Joe Meadors, former US Navy signalman and survivor of both the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty and on the Gaza Peace Flotilla, describes the details of the Liberty assault, why they believe it was intentional, the recall of the USS Saratoga‘s fighters twice that day from assisting the Liberty on orders from Lyndon Johnson, the massive cover-up, why the Israelis were unable to sink the ship despite their best efforts, different theories on the Israeli’s motivations, his motive for participating in the Gaza Peace Flotilla, the violent, though not deadly, raid on the ship he was on, the mistreatment of the kidnapped while in Israeli custody, the murder of American Farouk Dogan and the American politicians’ silence.
MP3 here. (18:48) Transcript below.
Joe Meadors resides in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is a survivor of the June 8, 1967 attack on the USS Liberty and for decades has been in the forefront of the effort to persuade the U.S. government to conduct an investigation of the attack.
Transcript – Scott Horton interviews Joe Meadors July 19, 2010
Scott Horton: All right, everybody, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio, I’m Scott Horton, and our next guest on the show is Joe Meadors. He’s a retired U.S. Navy signalman and a survivor of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty and the Gaza flotilla. Welcome to the show, Joe. How are you?
Joe Meadors: I’m really great. Thanks a lot.
Horton: Well I really appreciate you joining us on the show today.
Meadors: Oh, no problem. Just one clarification – I’m retired, but I didn’t retire from the military.
Horton: Oh, you were kicked out, or sank, or what happened?
Meadors: No, I served my hitch and I got out.
Horton: Oh, I got it, I see, and then you had a whole regular life as a regular person.
Meadors: Yeah, I was a regular person after that.
Horton: I see. Okay. Well I can see why you would want to get out of the military after what happened to you. But why don’t you tell the good people what happened to you? Many people never heard of the USS Liberty. Lord knows it happened long before I was born.
Meadors: Oh, thanks for reminding me.
Horton: (laughs) Well, I tell you what, I got more gray hairs on my chin now than I’d like to brag about. A couple on the side of my head too.
Meadors: Well so do I. Well the USS Liberty was in fact a spy ship. What we did was we went around, normally up and down the west coast of Africa, just monitoring all sorts of radio traffic and sending all that information back to the U.S. to send to the NSA. We were ordered to the Eastern Mediterranean as a result of the conflict in the Middle East at the time, and we arrived on station on June 8 at 9 o’clock in the morning. It was the fourth day of the Six Day War.
Right after we had arrived on station, we were circled in total about 13 times by Israeli aircraft that we listened to, and we could hear them radioing back to their headquarters with a proper identification of the ship.
About 2 o’clock in the afternoon we detected two high-speed jet aircraft flying up our starboard side. They started to circle – what we thought would be another circling of the ship – so we just ran up to the signal bridge, and I was one of the signalmen so that was my work station. When we got up there we saw the aircraft directly ahead of us, and they peeled off immediately to the left and began strafing the ship.
They continued strafing. We had men in all the gun mounts. We had four 50-caliber machine guns with men inside of them. They put rockets inside each gun tub, at least one, and rockets inside each of the many antenna mounts that we had.
Those initial strafings continued for about 10 or 15 minutes, then the slower Mystre aircraft came in with cannons, rockets, napalm and machine guns, and they dropped at least one napalm canister on our ship, and it struck the bridge. Those were followed by three torpedo boats who had two torpedoes each, and they dropped five torpedoes in the water. One of them struck our starboard side, killing 25 people below decks.
Then came the helicopter-borne assault troops that I saw. They tried to land but they couldn’t land because of the antennas that were blowing around in the breeze. The helicopters couldn’t get low enough.
And then that was followed up by a helicopter that came out bearing onboard the U.S. military naval attachŽ, and he dropped a message on the fo’c’sle, and he simply asked, “Do you have any casualties?” And he couldn’t see all the blood and the guts on the fo’c’sle, I guess.
But the thing that makes us most angry about the attack itself is just a few minutes after the attack started, our antennas were all knocked out, but one of our electronics technicians found an antenna that he had put out of commission because it wasn’t working. He got that antenna back up and working within a few minutes of the beginning of the attack. We got a message off to the Sixth Fleet steaming 450 miles away in convoy with the USS America and USS Saratoga, two aircraft carriers.
The USS Saratoga turned into the wind and immediately launched its ready strike force, and before those aircraft reached the horizon, they were recalled on orders from the White House, and about an hour later they launched again, and again those aircraft were recalled on orders from the White House.
And all the while we were continuing under attack, calling for help, and the radiomen on those Sixth Fleet ships were listening to us, knowing that the aircraft that had been launched to come to our assistance had been recalled on orders from the White House.
And that in a nutshell is basically what happened.
They had a Court of Inquiry. They took four days of testimony, and according to the participants in the court they were ordered to come to the conclusion that the attack was not deliberate.
Horton: Right, now, okay. So there’s a bunch to go over there, including the cover-up at the end there. And I think, actually that’s the first thing I ever heard about the Liberty was flipping through the channels and I saw some admiral or something say, “Hey, the President told me to lie, and when you have my job, you do what the President says. It’s not a question of being truthful or not, it’s a question of obeying orders. And we were ordered to pretend that the whole thing was an accident.” That’s the first I ever heard of it. So, cover-up blown.
But now, okay, so everybody we’re talking with Joe Meadors. He was a signalman on the USS Liberty, attacked in 1967 by the Israelis.
So I’m curious, because you talk about they attacked you with napalm, and I guess I don’t know all that much about it, but I thought my understanding was that that’s not so much made for explosive power but for spreading jellied gasoline all over people and burning them to death. Is that right?
Meadors: That is correct.
Horton: I mean, that’s not how you destroy – if you’re trying to sink a ship, I don’t understand – I mean on one hand, there’s the whole, “They were trying to kill y’all” aspect, which I’m interested in, but there’s also the question of, why weren’t they dropping bombs from above? It seems like if any air force against a ship like the Liberty, as you said, armed with 50-calibers that were taken out almost immediately and so forth, how come they were unable to sink it, right? Where’s the big bombs?
Meadors: Exactly. Well, if you look at the tactics they used, they used unmarked aircraft, jammed our radios on both U.S. Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies, destroyed our defenses and our communications capabilities, then brought in three torpedo boats, dropped five of the six torpedoes available. Luckily four of them missed.
And then the torpedo boats – one part I failed to mention, as the torpedo boats circled the ship, and they deliberately machine gunned the life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship, then brought in the heli-borne assault troops, the theory that I’m – you know, I’ve been trying to deny it all these years, but that only points to me that they were trying to sink the ship and kill all the survivors. The purpose for the napalm was to drive the crew below decks to keep them off the top decks so they would sink with the ship and drown with the ship.
Horton: I see. So it’s a tactical thing, basically, the napalm.
Horton: But now, so you’re saying that, “Oh, they were certainly trying to sink it, but four out of their six torpedoes missed”? But then, what? They were out of torpedoes? I mean, I thought this thing went on all afternoon.
Meadors: The theory that we have – of course, the U.S. government has never conducted an investigation, and the Israelis have issued a report but we’re trying to get a copy of the evidence that they used to support that report, and of course that report said the Israelis didn’t do anything wrong – but the U.S. government has never conducted an investigation, so we really don’t know exactly what their motives were.
Horton: Right. Now, well there are some theories, and I guess, you know, it’s okay for you to speculate, you’re the victim of it, and they refused to, as you just said, have any kind of process for justice, so, you know – I hear some say that, “Well, what they wanted to do was sink the ship and then blame it on the Egyptians and get America into the ’67 war full-scale on their side.”
I’ve also heard speculation that there was a massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war on the Sinai Peninsula and they were trying to block out knowledge of that.
Do you have a favorite of these theories or one you lean toward, or – ?
Meadors: Well, I’ve been leaning toward two, actually. The one I just described. Plus there was one that suggested the Israelis wanted to invade the Golan Heights but all their troops were massed on the Sinai Peninsula, and we were close enough, in order to move their troops, such a mass movement, they would have to have a lot of radio traffic, and we could detect increases in radio traffic. We couldn’t hear the actual words that were being spoken because we were too far away, but we could detect the increase in the radio traffic, so they probably wanted to have the invasion of the Golan Heights accomplished before the U.S. government found out about it.
But then again, the U.S. embassy was right there, and they could probably listen to that as well, so I don’t know how much credence that theory would support.
Horton: All right, everybody, we’re talking with Joe Meadors. He survived an Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.
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Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton. I’m talking with Joe Meadors. He survived the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty and the raid on the Gaza peace flotilla. Now, I want to wrap up here real quick, Joe, on the Liberty with some quotes from, it’s USSLiberty.org, it’ll forward you on to the page we’re looking at here anyway.
And there are quotes here from Lyndon Johnson; from Dean Rusk, then Secretary of State; Clark M. Clifford, then presidential adviser and chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; George Ball, Under Secretary of State; intelligence officials; members of Congress; Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Captain Ward Boston, Cmdr. Ernest Castle and Cmdr. William McGonagle, all of the U.S. Navy; Richard Helms, the Director of the CIA – all of them say that this was not an accident, they knew what they were doing, they were trying to sink your ship.
Meadors: That is correct. And all we’re trying to do is get the attack investigated. It’s the only attack on a U.S. Navy ship in the history of the U.S. that’s never been investigated by the U.S. government.
Horton: Well, and it really is just amazing. It’s a story almost as amazing as the story itself, the fact that most Americans have never even heard of it, never will.
Meadors: And I think that’s by design. They’re kind of hoping we’ll just shrivel up and blow away, but we’re not going to. We were ordered – after the attack, we were ordered not to talk about the attack, and I understand that order is still in effect, so they could throw us in jail, but I’m kind of hoping they’ll just give it a try.
Horton: Yeah, it’d be fun to watch your trial anyway, you know, although hopefully you’d, you know, come out the other end a free man. But it’d be nice to see the discovery process, really, I guess is what I’m getting at.
Meadors: That’s true.
Horton: Now it says in your bio that you, because you climbed up to the top of the ship, up at the bridge, during the whole attack, that you had the bird’s-eye view and watched them deliberately strafing the life rafts with your own eyes, Joe Meadors. Is that correct?
Meadors: No, no. I didn’t witness that myself, but Lloyd Painter, one of the officers on the ship, did witness that with his own eyes, and he testified to that effect during the Court of Inquiry. It should have been on the record, or it was on the record, but if you get a copy of the Court of Inquiry report today, his testimony did not appear. It just totally – it’s not blacked out, like a redacted space, that normally would be from a U.S. government document. The quote never appears at all in the record.
Horton: All right, now, before we move on to the Gaza flotilla, is there anything left about the USS Liberty that I should ask here, that you want to make sure and point out before we change the subject here?
Meadors: Well, any listeners who want to help us, just go to the USSLibertyVeterans.org, and there’s a few places you can go to get the suggested letters or get in contact with us to find out what we would like you to do, so if you’re as outraged as we are at the U.S. government’s willingness to allow war crimes to be committed by and against the United States, please drop by our website and give us a shout out.
Horton: Right, and again that’s USSLibertyVeterans.org.
Meadors: That is correct.
Horton: All right, thanks very much for that. All right, so now, I guess this is part of what motivated you to go and help to join the peace efforts to break the Gaza blockade?
Meadors: That’s right. The Liberty survivor, you become by default a student of what’s happening in the Middle East, and you learn to sort out the wheat from the chaff and know what questions to ask and what questions aren’t going to be answered, so when I was given the opportunity of being a member of the flotilla, I jumped at the chance, even given my history.
Horton: I guess you knew you were sort of taking a risk that you might not make it out alive this time or that you might end up being a survivor of another attack by the Israeli military?
Meadors: Well, I knew that they couldn’t kill me the first time, so I thought maybe God was on my side.
Horton: Well, yeah, everybody in the Middle East thinks God is on their side. I think that might be part of the problem. But anyway, at least you were unarmed. You were going to deliver tricycles and wheelchairs and food and medicine to civilians.
Meadors: That’s exactly right. And all of the ships were inspected by inspectors before we left, so the claim that they were afraid that we were carrying arms and ammunition to the radical elements in Gaza is just a smokescreen.
Horton: Well, now, I guess you were lucky enough that the raid on your ship did not turn into a bloodbath like the raid on the Mavi Marmara, right?
Meadors: That is correct. However, the Israelis tried to give the impression that everything was just peace and love when they came on board, and it wasn’t. They used their concussion grenades. They used their batons, kicked people, tied people up, and all that stuff. So it wasn’t flowers and honey when they arrived either.
Horton: And you know I think that is a pretty underreported part of this story, is exactly how the raids went down on the other ships. You weren’t on the same ship as former ambassador Ann Wright, right?
Meadors: No, she was on the, I believe the Challenger 1, and I was on the Svendoni with former ambassador Ed Peck and three other Americans.
Horton: You know, I talked with Kenneth O’Keefe, and he was on the Mavi Marmara. He said that once in custody that he was beaten, and of course when he was released there were pictures of him with his head all bloody. Were you guys mistreated in Israeli custody at all after they finished kidnapping you off of the high seas?
Meadors: I wasn’t, but one of our – the leader of the American group, Paul Larudee, he was very severely beaten by the Israelis when he was in prison. He said that he had his joints moving in directions that he didn’t know they would move before. But he was very severely beaten.
Horton: Amazing. And of course one American citizen was included with the nine who were murdered by the IDF, Farouk Dogan, I believe is how you say his name. [Apologies. The man’s name was Furkan Dogan – ed.] But in American media, “Well, he wasn’t really an American citizen, and after all, what kind of funny name is that, and his skin was a little bit darker than yours and mine, I suppose. And so who cares about him?”
Meadors: He was described repeatedly as a Turkish-American. In fact he wasn’t. He was an American citizen. He wasn’t a Turkish citizen. And he was, I guess, accidentally killed with four bullets in the brain.
Horton: Amazing. Well, I guess, you know, it’s really no big deal compared to what happened to the Liberty, right? If Lyndon Johnson can order everybody to just be silent about the Liberty, then obviously it’s not a big deal for Barack Obama to just remain silent about what everybody knows happened to you guys.
Meadors: Well, and I don’t think he really cares. And my congressman doesn’t either. Ann Wright and I just completed a 10-day tour of Texas talking, in six different cities, and one was down here in Corpus Christi, where I live. I invited my congressman to send somebody to the presentation just to listen to a first-person account of what has happened, and it’s about a 10-minute drive from his office, but he wouldn’t send anybody.
But if you write him a letter about the Liberty or the Freedom Flotilla, he’ll have his boilerplate response that totally ignores the issues. And he had an opportunity to get first-person accounts and he refused to.
He has a history of ignoring the USS Liberty; he was invited to a dedication of a memorial plaque on the USS Lexington Museum down here, and he refused to send anybody there either.
Horton: All right, everybody, that’s Joe Meadors. The website is USSLibertyVeterans.org. Thanks very much for your time on the show today. I really appreciate it.