sending her to the bottom with all hands.

Israel has repeatedly said the incident was a tragic error caused by the fog of war during which the Liberty was confused with an Egyptian vessel. Israel quickly apologized for the attack that killed 34 crew members, including a civilian, and injured 173 others, and it also paid financial compensation to the victims and the U.S. government.

The day of the attack was “a beautiful day,” recalled Lewis. Israeli planes had flown over the Liberty nine times prior to the strike, including once that was so close that sailors were able to see and wave to the pilots, Lewis said. It was apparent that Israel knew who the Liberty was.

In the attack,McGonagle was able to dodge four torpedoes before the fifth struck the Liberty midship, ripping a hole in her side, and covering Lewis, who had been applying a tourniquet to a sailor’s bleeding leg, in a quarter-inch of heavy, burnt naval paint. The impact of the blast destroyed both of Lewis’ eardrums while the heat seared his eyes shut.

“I was one of the very, very lucky ones,” Lewis said. “Everybody around me was killed instantly.”

Lewis said he feels personally responsible for what happened to the Liberty, explaining that the day before the attack McGonagle asked him whether moving the Liberty further out to sea would affect communications-gathering. Lewis said it would.

As he recuperated, Lewis learned that James Terry Halbardier, an electronics technician 3rd Class, saved the heavily damaged Liberty from more destruction.

Although under fire, Halbardier, who later received the Silver Star, ran a coaxial cable across the deck to the sixth Liberty antenna, which had been inactive at the time of the attack, allowing an SOS to be sent to the Sixth Fleet. The message was seemingly also heard by the Israelis, who immediately ceased their attack.

But help for the Liberty did not arrive with equal alacrity and, as Lewis later learned, there was a nefarious reason for the delay.

While recovering aboard the carrier USS America, Lewis said he had a conversation with Adm. Lawrence R. Geis, the Sixth Fleet’s carrier division commander, who “swore me to secrecy for his lifetime” and then shared that the Fleet had twice launched relief aircraft to the Liberty and that each time they had been recalled by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

When Geis challenged the second recall, Johnson came on the phone himself, the admiral told Lewis, who remembered Geis quoting the President saying that “I don’t give a damn if the ship sinks and all the Americans are killed. I will not embarrass my ally.”

In 2003, an independent commission released the Moorer Report that took a hard look at the incident.

The commission wrote that on June 8, 1967, the Israelis had aerially surveilled the Liberty for eight hours before launching an attack that lasted about 25 minutes “during which time unmarked Israeli aircraft dropped napalm canisters on USS Liberty’s bridge, and fired 30mm cannons and rockets into our ship, causing 821 holes, more than 100 of which were rocket-size; survivors estimate 30 or more sorties were flown over the ship by a minimum of 12 attacking Israeli planes, which were jamming all five American emergency radio channels.”

Now 87 and the oldest survivor of the Liberty, Lewis keeps trying to understand why Israel did what it did 51 years ago Friday and he comes to some of the same conclusions that others, including Mellen, have reached: that the U.S. and Johnson had decided to destabilize Egyptian President Gamal Abel Nasser by blaming his country for the attack.

Asked what he hopes will happen when “Blood in the Water” is released, Lewis replied that he’d be happy if the book educated more people about what happened to the USS Liberty and why.

“It’s frustrating that the American people know nothing about this and that the U.S. perpetrated it,” he said.

Synopsis of “Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty” by Joan Mellen

By Joan Mellen

In 2014 I was completing a book exposing dark truths about President Lyndon Johnson that had been suppressed by Johnson’s official biographers whose goal in recent years was to provide cover for an official whose actions not infrequently bordered on the criminal. One day I received an email from a fellow researcher who offered a challenging question: will you be including Johnson’s role in the attack on the USS Liberty? I had never heard of the USS Liberty. When I learned of the ambush of this unarmed USS Intelligence ship, and of Johnson’s role in planning it and then covering it up, I was at once committed to a course that resulted in a new book, “Blood in the Water,” whose subtitle is “How the US and Israel Conspired in the Ambush of the USS Liberty” devoted entirely to the events surrounding the LIBERTY. My goal was to discover who had planned the attack and what was their motive.

I had for more than a decade been writing books of investigative journalism, tackling historical issues about which the government had kept the public in the dark. The best known is called “A Farewell to Justice,” which tackled another unsolved case, the assassination of President Kennedy, and is set in New Orleans where Lee Harvey Oswald lived during the spring and summer of 1963. “A Farewell to Justice” became a biography of District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation and took seven years to complete.

By the time I committed to the Liberty story I had published 23 books. None focused on Israel or the Middle East. Nor had I written anything about the U.S. military.

When you begin a book whose issues are unfamiliar, the writer invariably hears an inner voice with the warning, “I can’t do this.” I knew nothing about the US Navy, its protocols and hierarchies. I knew a bit about the intelligence services whose activities figure in this story, CIA and the NSA, National Security Agency. There had been several books published about this attack on LIBERTY, an unarmed US intelligence ship, by Israeli commandos and ships, on June 8, 1967, in the middle of the Six-Day War. All insisted that Israel, who admitted to have attacked ship by planes and torpedo boats, was acting alone, but they made no sense to me: why would Israel attack a vessel belonging to its sole ally, for by now France had canceled its arrangements to offer Israel military support? None of the books or articles, and I read them all, could answer this question or entertain why Israel would engage in so foolhardy an operation. Israel had on the same day admitted that they had been behind the attack, but the “explanation”, that it was an “accident,” was flimsy and easily challenged.

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