The USS Liberty Incident: History & Overview [Annotated]

[Editor’s Note: This is an article appearing in the Jewish Virtual Library and is being annotated to add pertinent information not included in the original article and to footnote relevant comments about items included in the article. The Elephant in the Room is asking, “Given the JVL claim that there were ‘ten U.S. investigations‘ of the attack, and given that your audience is largely American, why don’t you rely upon those ‘ten U.S. investigations‘ of the attack to describe the attack? Why your preference to rely primarily upon Israeli historians and military people who represent the participants who committed War Crimes with impunity during the attack?

[Why not include anything from USS Liberty survivors—your own countrymen?]

by Mitchell Bard

The Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was a grievous error, largely attributable to the fact that it occurred in the midst of the confusion of a full-scale war in 1967. Ten official United States investigations 1 and three official Israeli inquiries have all conclusively established the attack was a tragic mistake.

On June 8, 1967, the fourth day of the Six-Day War, the Israeli high command received reports that Israeli troops in El Arish were being fired upon from the sea, presumably by an Egyptian vessel, as they had a day before. The United States had announced that it had no naval forces within hundreds of miles of the battle front3 on the floor of the United Nations a few days earlier4; however, the USS Liberty, an American intelligence ship under the dual control of the Defense Intelligence Agency/Central Intelligence Agency and the Sixth Fleet5, was assigned to monitor the fighting. As a result of a series of United States communication failures, whereby messages directing the ship not to approach within 100 miles were not received by the Liberty, the ship sailed to within 14 miles off the Sinai coast. The Israelis mistakenly thought this was the ship shelling its soldiers and war planes and torpedo boats attacked, killing 34 members of the Liberty’s crew and wounding 171. Ships from the Sixth Fleet were directed to launch four attack aircraft with fighter cover to defend the Liberty, but the planes were recalled after a message was received at the White House that the Israelis had admitted they had attacked the ship.6

Numerous mistakes were made by both the United States and Israel. For example, the Liberty was first reported — incorrectly, as it turned out — to be cruising at 30 knots (it was later recalculated to be 28 knots). Under Israeli (and U.S.) naval doctrine at the time, a ship proceeding at that speed was presumed to be a warship. The sea was calm and the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry found that the Liberty’s flag was very likely drooped and not discernible;7 moreover, members of the crew, including the Captain, Commander William McGonagle, testified that the flag was knocked down after the first or second assault.8

According to Israeli Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin’s memoirs, there were standing orders to attack any unidentified vessel near the shore. The day fighting began, Israel had asked that American ships be removed from its coast or that it be notified of the precise location of U.S. vessels.11 The Sixth Fleet was moved because President Johnson feared being drawn into a confrontation with the Soviet Union. He also ordered that no aircraft be sent near Sinai.

A CIA report on the incident issued June 13, 1967, also found that an overzealous pilot could mistake the Liberty for an Egyptian ship, the El Quseir. After the air raid, Israeli torpedo boats identified the Liberty as an Egyptian naval vessel.12 When the Liberty began shooting at the Israelis13, they responded with the torpedo attack, which killed 28 of the sailors14. In 1981, the National Security Agency noted that accounts by members of the Liberty crew and others did not have access to the relevant signal intelligence reports or the confidential explanation provided by Israel to the United States, which were used in the CIA investigation. The NSA concluded: “While these [signal intelligence of Israeli communications] reports revealed some confusion on the part of the pilots concerning the nationality of the ship, they tended to rule out any thesis that the Israeli Navy and Air Force deliberately attacked a ship they knew to be American.”15

The Joint Chiefs of Staff investigated the communications failure and noted that the Chief of Naval Operations expressed concern about the prudence of sending the Liberty so close to the area of hostilities and four messages were subsequently sent instructing the ship to move farther away from the area of hostilities. The JCS report said the messages were never received because of “a combination of (1) human error, (2) high volume of communications traffic, and (3) lack of appreciation of sense of urgency regarding the movement of the Liberty.” The report also included a copy of a flash cable sent immediately after the attack, which reported that Israel had “erroneously” attacked the Liberty, that IDF helicopters were in rescue operations, and that Israel had sent “abject apologies” and requested information on any other U.S. ships near the war zone16

Initially, the Israelis were terrified that they had attacked a Soviet ship and might have provoked the Soviets to join the fighting. Once the Israelis were sure what had happened, they reported the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and offered to provide a helicopter for the Americans to fly out to the ship and any help they required to evacuate the injured and salvage the ship. The offer was accepted and a U.S. naval attaché was flown to the Liberty.

The Israelis were “obviously shocked” by the error they made in attacking the ship, according to the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv. In fact, according to a secret report on the 1967 war, the immediate concern was that the Arabs might see the proximity of the Liberty to the conflict as evidence of U.S.-Israel collusion. A second secret report concluded, “While the attack showed a degree of impetuosity and recklessness, it was also clear that the presence of a U.S. naval vessel, unannounced, that close to belligerent shores at a time when we had made much of the fact that no U.S. military forces were moving near the area of hostilities was inviting disaster.”17

Many of the survivors of the Liberty remain bitter18, and are convinced the attack was deliberate as they make clear on their web site.9 In 1991, columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak trumpeted their discovery of an American who said he had been in the Israeli war room when the decision was made to knowingly attack the American ship.4 In fact, that individual, Seth Mintz, wrote a letter to the Washington Post on November 9, 1991, in which he said he was misquoted by Evans and Novak and that the attack, was, in fact, a “case of mistaken identity.” Moreover, the man who Mintz originally said had been with him, a Gen. Benni Matti, does not exist.

Also, contrary to claims that an Israeli pilot identified the ship as American on a radio tape, no one has ever produced this tape.19 In fact, the official Israeli Air Force tape clearly established that no such identification of the ship was made by the Israeli pilots prior to the attack. Tapes of the radio transmissions made prior, during and after the attack do not contain any statement suggesting the pilots saw a U.S. flag before the attack. During the attack, a pilot specifically says, “there is no flag on her!” The recordings also indicate that once the pilots became concerned about the identity of the ship, by virtue of reading its hull number, they terminated the attack and they were given an order to leave the area. A transcript of the radio transmissions indicates the entire incident, beginning with the spotting of a mysterious vessel off El Arish and ending with the chief air controller at general headquarters in Tel Aviv telling another controller the ship was “apparently American” took 24 minutes.5 Critics claimed the Israeli tape was doctored, but the National Security Agency of the United States released formerly top secret transcripts in July 2003 that confirmed the Israeli version.

A U.S. spy plane was sent to the area as soon as the NSA learned of the attack on the Liberty and recorded the conversations of two Israeli Air Force helicopter pilots, which took place between 2:30 and 3:37 p.m. on June 8. The orders radioed to the pilots by their supervisor at the Hatzor base instructing them to search for Egyptian survivors from the “Egyptian warship” that had just been bombed were also recorded by the NSA. “Pay attention. The ship is now identified as Egyptian,” the pilots were informed. Nine minutes later, Hatzor told the pilots the ship was believed to be an Egyptian cargo ship. At 3:07, the pilots were first told the ship might not be Egyptian and were instructed to search for survivors and inform the base immediately the nationality of the first person they rescued. It was not until 3:12 that one of the pilots reported that he saw an American flag flying over the ship at which point he was instructed to verify if it was indeed a U.S. vessel.

In October 2003, the first Israeli pilot to reach the ship broke his 36-year silence on the attack. Brig.-Gen. Yiftah Spector, a triple ace, who shot down 15 enemy aircraft and took part in the 1981 raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, said he had been told an Egyptian ship was off the Gaza coast. “This ship positively did not have any symbol or flag that I could see. What I was concerned with was that it was not one of ours. I looked for the symbol of our navy, which was a large white cross on its deck. This was not there, so it wasn’t one of ours.” The Jerusalem Post obtained a recording of Spector’s radio transmission in which he said, “I can’t identify it, but in any case it’s a military ship.”

Spector’s plane was not armed with bombs or, he said, he would have sunk the Liberty. Instead he fired 30mm armor piercing rounds that led the American survivors to believe they had been under rocket attack.20 His first pass ignited a fire, which caused the ship to billow black smoke that Spector thought was a ruse to conceal the ship. Spector acknowledged in the Post interview that he made a mistake, and said he admitted it when called to testify in an inquiry by a U.S. senator.21 “I’m sorry for the mistake,” he said. “Years later my mates dropped flowers on the site where the ship was attacked.”22

None of Israel’s accusers can explain why Israel would deliberately attack an American ship at a time when the United States was Israel’s only friend and supporter in the world.23 Confusion in a long line of communications, which occurred in a tense atmosphere on both the American and Israeli sides (five messages from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the ship to remain at least 25 miles — the last four said 100 miles — off the Egyptian coast arrived after the attack was over) is a more probable explanation.24

Accidents caused by “friendly fire” are common in wartime. In 1988, the U.S. Navy mistakenly downed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 civilians. During the Gulf War, 35 of the 148 Americans who died in battle were killed by “friendly fire.” In April 1994, two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters with large U.S. flags painted on each side were shot down by U.S. Air Force F-15s on a clear day in the “no fly” zone of Iraq, killing 26 people. In April 2002, an American F-16 dropped a bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. In fact, the day before the Liberty was attacked, Israeli pilots accidentally bombed one of their own armored columns.25

Retired Admiral, Shlomo Erell, who was Chief of the Navy in Israel in June 1967, told the Associated Press (June 5, 1977): “No one would ever have dreamt that an American ship would be there. Even the United States didn’t know where its ship was. We were advised by the proper authorities that there was no American ship within 100 miles.”26

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Congress on July 26, 1967: “It was the conclusion of the investigatory body, headed by an admiral of the Navy in whom we have great confidence, that the attack was not intentional.”

In 1987, McNamara repeated his belief that the attack was a mistake, telling a caller on the “Larry King Show” that he had seen nothing in the 20 years since to change his mind that there had been no “cover­up.”27

In January 2004, the State Department held a conference on the Liberty incident and also released new documents, including CIA memos dated June 13 and June 21, 1967, that say that Israel did not know it was striking an American vessel. The historian for the National Security Agency, David Hatch, said the available evidence “strongly suggested” Israel did not know it was attacking a U.S. ship. Two former U.S. officials, Ernest Castle, the United States Naval Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in June 1967, who received the first report of the attack from Israel, and John Hadden, then CIA Chief of Station in Tel Aviv, also agreed with the assessment that the attack on the Liberty was a mistake.28

The new documents do not shed any light on the mystery of what the ship was doing in the area or why Israel was not informed about its presence. The evidence suggests the ship was not spying on Israel.

Israel apologized for the tragedy immediately and offered on June 9 to compensate the victims. Israel ultimately paid nearly $13 million in humanitarian reparations to the United States and to the families of the victims in amounts established by the U.S. State Department. The matter was officially closed between the two governments by an exchange of diplomatic notes on December 17, 1987.29

Footnotes
1 The Congressional Research Service researched the question, “Has the US government investigated the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty?" The Congressional Research Service concluded they could not find any evidence of a US government investigation of the attack.

Congressional Research Service Response

3 Mr. Bard implies the area had been declared to be a “War Zone” by one or more of the warring parties. In fact, no NOTMARS had been issued warning ships of the danger of sailing in the area.
4 The implication being that announcement removed the responsibility of positively identifying potential targets prior to beginning any attack. It did not. In fact, the Israeli military admitted they positively identified the USS Liberty as not displaying the correct Israeli markings.
5 Don’t know where the DIA and CIA came into the picture. We were under the NSA who told the Sixth Fleet where to position us.
6 There were two flights launched to come to our assistance. According to RADM Larry Geis, Commander, Carrier Division 4, who spoke to the White House after receiving the order to recall the first launch of rescue aircraft, LBJ recalled the aircraft because he “didn’t want to embarrass an ally.” It had nothing to do with any admission allegedly made by the Israeli government.
7 The ship’s weather log that was submitted to the Court of Inquiry shows the wind across the deck was more than enough to hold the flag out in a brisk wind.
8 In what history tells us was the lull between the air and torpedo boat attack Frank Brown and I noticed the flag had been shot down. We raised our largest flag (9 feet x 13 feet) on our Number 4 Port halyard. That flag can be clearly seen in photos taken after the attack.
9

If you look at the tactics used by the Israeli military during its attack you will come away with the conclusion that there WAS “malicious intent” in their attack.

  • Initiated by jamming our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The attacking aircraft were unmarked;
  • The initial strafing runs by high-speed Mirage aircraft targeted our communication and defensive capabilities;
  • This was followed by slower Mystere aircraft who dropped napalm canisters to drive the crew below decks;
  • Followed by motor torpedo boats who fired five torpedoes at the ship. One struck the ship on our starboard side killing 25 crewmen;
  • Torpedo boats then circled the ship while firing from close range at crewmen trapped topside or stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • Torpedo boats then machine gunned serviceable life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. This act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • This was followed by helos filled with assault troops that couldn’t find a place to disgorge its deadly cargo due to the antenna and halyards blowing wildly in the wind.
11 The State Department researched this claim and determined that no request for info on US ships in the area was made until after the attack.

12 The Israeli torpedo boats approached to literally a stone’s throw of the USS Liberty and identified the freshly painted US Navy ship displaying standard US Navy markings as a 40-year-old, black hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer that bore no resemblance to the USS Liberty.

13 Dale Larkins fired a single bullet at the torpedo boats before his gun jammed. After a murderous 30+ minute air attack that single shot “removed all doubt” from the torpedo boat personnel that we were an enemy and continued the attack.
14 The torpedo boat attacked killed 25 on the USS Liberty not 28. But, when was Mr. Bard ever concerned with the truth about the attack?
15 They also never bothered to analyze the actions of the Israeli military in arriving at a determination that because of the contents of documents provided to them by the Israeli military, the attack was not deliberate. See Note 9.
16 The Israeli government never issued any Notice to Mariners declaring the area to be a "war zone."

Israeli Notice to Mariners

17 In other words, it was our fault we were attacked. I guess our presence put every 40-year-old, black-hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer at risk of attack by the Israeli military.
18 Many have opined that our outrage is directed at the Israeli military for attacking us and for committing War Crimes during their attack. That is not where our outrage is directed. We are outraged that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship to be conducted with impunity and without remorse.
19 That conversation is described in a video of Air Force Captain Richard Block.
20

Those armor piercing rounds were used to take out our communications and defensive capabilities. Those Mirage aircraft were followed by slower Mystere aircraft which were armed with (and used) napalm bombs to drive the crew below decks to ensure everyone was trapped below deck when the torpedoes were used. Five torpedoes were fired with only one striking the ship. Had more than one found its mark, all USS Liberty personnel trapped below deck would have perished.

21 No US Senator every held an inquiry into the attack. The closest the attack came to Congressional scrutiny was when Senator Adlai Stevenson threatened the Israeli government with an investigation unless they came to terms on remuneration for the attack. Terms were agreed to, and the investigation was dropped
22

pul-EE-ze! In 2011 Larry Toenjes sailed his sailboat to the position of the attack and held a memorial service. Neither the US nor the Israeli governments accepted an invitation to attend the service. Now you’re telling us that the pilots of the attacking aircraft made a trip to the site of the attack to honor those fallen on the USS Liberty? And haven’t bothered to tell us? Riiiight!

23 We don't give a damn why the Israeli military attacked us. Our concern is that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship and included War Crimes to be committed with impunity and without remorse.
24 And that absolves the IDF from its duty to ensure the correct identification of the target they are about to attack? Especially given the fact that that identification is made literally from a stone's throw away?
25 What on earth does that have to do with the attack on the USS Liberty? Oh, I forgot. Those were investigated and those investigations determined them to be "friendly fire." You have declared the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was "friendly fire" and we are suppose to believe you because you say so.
26 Again, this does not absolve the Israeli military from its duty to ensure the identification of the ship they are attacking.
27 If I were on a call between the White House and RADM Larry Geis ordering the Sixth Fleet to stand down and recall the rescue aircraft, I wouldn't remember anything about it either.
28

It is interesting that the State Department would hold a conference about the attack on our ship but not invite a single USS Liberty survivor to participate. As for an assessment about the attack, why not refer to the US government investigation of the attack? That would include evidence and testimony taken under oath. Sadly, that question is rhetorical since there is no such investigation.

29

Not unlike a proceeding in the civilian arena, the “closed book” referenced by Mr. Bard only refers to the civil or monetary side of the equation. Not yet resolved is the criminal side. Issues not yet addressed let alone resolved are the War Crimes committed by both the Israeli and US military during the attack, to wit:

  • The use of unmarked aircraft;
  • The jamming of our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The slow circling of our ship by Israeli motor torpedo boats as their personnel fired from very close range at USS Liberty crewmen trapped topside and stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • The deliberate machine gunning of life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. That act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • The refusal of the attacking forces to offer aid immediately upon cessation of hostilities.

Most egregious in our minds is the White House ordering the rescue aircraft recalled while we were still under attack and calling for help and the decision of the Sixth Fleet to obey that order. That order is a direct violation of Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and carries the possibility of a death sentence upon conviction.

‘But Sir, It’s an American Ship.’ ‘Never Mind, Hit Her!’ When Israel Attacked USS Liberty [Annotated]

‘The Americans have findings that show our pilots were aware the ship was American,’ a newly published document by the State Archives says

by Ofer Aderet in Ha’aretz Jul 11, 2017 5:51 PM1

Amid the jubilee celebrations for the Six-Day War, the tragic story of the American spy ship USS Liberty – which was bombed by an Israeli fighter jet and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967 in the eastern Mediterranean – was somewhat overlooked. Thirty-four American sailors were killed in the Israeli attack and many others were wounded.

The technical research ship USS Liberty arrives at Valletta, Malta, having been attacked by Israeli aircraft and torpedo vessels in the Mediterranean, 8th June 1967. Credit: Getty Images

The Makings of History / Myth vs. plot

Turning a blind eye

Israeli communications said to prove IAF knew Liberty was U.S. ship

Israel apologized2 and paid compensation to the victims’ families.3 Israeli and American commissions of inquiry found that the attack was a mistake.4 But naturally, as often happens in such events, to this day there are some who believe Israel attacked the ship with malicious intent.5

A conspiracy? Healthy suspicion? Call it what you will. A new book published in May in the United States (its authors include several survivors of the attack) promises that “the truth is being told as never before and the real story revealed.” The 302 pages of “Remember the Liberty!: Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas”6 include quite a number of documents, testimonies, arguments and information that were gathered in the subsequent 50 years.

Historian and Kulanu MK Michael Oren: “Attempts to explain why Israel was interested in attacking the Liberty have failed thus far.”7 Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The authors’ bottom line is that then-U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was behind the attack, in an attempt to blame then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser – an excuse that would then enable the United States to join the Six-Day War.

The book includes, among other things, a CIA document from November 1967 that is still partially censored. In the document, which is also on the official CIA website, an anonymous source is quoted as saying: “They said that [then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe] Dayan personally ordered the attack on the ship, and that one of his generals adamantly opposed the action and said, ‘This is pure murder.’” There is no dispute about the authenticity of the document, but clearly not every sentence written in an intelligence document is the unvarnished truth.

On the other hand, the new book quotes a story reported by former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dwight Porter, who recounted a conversation between an Israeli pilot and the Israel Air Force war room, which was allegedly picked up by an NSA aircraft and inadvertently cabled to CIA offices around the world:

The CIA document. Still partly censored, 50 years on. Credit: CIA

Israeli pilot to IDF war room: This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?

IDF war room to Israeli pilot: Yes, follow orders.

Israeli pilot to IDF war room: But sir, it’s an American ship – I can see the flag!

IDF war room to Israeli pilot: Never mind; hit it.

Both the CIA document and the quote have already been published in the past. The book revives them as part of its attempt to prove its thesis.8

Historian (and current Kulanu lawmaker) Dr. Michael Oren, who researched the affair in depth, rejects out of hand attempts to claim Israel attacked the USS Liberty deliberately.

Haaretz asked Oren last week if he has any doubts about his assertion that Israel didn’t deliberately attack the spy ship.

“There is no doubt,” he says. “Not even the smallest percentage. I’ve taken part in wars. I know what ‘friendly fire’ is. There’s a lot of chaos. It was a classic screw up.

A classic screw up, especially in wartime, has more than one reason. It’s a sequence, a chain of screw ups.”

Oren adds: “I’m a historian. I have to stick with the facts.9 I can’t get into conspiracies and theories. A historian must proceed on the basis of the data before him. Today, almost all the papers have been publicized, including the texts of the recordings of the U.S. spy plane and spy submarine.10

“Attempts to explain why Israel was interested in attacking the Liberty have failed thus far,” he continues. “They’re trying to answer the question ‘Why?’ and they’re having difficulty. It began with the claim that the Liberty discovered the Israel Defense Forces’ intentions or preparations to occupy the Golan Heights. And then they said it had homed in on some preparations in Dimona [the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor]. And finally, that it had listened in on the slaughter of Egyptian prisoners of war – I don’t know how slaughter sounds on the communications network. All kinds of bizarre theories.

“If we start with the assumption that the attack was deliberate and planned in advance, the question is why. And nobody answers this question. The answer is that it wasn’t planned.

“What continues to fuel these conspiracy theories?” Oren asks. “The subject is revived every few years. It is part of a ‘theory’ that Israel, together with Russia and China, spies on the United States. As Israel’s ambassador to the United States I saw this undercurrent, which is also sometimes anti-Semitic.”

No smoking gun

In response to a recent request by historian Adam Raz (“The Battle Over the Bomb,” 2015, Hebrew), the Israel State Archives posted hundreds of documents on its website related to the USS Liberty affair.

Raz perused the material and pulled out several fascinating documents that are likely to add more questions to those already in existence – or, if you will, provide some convincing material for conspiracy theorists.

Raz, who wrote a fascinating article about Israel’s nuclear secrets in last week’s Hebrew Haaretz supplement, doesn’t like the C-word: “conspiracy.” He stresses that, as a historian, he finds the word unacceptable. “Was the so-called ‘rotten business’ [a failed Israeli sabotage operation in Egypt in 1954] also a conspiracy? So what’s a conspiracy?” he wonders.

He believes the documents arouse enough questions to ensure historians won’t be filing the affair away in the archives. He’s fully aware of the fact that the “smoking gun” won’t be found in the papers in the State Archives, because if Israel really had intended to hit the ship, that would have been known only to a handful of people. But he refuses to accept the assertion that the claims Israel hit the ship deliberately are a conspiracy.

One of the documents Raz found among the hundreds of papers published by the State Archives is the Israeli Foreign Ministry correspondence that was sent from New York to Jerusalem.

“Menashe informed us we had better be very careful. He doesn’t have complete information but he knows that Issaschar is very angry about our letter. The reason is apparently that the Americans have findings that show our pilots were in fact aware the ship was American,” according to the document.

And later: “Menashe believes there is a recording on the ship of the conversations between the ship and our pilots, in which the ship’s crew said the ship is American. Menashe says that, in his opinion, our only chance of getting out of the crisis is to punish someone for negligence.”

In another document, which is also now posted online by the State Archives, the Israeli Embassy in Washington writes to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem under the heading “Urgent.”

“We must change the abovementioned letter, because we certainly won’t be able to say there is no basis for the accusation that the identity of the ship was determined by Israeli planes prior to the attack,” it declares.

In other documents, which are fascinating in themselves, there is documentation of Israeli preparations for the U.S. investigation and the demands for compensation that were to follow.

“The issue has turned into a malignant wound, which involves serious dangers for all of our relationships on all levels here, whose friendship was ours until now and which are crucial to our status in the United States. In other words, the president, the Pentagon, public opinion and the intelligence community. Do you realize that the president is also the supreme commander of the U.S. armed forces?” wonders the Israeli Embassy in Washington, in a telegram to the Foreign Ministry.

“In the grave situation that has been created, the only way to soften the result is for us to be able to announce to the U.S. government already today that we intend to prosecute people for this disaster. We have to publicize that in Israel already tonight,” according to a Foreign Ministry letter. “This activity is the only way to create the impression, both to the U.S. government and the public here, that the attack on the ship was not the result of malicious intent by the Israeli government – I repeat, the Israeli government – or authorized groups in the IDF. For obvious reasons, it is crucial that our announcement about prosecuting those who are to blame be publicized before – I repeat, before – the publication of the American report here.”

The papers also contain several “amusing” anecdotes, such as the description of a U.S. Independence Day party that was held at the U.S. Embassy in Israel after the disaster.

“I was presented to the commander of the USS Liberty, which is here for repairs. He spoke freely about what happened and expressed his full confidence that it was a tragic mistake,” according to one of the Foreign Ministry documents. “When asked in my presence, how long the ship’s trip to the United States would take, he replied with a smile, ‘About two weeks – unless we encounter Israeli planes again.’”11

Much ink has been spilled in the past 50 years about the Liberty. In 2015, Amir Oren wrote a fascinating Haaretz Hebrew article that tried to eliminate all the conspiracy theories. “Senior American officials bequeathed a large number of incriminating quotes, but the plain and consensual truth is that a series of mistakes and screw ups caused the IDF to land a lethal blow against a vessel belonging to Israel’s most important ally,” he wrote.

Tom Segev, in an equally interesting 2012 article, also came out against the various theories. “None of the four people who could have ordered an attack on an American ship – Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Mossad chief Meir Amit, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin – was daring and crazy to that extent,” he wrote.

However, he concludes with a slight note of doubt: “Over the years, various pieces of evidence have emerged that seem to support Israel’s claim that the ship was fired on by mistake.12 However, a number of questions still hover over the affair, and these nourish the conspiracy theories.”

Footnotes
1 The Congressional Research Service researched the question, “Has the US government investigated the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty?" The Congressional Research Service concluded they could not find any evidence of a US government investigation of the attack.

Congressional Research Service Response

2 Israel apologized for what they have alternatively claimed to be a “mistake,” a case of “mistaken identity,” or a deliberate attack on a ship not displaying the correct Israeli markings. Had there been an investigation of the attack there wouldn’t be so much confusion about why they attacked.
3 Mr. Bard implies the area had been declared to be a “War Zone” by one or more of the warring parties. In fact, no NOTMARS had been issued warning ships of the danger of sailing in the area.
4 The implication being that announcement removed the responsibility of positively identifying potential targets prior to beginning any attack. It did not. In fact, the Israeli military admitted they positively identified the USS Liberty as not displaying the correct Israeli markings.
5 Don’t know where the DIA and CIA came into the picture. We were under the NSA who told the Sixth Fleet where to position us.
6 There were two flights launched to come to our assistance. According to RADM Larry Geis, Commander, Carrier Division 4, who spoke to the White House after receiving the order to recall the first launch of rescue aircraft, LBJ recalled the aircraft because he “didn’t want to embarrass an ally.” It had nothing to do with any admission allegedly made by the Israeli government.
7 The ship’s weather log that was submitted to the Court of Inquiry shows the wind across the deck was more than enough to hold the flag out in a brisk wind.
8 In what history tells us was the lull between the air and torpedo boat attack Frank Brown and I noticed the flag had been shot down. We raised our largest flag (9 feet x 13 feet) on our Number 4 Port halyard. That flag can be clearly seen in photos taken after the attack.
9

If you look at the tactics used by the Israeli military during its attack you will come away with the conclusion that there WAS “malicious intent” in their attack.

  • Initiated by jamming our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The attacking aircraft were unmarked;
  • The initial strafing runs by high-speed Mirage aircraft targeted our communication and defensive capabilities;
  • This was followed by slower Mystere aircraft who dropped napalm canisters to drive the crew below decks;
  • Followed by motor torpedo boats who fired five torpedoes at the ship. One struck the ship on our starboard side killing 25 crewmen;
  • Torpedo boats then circled the ship while firing from close range at crewmen trapped topside or stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • Torpedo boats then machine gunned serviceable life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. This act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • This was followed by helos filled with assault troops that couldn’t find a place to disgorge its deadly cargo due to the antenna and halyards blowing wildly in the wind.
10 Israel partisans routinely mis-characterize the content of the NSA tapes by ignoring the NSA description of the conversations and claim that those intercepts prove the attack was the error in misidentification the IDF claims. They don’t. Israel partisans would have you believe the NSA intercept officers turned their tape recorders on just in time to record the conversation and then immediately turned them off. The first recording (104) is 15 minutes. The second recording (105) is 32 minutes. The third recording (106) is 4 minutes. That’s it! Why doesn’t the NSA release the rest of their intercepts?
11 The State Department researched this claim and determined that no request for info on US ships in the area was made until after the attack.

12 The Israeli torpedo boats approached to literally a stone’s throw of the USS Liberty and identified the freshly painted US Navy ship displaying standard US Navy markings as a 40-year-old, black hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer that bore no resemblance to the USS Liberty.

13 Dale Larkins fired a single bullet at the torpedo boats before his gun jammed. After a murderous 30+ minute air attack that single shot “removed all doubt” from the torpedo boat personnel that we were an enemy and continued the attack.
14 The torpedo boat attacked killed 25 on the USS Liberty not 28. But, when was Mr. Bard ever concerned with the truth about the attack?
15 They also never bothered to analyze the actions of the Israeli military in arriving at a determination that because of the contents of documents provided to them by the Israeli military, the attack was not deliberate. See Note 9.
16 The Israeli government never issued any Notice to Mariners declaring the area to be a "war zone."

Israeli Notice to Mariners

17 In other words, it was our fault we were attacked. I guess our presence put every 40-year-old, black-hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer at risk of attack by the Israeli military.
18 Many have opined that our outrage is directed at the Israeli military for attacking us and for committing War Crimes during their attack. That is not where our outrage is directed. We are outraged that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship to be conducted with impunity and without remorse.
19 That conversation is described in a video of Air Force Captain Richard Block.
20

Those armor piercing rounds were used to take out our communications and defensive capabilities. Those Mirage aircraft were followed by slower Mystere aircraft which were armed with (and used) napalm bombs to drive the crew below decks to ensure everyone was trapped below deck when the torpedoes were used. Five torpedoes were fired with only one striking the ship. Had more than one found its mark, all USS Liberty personnel trapped below deck would have perished.

21 No US Senator every held an inquiry into the attack. The closest the attack came to Congressional scrutiny was when Senator Adlai Stevenson threatened the Israeli government with an investigation unless they came to terms on remuneration for the attack. Terms were agreed to, and the investigation was dropped
22

pul-EE-ze! In 2011 Larry Toenjes sailed his sailboat to the position of the attack and held a memorial service. Neither the US nor the Israeli governments accepted an invitation to attend the service. Now you’re telling us that the pilots of the attacking aircraft made a trip to the site of the attack to honor those fallen on the USS Liberty? And haven’t bothered to tell us? Riiiight!

23 We don't give a damn why the Israeli military attacked us. Our concern is that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship and included War Crimes to be committed with impunity and without remorse.
24 And that absolves the IDF from its duty to ensure the correct identification of the target they are about to attack? Especially given the fact that that identification is made literally from a stone's throw away?
25 What on earth does that have to do with the attack on the USS Liberty? Oh, I forgot. Those were investigated and those investigations determined them to be "friendly fire." You have declared the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was "friendly fire" and we are suppose to believe you because you say so.
26 Again, this does not absolve the Israeli military from its duty to ensure the identification of the ship they are attacking.
27 If I were on a call between the White House and RADM Larry Geis ordering the Sixth Fleet to stand down and recall the rescue aircraft, I wouldn't remember anything about it either.
28

It is interesting that the State Department would hold a conference about the attack on our ship but not invite a single USS Liberty survivor to participate. As for an assessment about the attack, why not refer to the US government investigation of the attack? That would include evidence and testimony taken under oath. Sadly, that question is rhetorical since there is no such investigation.

29

Not unlike a proceeding in the civilian arena, the “closed book” referenced by Mr. Bard only refers to the civil or monetary side of the equation. Not yet resolved is the criminal side. Issues not yet addressed let alone resolved are the War Crimes committed by both the Israeli and US military during the attack, to wit:

  • The use of unmarked aircraft;
  • The jamming of our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The slow circling of our ship by Israeli motor torpedo boats as their personnel fired from very close range at USS Liberty crewmen trapped topside and stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • The deliberate machine gunning of life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. That act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • The refusal of the attacking forces to offer aid immediately upon cessation of hostilities.

Most egregious in our minds is the White House ordering the rescue aircraft recalled while we were still under attack and calling for help and the decision of the Sixth Fleet to obey that order. That order is a direct violation of Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and carries the possibility of a death sentence upon conviction.

Why Another Inquiry?

“One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.” — Golda Meir((My Life by Golda Meir; Published by G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1973))

[Updated Article First Appearing in USS Liberty Inquiry Website.]

Why put together a Court of Inquiry into something that happened more than fifty four years ago? Why try to reopen something that was settled by the government more than five and a half decades ago? Isn’t this just ancient history?

In fact, there have been no inquiries into the culpability for the Israeli attack. This isn’t a matter of conducting another inquiry, but rather conducting what would be the first inquiry ever made into the question of who was responsible for the attack on USS Liberty, and why?

There are many practical reasons for undertaking a complete examination of the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, but there is one reason that stands out above all: Justice.

Under our system of government, as individual citizens, we have foresworn our individual right to vengeance in return for society’s promise to act on our behalf when a crime is committed against us as individuals. If society fails to act, if society does not live up to its obligation to act on behalf of wronged individuals, then the social contract is broken. Justice is central to our social system. If we cannot depend on society to deliver justice, there is no incentive for individuals to refrain from extracting their own vengeance.

It is to be remembered that one of the primary reasons for the law’s existence, indeed the state’s existence, is that people are to be relieved of their need to strike out against those who have wronged them. Not to argue the rights or wrongs of it; it is entirely natural for an individual, when injured or harmed by another or others, to seek revenge and retribution. It is potentially harmful to the state if the state does not satisfy these needs, these urges. If the people are not satisfied, as history clearly shows, then the people take the law into their own hands; and, they will do so, quick enough, if they see that the law does not suit their purposes. To punish the criminal, in order to satisfy the urges of the victim for revenge and retribution is an expression of a very old law, which still finds expression in our existing law, lex talionis. The Mosaic Code of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” lurks behind most legal punishments.

On June 8, 1967, aircraft and ships of the Israel Defense Forces attacked a United States Navy ship, USS Liberty. The Israeli attack killed 34 Americans and wounded 174 more. While the human damage was by far the worst, the ship also suffered more than Twenty Million Dollars in damages.

It is undisputed that Liberty was in international waters at all times. It is undisputed that she was an American ship. It is undisputed that she offered no overt or covert military threat to anyone. It is undisputed that the attack was undertaken by the Israelis. It is undisputed that the Israelis never positively identified the Liberty as a ship belonging to a belligerent nation.

Contrary to these undisputed facts, the United States publicly accepted the Israeli claim that the attack was an accident and closed the matter without undertaking any sort of detailed inquiry. Claims have been made that there have been nine, or eleven, or thirteen “complete investigations” of the attack((The Liberty Incident Revealed by A.J. Cristol; Published by US Navy Institute Press)). In point of fact, there has never been even a single complete investigation of what happened.

Standing alone, the undisputed facts make a strong and persuasive case for murder. At a minimum, the United States owes the survivors of the attack and the families of the deceased an explanation as to why the Israeli claim that the attack was an accident, when the undisputed evidence clearly suggests otherwise, was accepted without an investigation.

That the United States government has classified the most critical and dispositive evidence, without explanation, speaks volumes as to their belief as to what really happened. If this were truly an accident, why would it be necessary to classify materials that would otherwise have been released to the public many years ago? If this were truly an accident, why has Congress refused to investigate, as they have done in all other attacks on U.S. ships in peacetime that resulted in significant loss of life?

Every member of the United States military must swear to the following Code of Conduct((Executive Order 10631–Code of Conduct for members of the Armed Forces of the United States)):

  • I am an American fighting in the forces that guard my country and our way of life, I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
  • I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
  • If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
  • If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
  • Should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies.
  • I will never forget that I am an American fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

While divine judgment is beyond the scope of this inquiry, we can and do charge the United States government with willfully refusing to honor its obligation to the survivors and the families of the dead.

Footnotes
1 The Congressional Research Service researched the question, “Has the US government investigated the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty?" The Congressional Research Service concluded they could not find any evidence of a US government investigation of the attack.

Congressional Research Service Response

2 Israel apologized for what they have alternatively claimed to be a “mistake,” a case of “mistaken identity,” or a deliberate attack on a ship not displaying the correct Israeli markings. Had there been an investigation of the attack there wouldn’t be so much confusion about why they attacked.
3 Mr. Bard implies the area had been declared to be a “War Zone” by one or more of the warring parties. In fact, no NOTMARS had been issued warning ships of the danger of sailing in the area.
4 The implication being that announcement removed the responsibility of positively identifying potential targets prior to beginning any attack. It did not. In fact, the Israeli military admitted they positively identified the USS Liberty as not displaying the correct Israeli markings.
5 Don’t know where the DIA and CIA came into the picture. We were under the NSA who told the Sixth Fleet where to position us.
6 There were two flights launched to come to our assistance. According to RADM Larry Geis, Commander, Carrier Division 4, who spoke to the White House after receiving the order to recall the first launch of rescue aircraft, LBJ recalled the aircraft because he “didn’t want to embarrass an ally.” It had nothing to do with any admission allegedly made by the Israeli government.
7 The ship’s weather log that was submitted to the Court of Inquiry shows the wind across the deck was more than enough to hold the flag out in a brisk wind.
8 In what history tells us was the lull between the air and torpedo boat attack Frank Brown and I noticed the flag had been shot down. We raised our largest flag (9 feet x 13 feet) on our Number 4 Port halyard. That flag can be clearly seen in photos taken after the attack.
9

If you look at the tactics used by the Israeli military during its attack you will come away with the conclusion that there WAS “malicious intent” in their attack.

  • Initiated by jamming our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The attacking aircraft were unmarked;
  • The initial strafing runs by high-speed Mirage aircraft targeted our communication and defensive capabilities;
  • This was followed by slower Mystere aircraft who dropped napalm canisters to drive the crew below decks;
  • Followed by motor torpedo boats who fired five torpedoes at the ship. One struck the ship on our starboard side killing 25 crewmen;
  • Torpedo boats then circled the ship while firing from close range at crewmen trapped topside or stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • Torpedo boats then machine gunned serviceable life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. This act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • This was followed by helos filled with assault troops that couldn’t find a place to disgorge its deadly cargo due to the antenna and halyards blowing wildly in the wind.
10 Israel partisans routinely mis-characterize the content of the NSA tapes by ignoring the NSA description of the conversations and claim that those intercepts prove the attack was the error in misidentification the IDF claims. They don’t. Israel partisans would have you believe the NSA intercept officers turned their tape recorders on just in time to record the conversation and then immediately turned them off. The first recording (104) is 15 minutes. The second recording (105) is 32 minutes. The third recording (106) is 4 minutes. That’s it! Why doesn’t the NSA release the rest of their intercepts?
11 The State Department researched this claim and determined that no request for info on US ships in the area was made until after the attack.

12 The Israeli torpedo boats approached to literally a stone’s throw of the USS Liberty and identified the freshly painted US Navy ship displaying standard US Navy markings as a 40-year-old, black hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer that bore no resemblance to the USS Liberty.

13 Dale Larkins fired a single bullet at the torpedo boats before his gun jammed. After a murderous 30+ minute air attack that single shot “removed all doubt” from the torpedo boat personnel that we were an enemy and continued the attack.
14 The torpedo boat attacked killed 25 on the USS Liberty not 28. But, when was Mr. Bard ever concerned with the truth about the attack?
15 They also never bothered to analyze the actions of the Israeli military in arriving at a determination that because of the contents of documents provided to them by the Israeli military, the attack was not deliberate. See Note 9.
16 The Israeli government never issued any Notice to Mariners declaring the area to be a "war zone."

Israeli Notice to Mariners

17 In other words, it was our fault we were attacked. I guess our presence put every 40-year-old, black-hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer at risk of attack by the Israeli military.
18 Many have opined that our outrage is directed at the Israeli military for attacking us and for committing War Crimes during their attack. That is not where our outrage is directed. We are outraged that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship to be conducted with impunity and without remorse.
19 That conversation is described in a video of Air Force Captain Richard Block.
20

Those armor piercing rounds were used to take out our communications and defensive capabilities. Those Mirage aircraft were followed by slower Mystere aircraft which were armed with (and used) napalm bombs to drive the crew below decks to ensure everyone was trapped below deck when the torpedoes were used. Five torpedoes were fired with only one striking the ship. Had more than one found its mark, all USS Liberty personnel trapped below deck would have perished.

21 No US Senator every held an inquiry into the attack. The closest the attack came to Congressional scrutiny was when Senator Adlai Stevenson threatened the Israeli government with an investigation unless they came to terms on remuneration for the attack. Terms were agreed to, and the investigation was dropped
22

pul-EE-ze! In 2011 Larry Toenjes sailed his sailboat to the position of the attack and held a memorial service. Neither the US nor the Israeli governments accepted an invitation to attend the service. Now you’re telling us that the pilots of the attacking aircraft made a trip to the site of the attack to honor those fallen on the USS Liberty? And haven’t bothered to tell us? Riiiight!

23 We don't give a damn why the Israeli military attacked us. Our concern is that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship and included War Crimes to be committed with impunity and without remorse.
24 And that absolves the IDF from its duty to ensure the correct identification of the target they are about to attack? Especially given the fact that that identification is made literally from a stone's throw away?
25 What on earth does that have to do with the attack on the USS Liberty? Oh, I forgot. Those were investigated and those investigations determined them to be "friendly fire." You have declared the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was "friendly fire" and we are suppose to believe you because you say so.
26 Again, this does not absolve the Israeli military from its duty to ensure the identification of the ship they are attacking.
27 If I were on a call between the White House and RADM Larry Geis ordering the Sixth Fleet to stand down and recall the rescue aircraft, I wouldn't remember anything about it either.
28

It is interesting that the State Department would hold a conference about the attack on our ship but not invite a single USS Liberty survivor to participate. As for an assessment about the attack, why not refer to the US government investigation of the attack? That would include evidence and testimony taken under oath. Sadly, that question is rhetorical since there is no such investigation.

29

Not unlike a proceeding in the civilian arena, the “closed book” referenced by Mr. Bard only refers to the civil or monetary side of the equation. Not yet resolved is the criminal side. Issues not yet addressed let alone resolved are the War Crimes committed by both the Israeli and US military during the attack, to wit:

  • The use of unmarked aircraft;
  • The jamming of our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The slow circling of our ship by Israeli motor torpedo boats as their personnel fired from very close range at USS Liberty crewmen trapped topside and stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • The deliberate machine gunning of life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. That act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • The refusal of the attacking forces to offer aid immediately upon cessation of hostilities.

Most egregious in our minds is the White House ordering the rescue aircraft recalled while we were still under attack and calling for help and the decision of the Sixth Fleet to obey that order. That order is a direct violation of Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and carries the possibility of a death sentence upon conviction.

The Spy Ship Left Out in the Cold

Injured Liberty crew members are escorted to a memorial service on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS America (CVA-66) on 10 June 1967. The attack on the Liberty, an incident that remains a contentious topic to this day, killed 34 Americans and wounded another 171.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES

The Spy Ship Left Out in the Cold

A half-century after one of history’s most controversial attacks on a U.S. Navy ship, the wounds from the Liberty incident remain unhealed.

by James M. Scott

June 2017

Naval History Magazine

Volume 31, Number 3

The 8th of June this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the attack on the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), a spy ship the Israelis repeatedly strafed, napalmed, and torpedoed during a ferocious hour-long assault that The Washington Post later described as “one of the most bloody and bizarre peacetime encounters in U.S. naval history.”((Michael E. Ruane, “An Ambushed Crew Salutes Its Captain,” The Washington Post, 10 April 1999.))

In the five decades since that tragic afternoon on which 34 Americans were killed and another 171 wounded, the Liberty has become an albatross.

The long-standing pleas of surviving crew members—convinced Israel intentionally targeted the ship—for a congressional investigation have fallen on deaf ears. Lawmakers never have—nor likely ever will—pick up a cause that even a half-century later remains so politically fraught that midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy were barred from even asking questions about it during a 2012 visit by the Israeli ambassador.((Thomas E. Ricks, “Was There Academic Freedom at Annapolis During the Israeli Ambassador’s Visit?” Foreign Policy, 23 January, 2012.))

But the story of the unprovoked attack on a U.S. ship in international waters still ignites passions, not only among the survivors, whose numbers are dwindling, but also among authors, filmmakers, and the legions of online sleuths whose zealousness has prompted Wikipedia to lock down the editing page on the assault.

All this comes at a time when declassified documents in the United States and Israel, coupled with interviews of those involved, help illustrate what a sordid affair the Liberty was for both nations. Records show, for example, that U.S. leaders, anxious to protect Israel from the public-relations fallout, went so far as to contemplate sinking the ship at sea to prevent reporters from photographing the damage. Israeli diplomats meanwhile manipulated the media to downplay or kill stories about the attack and even silenced an angry President Lyndon Johnson by threatening to publicly accuse him of “blood libel” or anti-Semitism.

Senior naval officers, following the lead of U.S. politicians, refused to thoroughly investigate the attack. “The Navy was ordered to hush this up, say nothing, allow the sailors to say nothing,” said Rear Admiral Thomas Brooks, a former Director of Naval Intelligence. “The Navy rolled over and played dead.”((Thomas Brooks, interview with author, 21 February 2007.))

None of this was known by the public at the time, a fact some senior leaders later regretted, recognizing that the lack of accountability served as the catalyst for the controversy that still haunts the Liberty decades after metal cutters reduced her to scrap in a Baltimore shipyard. “We failed to let it all come out publicly at the time,” recalled Lucius Battle, who served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. “We ignored it for all practical purposes, and we shouldn’t have.”((Lucius Battle, interview outtake, documentary Dead in the Water, Christopher Mitchell, director, Source Films for BBC, 2002.))

From Calm to Inferno

The Liberty was part of a secret program run by the U.S. Navy and the National Security Agency (NSA) in which the United States dispatched cargo ships outfitted as mobile listening platforms to eavesdrop on the world’s hot spots—places such as Cuba, North Korea, and the Middle East. Though the Liberty officially was classified as a technical research ship, her 45 towering antennas used to soak up communications of foreign nations made it obvious to any trained observer that she was a spy ship.

The vessel was armed with only four .50-caliber machine guns to repel boarders; her principal defense rested on the idea that no nation would dare attack a U.S.-flagged vessel in international waters. That flawed logic was exposed, not only with the attack on the Liberty, but also with North Korea’s seizure just seven months later of the spy ship Pueblo (AGER-2). The Liberty’s principal operating area was West Africa, but in late May 1967, as tensions mounted between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the ship received orders to depart immediately for the eastern Mediterranean to monitor what we now know as the Six-Day War.

At 0515 on 8 June—soon after the Liberty arrived off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula—the first Israeli reconnaissance plane circled the ship several times. That initial recon flight on the morning of the war’s fourth day began a steady pattern of observation that continued for hours. A State Department report later determined that recon planes buzzed the Liberty as many as eight times over a nine-hour period. Some planes flew so low that crewmen on deck could see the pilots. Sailors took confidence in the fact that the Liberty steamed in international waters and was clearly marked with freshly painted hull numbers on her bow and her name stenciled across the stern. Visibility was excellent. The U.S. flag fluttered from the mast.

But that calm was shattered at 1358 when Israeli fighters suddenly strafed the Liberty from bow to stern with rockets and cannon fire. Fighters crisscrossed the spy ship nearly every minute, targeting the machine-gun tubs, antennas, and the bridge. The aircraft also blasted the sides of the ship in an effort disable the engine room. Liberty radiomen, desperate to alert the 6th Fleet approximately 500 miles west near Crete, found their communications jammed. A second wave of fighter-bombers dropped napalm, turning the Liberty’s decks into a 3,000-degree inferno.

Three torpedo boats attacked at 1431, strafing the ship with cannon fire and .50-caliber machine guns firing armor-piercing rounds. In a cruel twist of fate, investigators later determined that some of the munitions were U.S.-made. At 1435, a torpedo hit the starboard side of the ship, killing more than two dozen men. The Liberty rolled nine degrees as water flooded her lower compartments. Generators shut down, power went out, and the steering failed as the ship became dead in the water. The torpedo boats then continued to strafe the ship. Armor-piercing bullets zinged through bulkheads, shattered coffee mugs, and lodged in navigation books. Others shredded several life rafts Liberty sailors had dropped in the water.

The brutal assault left 34 men dead and 171 wounded—two out of every three men on board were either killed or injured. In addition to the torpedo hole, which measured 24 feet tall by 39 feet wide, naval investigators later counted 821 shell holes, a figure that did not include machine-gun rounds and shrapnel holes, which were deemed simply “innumerable.” The 67-minute attack would prove to be the bloodiest assault on a U.S. ship since World War II, one best described by Patrick O’Malley, a Liberty ensign at the time. “There wasn’t any place that was safe,” he recalled. “If it was your day to get hit, you were going to get hit.”((Patrick O’Malley, interview with author, 26 November 2007.))

Accident? ‘Inconceivable’

Back in Washington, President Johnson and his advisers gathered in the Situation Room the morning of the attack. While relieved neither Egypt nor the Soviets were responsible, Johnson and his team realized that an attack by Israel—an ally with a loyal domestic following—raised a host of other complicated political issues for the administration. At the time, the United States was bogged down by the Vietnam War, where 26 men died each day in 1967. In May, that number spiked to 38 men a day. Johnson’s approval numbers simultaneously were plummeting from 61 percent in March 1966 to just 39 percent in August 1967. It all came down to Vietnam.

Complicating matters, American Jews—a powerful and important constituency for Johnson, who was facing reelection in 1968—were at the forefront of the antiwar movement. Adding to his frustration was the fact that he had done more than any prior President to improve U.S.-Israeli relations. “If Viet Nam persists,” one memo warned him, “a special effort to hold the Jewish vote will be necessary.”((“1968—American Jewry and Israel,” undated, Box 141, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Austin, TX (hereafter LBJL).))

The Liberty—riddled with cannon blasts, her decks soaked in blood, her starboard side ripped open by a torpedo—evolved in a matter of hours from a top-secret intelligence asset to a domestic political liability. That was evident by one proposal. “Consideration was being given by some unnamed Washington authorities to sink the Liberty in order that newspaper men would be unable to photograph her and thus inflame public opinion against the Israelis,” NSA Deputy Director Louis Tordella wrote in memo for the record. “I made an impolite comment about that idea.”((Louis W. Tordella, Memorandum for the Record, 8 June 1967, National Security Agency (hereafter NSA).))

The day after the attack, Johnson met with his Special Committee of the National Security Council. The Liberty discussion was heated, minutes show, as Johnson’s advisers spurned Israel’s claim that the attack was simply a tragic accident. Clark Clifford, head of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and one of Johnson’s most pro-Israel advisers, demanded the attackers be punished. “Inconceivable that it was an accident,” Clifford said. “Punish Israelis responsible.”((Meeting Minutes of the Special Committee of the National Security Council, 9 June 1967, Box 19, National Security File, National Security Council Histories, Middle East Crisis, LBJL.))

Clifford’s strong comments—echoed by others in the meeting, including the President—reflected just how upset many in Washington were over the attack, a hostility that was never shared with the American public.

To senior officials, the idea that the attack on the Liberty was friendly fire defied logic. Friendly fire accidents often happen at night or in bad weather. Furthermore, such accidents tend to be over in a matter of seconds, maybe minutes.

In contrast, the attack on the Liberty occurred on a clear, sunny afternoon in international waters. No other ships were in the area. The attack involved two branches of Israel’s vaunted military and raged for approximately an hour.

In the heat of battle, Liberty officers were able to identity the flag and hull number off a swift-moving torpedo boat, yet Israel claimed its own forces were unable to identify a lumbering cargo ship with towering hull numbers, her name on the stern and an American flag on the mast. To many, that seemed impossible. “I just don’t believe that it was an accident or trigger happy local commanders,” Secretary of State Dean Rusk later said. “There was just too much of a sustained effort to disable and sink the Liberty.”((Dean Rusk, undated oral history with Richard Geary Rusk and Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia.))

But it wasn’t just politicians who disputed Israel’s explanation. Senior intelligence leaders also were convinced the attack was no accident. “It couldn’t be anything else but deliberate,” concluded NSA Director Marshall Carter. “I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing,” recalled CIA Director Richard Helms. “We were all quite convinced the Israelis knew what they were doing,” added Thomas Hughes, director of the State Department’s intelligence bureau.((Marshall S. Carter, oral history with Robert D. Farley, 3 October 1988, NSA. Richard Helms, oral history with Robert M. Hathaway, 8 November 1984, Central Intelligence Agency (hereafter CIA). Thomas Hughes, interview with author, 26 April 2007.))

Many senior Navy officers agreed. Vice Admiral Jerome King, senior aide to Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral David McDonald, challenged the claim of friendly fire. “It certainly was not mistaken identity,” he later said. “I don’t buy it. I never did. Nobody that I knew ever did either. It wasn’t as though it was at night or a rainy day or anything like that. There wasn’t any excuse for not knowing what that ship was. You could divine from just the apparatus on deck—all the antennae and so on—what its mission was.”((Jerome King Jr., interview with author, 6 February 2008.))

‘Wonderful. She’s Burning!’

So how did Israeli pilots fail to identify the Liberty? How, over multiple strafing runs and often at low altitudes, had no pilot noticed the spy ship’s unique markings, particularly considering Egyptian ships are marked in Arabic script, not Western letters?

Transcripts of Israeli communications, which have become available in recent years, show that the case is not as simple as the Israeli government wanted the United States to believe in 1967. Two minutes before the strafing began, an Israeli weapons system officer in general headquarters blurted out: “What is it? Americans?”((Transcripts of the attack come from Ahron Bregman, Israel’s Wars: A History Since 1947 (New York: Routledge, 2002), 88–90; and Arieh O’Sullivan, “Liberty Revisited: The Attack,” Jerusalem Post, 4 June 2004, 20.))

Despite the doubts raised about the ship’s identity, Israel’s chief air controller, Shmuel Kislev, neither halted the impending assault nor ordered pilots to inspect the ship for identifying markings or a flag as their fighters zeroed in on the Liberty.

“Great! Wonderful. She’s burning! She’s burning!” transcripts show one of the pilots exclaimed during the attack.

“Authorized to sink her?” one of the air controllers asked.

“You can sink her,” replied Kislev.

A pilot joked at one point during the strafing runs that hitting the defenseless ship was easier than shooting down MiGs. Another quipped that it would be a “mitzva”—a kind deed or blessing—to sink the Liberty before Israeli ships arrived.

“Is he screwing her?” Kislev asked at one point.

“He’s going down on her with napalm all the time,” replied another controller.

Shortly before the planes exhausted all their ammunition, Kislev finally asked the pilots to look for a flag. One of the pilots buzzed the ship moments later and spotted the Liberty’s hull number. He radioed it to ground control, albeit one letter off.

“What country?” asked one of the air controllers.

“Probably American,” Kislev replied.

“What?”

“Probably American.”

“At that point in time, in my mind, it was an American ship,” Kislev later admitted. “I was sure it was an American ship.”((Attack on the Liberty, directed by Rex Bloomstein, Thames Television, 1987.))

Israel had conclusively identified the Liberty as much as 26 minutes before the fatal torpedo strike. According to Israeli documents, the pilot’s report was passed to the Israeli Navy, where the vice chief of naval operations dismissed it as camouflage writing to allow an Egyptian ship to enter the area. Israeli documents likewise show that at least two other Israeli naval officers suspected that before the torpedo attack, the target was none other than the Liberty. Neither intervened to halt the attack.

On board the Liberty at that time, far belowdecks, frantic sailors burned classified papers, bagged magnetic tapes, and destroyed key cards until word was passed to stand by for a torpedo attack. The men tucked their pants legs into their socks and buttoned up their shirts to protect against flash burns. Many prayed. One man, who did not want to see what was about to happen, took off his glasses and slipped them in his shirt pocket. At 1435, the torpedo struck and in a flash killed 25 men.

Media Spin Begins

Israeli Ambassador Avraham Harman wrote to his superiors in Jerusalem that he believed that several parties were guilty of negligence. Harman demanded that Israel prosecute the attackers. He even suggested that American journalists be invited to cover the trial. “In the severe situation created,” he cabled Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, “the only way to soften the results is if we could let the US Government know already today that we intend to prosecute people in connection with this disaster.”((Avraham Harman, telegram 305 to the Foreign Ministry, 19 June 1969, 4079/HZ-26, Israel State Archives (hereafter ISA).))

But Harman’s demands were soon overshadowed by the political tug-of-war that erupted between Israel and the United States. Secretary of State Rusk sent a stinging letter to Israel’s ambassador, describing the assault as “quite literally incomprehensible” and arguing that it represented “wanton disregard for human life.” Rusk demanded that Israel punish the attackers in accordance with international law.((Dean Rusk, letter to Avraham Harman, 10 June 1967, Box 107 (2 of 2), National Security File, Country File, Middle East, LBJL.))

Israeli diplomats feared the United States planned to use the attack as a political tool to dampen the U.S. public’s enthusiasm for Israel, dangerous ground for the Jewish state as it prepared to negotiate a peace deal that would involve controversial issues such as territorial gains and refugees. Israel decided to fight back, launching a political and media spin campaign. “Our informative process,” one cable stated, “must avoid confrontation with the United States Government, since it is clear that the American public, if faced with a direct argument, will accept its government’s version.”((Ephraim Evron, telegram 156 to the Foreign Ministry, 11 June 1967, 4079/HZ-26, ISA.))

Israeli diplomats tapped influential American Jews, many of whom were close friends with President Johnson, to help. Documents show that Eugene Rostow, who was third in command of the State Department, repeatedly shared privileged information about U.S. strategy with Israeli diplomats. Others who assisted Israel included Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas and Arthur Goldberg, who was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Many of these and others who helped the embassy are referred to by code names in Israeli documents. For example, Democratic fund-raiser Abe Feinberg is identified in Israeli records by the codename “Hamlet.”

Israeli diplomats likewise hammered the media to kill critical stories and slant others in favor of Israel. Diplomats hustled, for example, to derail a potential news story about pressure on New York Representative Otis Pike to launch a congressional investigation into the attack. “We have made sure that the journalistic source will refrain from writing about this for now,” cabled embassy spokesman Dan Patir.((Dan Patir, telegram 115 to the Foreign Ministry, 11 July 1967, 4079/HZ-26, ISA.))

The day after the attack, Johnson confided to a Newsweek reporter that he believed Israel deliberately attacked the Liberty to prevent her from spying. Israeli officials learned the details of Johnson’s interview within 24 hours and successfully pressured the magazine to water down its planned story. “The Newsweek editorial has made changes in the last proofreading of the news item compared with the original version that I was shown last night,” Patir cabled Jerusalem. “It toned down the version by adding a question mark to the heading, leaving out the words deliberate attack, and leaving out the commentary paragraph that said that the leak is intended to free American policy makers from the pressure of the pro-Israeli public opinion.”((Dan Patir, telegram 163 to the Foreign Ministry, 11 June 1967, 4079/HZ-26, ISA.))

Diplomats also needed to tone down President Johnson. To pressure the President, Israeli officials tapped Justice Fortas and Washington lawyer David Ginsburg to make Johnson “aware of the dangers facing him personally if the public learns that he was party to the distribution of the story that is on the verge of being blood libel.”((Ephraim Evron, telegram 156 to the Foreign Ministry, ISA.))

Fallout Prevention vs. Full Inquiry

Ultimately, Israeli diplomats succeeded in pressuring the administration. Johnson, whose focus largely was on Vietnam, looked for a compromise that would guarantee that American families were compensated but would not risk a clash with Israel’s domestic supporters. He ordered Nicholas Katzenbach, second-in-command at the State Department, to negotiate the deal: If Israel publicly apologized for the attack and paid reparations, the United States would let it go, no more questions asked.((Nicholas Katzenbach, interview with author, 19 April 2007.))

The administration’s decision not to dig into the Liberty incident was evident in the incredibly weak effort the Navy made to investigate the attack. “Shallow,” “cursory,” and “perfunctory” were words Liberty officers used to describe the court of inquiry, which spent only two days interviewing crew members in Malta for an investigation into an attack that had killed 34 men.((Author interviews with Lloyd Painter (13 April 2008), Mac Watson (23 April 2008), and John Scott (13 April 2008).)) The proceeding’s transcript shows just how shallow it truly was. The Liberty’s chief engineer was asked only 13 questions. A chief petty officer on deck during the assault and a good witness about the air attack was asked only 11 questions. Another officer was asked just 5 questions.

In evaluating the Liberty court of inquiry, it is worth comparing it to the court that examined North Korea’s capture of the Pueblo. The Liberty court lasted just eight days, interviewed only 14 crewmen, and produced a final transcript that was 158 pages. In contrast, the Pueblo court lasted almost four months, interviewed more than 100 witnesses, and produced a final transcript that was nearly 3,400 pages.

Captain Ward Boston, the lawyer for the Liberty court, broke his silence in 2002, stating that investigators were barred from traveling to Israel to interview the attackers, collect Israeli war logs, or review communications. Furthermore, he said Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had ordered the court to endorse Israel’s claim that the attack was an accident, which Boston personally did not believe was the case. “I am certain that the Israeli pilots that undertook the attack, as well as their superiors who had ordered the attack, were well aware that the ship was American.”((Ward Boston Jr., affidavit, 8 January 2004, a copy of which Representative John Conyers of Michigan inserted into the Congressional Record, 11 October 2004.))

In Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary Cyrus Vance oversaw the Pentagon’s effort to condense the court’s full report into a declassified summary that could be released to the press. This, too, needed to support Israel’s version of events and not raise questions. The overt effort by Vance’s office to protect Israel from the potential public-relations fallout angered senior Navy officers. CNO McDonald, after reading the draft prepared for the public, fired off an angry handwritten memo about it. “I think that much of this is extraneous and it leaves me with the feeling that we’re trying our best to excuse the attackers,” McDonald wrote. “Were I a parent of one of the deceased this release would burn me up. I myself do not subscribe to it.”((David L. McDonald’s Comments/Recommended Changes on Liberty Press Release, 22 June 1967, Box 112, Immediate Office files of the CNO, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard.))

Likewise, Vance clashed with NSA Director Carter over the Liberty, ordering him to keep his “mouth shut,” a demand that infuriated senior intelligence officials, such as NSA Chief of Staff Gerard Burke. “There was absolutely no question in anybody’s mind that the Israelis had done it deliberately,” Burke later said. “I was angrier because of the cover-up—if that’s possible—than of the incident itself, because there was no doubt in my mind that they did it right from the outset. That was no mystery. The only mystery to me was why was the thing being covered up.”((Gerard Burke, interview with author, 4 October 2007.))

‘A Nice Whitewash’

U.S. leaders had hoped Israel would punish the attackers, as both Dean Rusk and Israeli Ambassador Harman had demanded. In August, however, U.S. officials learned that the Israeli judge tasked to examine the attack instead had exonerated everyone. The assault on the Liberty, which had raged for approximately an hour on a clear afternoon in international waters, was the most violent attack on a U.S. naval ship since World War II. Yet Israel’s investigating judge could find no evidence of wrongdoing, no negligence, no violation of military procedure.

U.S. officials slammed that decision. “A nice whitewash for a group of ignorant, stupid and inept XXX,” Tordella wrote in a handwritten memo, substituting the letter X for an expletive. “If the attackers had not been Hebrew there would have been quite a commotion.”((Louis W. Tordella, handwritten note, 26 August 1967, NSA.)) Tordella’s memo reflected the special treatment many in Washington recognized Israel received in the aftermath of the attack. The failure to reprimand anyone left lingering resentment among many, including Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Horacio Rivero, who was later asked for his most prominent memory of the Liberty: “My anger and frustration at our not punishing the attackers.”((Horacio Rivero Jr., Q&A with Joseph F. Bouchard, 10 March 1988.))

The administration’s effort to deemphasize the Liberty also spilled over into the presentation of awards in June 1968. Liberty skipper Commander William McGonagle was nominated for the Medal of Honor, an award customarily presented by the President at the White House. McGonagle would not be so lucky. The President’s senior military aide, James Cross, urged Johnson not to present McGonagle’s medal in person and to make sure the White House issued no press release. “Due to the nature and sensitivity of these awards, Defense and State officials recommend that both be returned to Defense for presentation, and that no press release regarding them be made by the White House.”((Jim Cross, memo to Lyndon Johnson, 15 May 1968, Box 17, White House Central Files, Medals-Awards, LBJL.))

In 1968, Israel paid $3.3 million to the families of the men killed. A year later, Israel paid $3.5 million to the men who were injured. Israel then balked at paying the $7.6 million for the loss of the ship, secretly offering at one point the token sum of $100,000. Negotiations dragged on until 1980, at which time the bill plus interest totaled more than $17 million. Under the threat of a congressional investigation, Israel struck a deal to pay $6 million in three annual installments. The United States accepted.

Even now, a half-century later, the attack on the Liberty and our government’s handling of the affair are still very much a painful part of many lives—including Chris Armstrong, the son of Liberty executive officer Philip Armstrong, who was killed that afternoon. Chris, who was three at the time, received $52,000 for the loss of his father. “It paid for my college education, but not much else,” he said. “I would give it all back and then some. My emotional scars are very deep from this incident.”((Chris Armstrong, email to author, 18 July 2009.))

James M. Scott is the author of Target Tokyo (W. W. Norton, 2015), which was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for history. He also is the author of The War Below (Simon & Shuster, 2013) and The Attack on the Liberty (Simon & Shuster, 2009), which was named one of 20 Notable Naval Books of 2009 by Proceedings and won the Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Excellence in Naval Literature. Scott’s father, John Scott, was a U.S. Navy ensign and damage control officer serving on board the Liberty during the attack. He received the Silver Star for his actions that day.

Footnotes
1 The Congressional Research Service researched the question, “Has the US government investigated the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty?" The Congressional Research Service concluded they could not find any evidence of a US government investigation of the attack.

Congressional Research Service Response

2 Israel apologized for what they have alternatively claimed to be a “mistake,” a case of “mistaken identity,” or a deliberate attack on a ship not displaying the correct Israeli markings. Had there been an investigation of the attack there wouldn’t be so much confusion about why they attacked.
3 Mr. Bard implies the area had been declared to be a “War Zone” by one or more of the warring parties. In fact, no NOTMARS had been issued warning ships of the danger of sailing in the area.
4 The implication being that announcement removed the responsibility of positively identifying potential targets prior to beginning any attack. It did not. In fact, the Israeli military admitted they positively identified the USS Liberty as not displaying the correct Israeli markings.
5 Don’t know where the DIA and CIA came into the picture. We were under the NSA who told the Sixth Fleet where to position us.
6 There were two flights launched to come to our assistance. According to RADM Larry Geis, Commander, Carrier Division 4, who spoke to the White House after receiving the order to recall the first launch of rescue aircraft, LBJ recalled the aircraft because he “didn’t want to embarrass an ally.” It had nothing to do with any admission allegedly made by the Israeli government.
7 The ship’s weather log that was submitted to the Court of Inquiry shows the wind across the deck was more than enough to hold the flag out in a brisk wind.
8 In what history tells us was the lull between the air and torpedo boat attack Frank Brown and I noticed the flag had been shot down. We raised our largest flag (9 feet x 13 feet) on our Number 4 Port halyard. That flag can be clearly seen in photos taken after the attack.
9

If you look at the tactics used by the Israeli military during its attack you will come away with the conclusion that there WAS “malicious intent” in their attack.

  • Initiated by jamming our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The attacking aircraft were unmarked;
  • The initial strafing runs by high-speed Mirage aircraft targeted our communication and defensive capabilities;
  • This was followed by slower Mystere aircraft who dropped napalm canisters to drive the crew below decks;
  • Followed by motor torpedo boats who fired five torpedoes at the ship. One struck the ship on our starboard side killing 25 crewmen;
  • Torpedo boats then circled the ship while firing from close range at crewmen trapped topside or stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • Torpedo boats then machine gunned serviceable life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. This act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • This was followed by helos filled with assault troops that couldn’t find a place to disgorge its deadly cargo due to the antenna and halyards blowing wildly in the wind.
10 Israel partisans routinely mis-characterize the content of the NSA tapes by ignoring the NSA description of the conversations and claim that those intercepts prove the attack was the error in misidentification the IDF claims. They don’t. Israel partisans would have you believe the NSA intercept officers turned their tape recorders on just in time to record the conversation and then immediately turned them off. The first recording (104) is 15 minutes. The second recording (105) is 32 minutes. The third recording (106) is 4 minutes. That’s it! Why doesn’t the NSA release the rest of their intercepts?
11 The State Department researched this claim and determined that no request for info on US ships in the area was made until after the attack.

12 The Israeli torpedo boats approached to literally a stone’s throw of the USS Liberty and identified the freshly painted US Navy ship displaying standard US Navy markings as a 40-year-old, black hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer that bore no resemblance to the USS Liberty.

13 Dale Larkins fired a single bullet at the torpedo boats before his gun jammed. After a murderous 30+ minute air attack that single shot “removed all doubt” from the torpedo boat personnel that we were an enemy and continued the attack.
14 The torpedo boat attacked killed 25 on the USS Liberty not 28. But, when was Mr. Bard ever concerned with the truth about the attack?
15 They also never bothered to analyze the actions of the Israeli military in arriving at a determination that because of the contents of documents provided to them by the Israeli military, the attack was not deliberate. See Note 9.
16 The Israeli government never issued any Notice to Mariners declaring the area to be a "war zone."

Israeli Notice to Mariners

17 In other words, it was our fault we were attacked. I guess our presence put every 40-year-old, black-hulled, rusted-out Egyptian tramp steamer at risk of attack by the Israeli military.
18 Many have opined that our outrage is directed at the Israeli military for attacking us and for committing War Crimes during their attack. That is not where our outrage is directed. We are outraged that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship to be conducted with impunity and without remorse.
19 That conversation is described in a video of Air Force Captain Richard Block.
20

Those armor piercing rounds were used to take out our communications and defensive capabilities. Those Mirage aircraft were followed by slower Mystere aircraft which were armed with (and used) napalm bombs to drive the crew below decks to ensure everyone was trapped below deck when the torpedoes were used. Five torpedoes were fired with only one striking the ship. Had more than one found its mark, all USS Liberty personnel trapped below deck would have perished.

21 No US Senator every held an inquiry into the attack. The closest the attack came to Congressional scrutiny was when Senator Adlai Stevenson threatened the Israeli government with an investigation unless they came to terms on remuneration for the attack. Terms were agreed to, and the investigation was dropped
22

pul-EE-ze! In 2011 Larry Toenjes sailed his sailboat to the position of the attack and held a memorial service. Neither the US nor the Israeli governments accepted an invitation to attend the service. Now you’re telling us that the pilots of the attacking aircraft made a trip to the site of the attack to honor those fallen on the USS Liberty? And haven’t bothered to tell us? Riiiight!

23 We don't give a damn why the Israeli military attacked us. Our concern is that the US government has allowed an attack on a US Navy ship and included War Crimes to be committed with impunity and without remorse.
24 And that absolves the IDF from its duty to ensure the correct identification of the target they are about to attack? Especially given the fact that that identification is made literally from a stone's throw away?
25 What on earth does that have to do with the attack on the USS Liberty? Oh, I forgot. Those were investigated and those investigations determined them to be "friendly fire." You have declared the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was "friendly fire" and we are suppose to believe you because you say so.
26 Again, this does not absolve the Israeli military from its duty to ensure the identification of the ship they are attacking.
27 If I were on a call between the White House and RADM Larry Geis ordering the Sixth Fleet to stand down and recall the rescue aircraft, I wouldn't remember anything about it either.
28

It is interesting that the State Department would hold a conference about the attack on our ship but not invite a single USS Liberty survivor to participate. As for an assessment about the attack, why not refer to the US government investigation of the attack? That would include evidence and testimony taken under oath. Sadly, that question is rhetorical since there is no such investigation.

29

Not unlike a proceeding in the civilian arena, the “closed book” referenced by Mr. Bard only refers to the civil or monetary side of the equation. Not yet resolved is the criminal side. Issues not yet addressed let alone resolved are the War Crimes committed by both the Israeli and US military during the attack, to wit:

  • The use of unmarked aircraft;
  • The jamming of our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The slow circling of our ship by Israeli motor torpedo boats as their personnel fired from very close range at USS Liberty crewmen trapped topside and stretcher bearers who ventured topside to help our wounded shipmates;
  • The deliberate machine gunning of life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. That act removed any chance anyone would survive the sinking of our ship; and,
  • The refusal of the attacking forces to offer aid immediately upon cessation of hostilities.

Most egregious in our minds is the White House ordering the rescue aircraft recalled while we were still under attack and calling for help and the decision of the Sixth Fleet to obey that order. That order is a direct violation of Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and carries the possibility of a death sentence upon conviction.

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