Roger Cohen writes:
Here’s what the United Nations report on Israel’s raid last year on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara had to say about the killing of a 19-year-old U.S. citizen on board:
“At least one of those killed, Furkan Dogan, was shot at extremely close range. Mr. Dogan sustained wounds to the face, back of the skull, back and left leg. That suggests he may already have been lying wounded when the fatal shot was delivered, as suggested by witness accounts to that effect.”
The four-member panel, led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand, appears with these words to raise the possibility of an execution or something close.
Dogan, born in upstate New York, was an aspiring doctor. Little interested in politics, he’d won a lottery to travel on the Gaza-bound vessel. The report says of him and the other eight people killed that, “No evidence has been provided to establish that any of the deceased were armed with lethal weapons.”
I met Dogan’s father, Ahmet, a professor at Erciyes University in Kayseri, last year in Ankara: His grief was as deep as his dismay at U.S. evasiveness. It’s hard to imagine any other circumstances in which the slaying in international waters, at point-blank range, of a U.S. citizen by forces of a foreign power would prompt such a singular American silence.
Unless, that is, one considers the case of the USS Liberty, the American ship that was attacked by Israeli forces in international waters in 1967 during the Six-Day War, resulting in the deaths of 34 crew members and the injury of 170.
Two squadrons of US Navy fighter-bombers were sent to repel the unprovoked Israeli attack and could have reached the Liberty in time to prevent a torpedo attack that killed 26 Americans, but the operation was aborted. As far as the White House was concerned, it was more important to avoid embarrassing Israel than it was to protect American lives.
After newly declassified government documents were released in 2007, the Chicago Tribune reported:
J.Q. “Tony” Hart, then a chief petty officer assigned to a U.S. Navy relay station in Morocco that handled communications between Washington and the 6th Fleet, remembered listening as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in Washington, ordered Rear Adm. Lawrence Geis, commander of the America’s carrier battle group, to bring the jets home.
When Geis protested that the Liberty was under attack and needed help, Hart said, McNamara retorted that “President [Lyndon] Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally over a few sailors.”
McNamara, who is now 91, told the Tribune he has “absolutely no recollection of what I did that day,” except that “I have a memory that I didn’t know at the time what was going on.”
The Johnson administration did not publicly dispute Israel’s claim that the attack had been nothing more than a disastrous mistake. But internal White House documents obtained from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library show that the Israelis’ explanation of how the mistake had occurred was not believed.
Except for McNamara, most senior administration officials from Secretary of State Dean Rusk on down privately agreed with Johnson’s intelligence adviser, Clark Clifford, who was quoted in minutes of a National Security Council staff meeting as saying it was “inconceivable” that the attack had been a case of mistaken identity.
The attack “couldn’t be anything else but deliberate,” the NSA’s director, Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, later told Congress.
For all its apparent complexity, the attack on the Liberty can be reduced to a single question: Was the ship flying the American flag at the time of the attack, and was that flag visible from the air?
The survivors interviewed by the Tribune uniformly agree that the Liberty was flying the Stars and Stripes before, during and after the attack, except for a brief period in which one flag that had been shot down was replaced with another, larger flag — the ship’s “holiday colors” — that measured 13 feet long.
Concludes one of the declassified NSA documents: “Every official interview of numerous Liberty crewmen gave consistent evidence that indeed the Liberty was flying an American flag — and, further, the weather conditions were ideal to ensure its easy observance and identification.”