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.

Remembering the Liberty

by Ron Unz

Republished with Permission from the author

Concealing the Deliberate Israeli Attack

I’m not exactly sure when I first heard of the Liberty incident of 1967. The story was certainly a dramatic one, the attack upon an almost defenseless American intelligence ship by Israel’s air and naval forces late in the Six Day War fought against several Arab states. Over 200 American servicemen were killed or wounded by Israeli machine-guns, rockets, napalm, and torpedoes, representing our greatest naval loss of life since World War II. Only tremendous luck and the heroic actions of the sailors prevented the Liberty from being sunk with all hands lost.

The Israeli government quickly claimed that the attack had been accidental, a consequence of mistaken identification and the fog of war, but none of the survivors ever believed that story, nor did many of America’s top political and military leaders, notably Secretary of State Dean Rusk, CIA Director Richard Helms, and numerous top officers, including a later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The real-life events of that day almost seem like a script out of Hollywood. The first wave of unmarked attacking jets had targeted and destroyed all of the Liberty‘s regular transmission antennas while also trying to jam all standard American broadcast frequencies to prevent any calls for help. A flotilla of torpedo boats later machine-gunned the life-rafts to ensure there would be no survivors. These relentless attacks lasted for more than an hour and completely perforated the vessel, with the sides and the decks being pitted by more than 800 holes larger than a man’s fist, including 100 rocket-hits that were six to eight inches wide, and a 40 foot hole below the waterline produced by a torpedo strike. Only a miracle kept the ship afloat.

This story combined so many elements of exceptional military heroism, political treachery, and success against all odds that if the Liberty had been attacked by any nation on earth except Israel, the inspirational events of June 8, 1967 might have become the basis for several big-budget, Oscar-nominated movies as well as a regular staple of television documentaries. Such a patriotic narrative would have provided very welcome relief from the concurrent military disaster our country was then facing in its Vietnam War debacle. But events involving serious misdeeds of the Jewish State are hardly viewed with great favor by the leading lights of our entertainment industry, and the story of the Liberty quickly vanished from sight so that today I doubt whether even one American in a hundred has ever heard of it.

Our news media has been almost as silent on the subject. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, there was naturally some coverage in our major newspapers and magazines, with several of the reports expressing considerable skepticism of the Israeli claims of having made an innocent mistake. But the Johnson Administration quickly imposed an extreme clampdown to suppress any challenges to the official story.

An American admiral soon met with all of the survivors in small groups, including the many dozens still hospitalized from their serious injuries, and he issued fearsome threats to those terrified young sailors, most of whom were still in their teens or early twenties. If any of them ever mentioned a word of what had happened—even to their mothers, fathers, or wives, let alone the media—they would immediately be court-martialed and end their lives in prison “or worse.”

With our journalists having great difficulty finding any eyewitnesses willing to talk and our government firmly declaring that the attack had been an unfortunate instance of accidental “friendly fire,” the newsmen quickly lost interest and the story faded from the headlines. Our government still remained so concerned about the smoldering embers of the incident that the surviving sailors were distributed across the other ships of our navy, apparently with efforts made to avoid having any of them serve together, which would have allowed them an opportunity to discuss the events they had barely survived.

The ensuing decade of the 1970s saw the Watergate Scandal unfold, culminating in the impeachment and resignation of a president, and numerous other sordid governmental scandals and abuses of power came to light in the years that followed, greatly eroding popular faith in the honesty of our government.

Assault On the Liberty
Assault On the Liberty

These changed circumstances helped provide an opening to James M. Ennes, Jr., one of the young surviving Liberty officers, who defied the threats of prosecution and imprisonment in order to reveal to the world what had happened.

Working closely with many of his fellow survivors, he spent years preparing a powerful manuscript and was introduced to a major publishing house by star New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who had written one of the earliest news accounts of the attack. His book Assault on the Liberty was released in 1979, producing the first major crack in the continuing wall of silence. Admiral Thomas Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contributed a Foreword to a later edition, and the facts and gripping eyewitness testimony almost conclusively established that the Israeli attack had been entirely intentional. There were quite a number of favorable early reviews and interviews, leading to strong initial sales and further media coverage.

But organized pro-Israel groups soon counterattacked with a widespread campaign of suppression, working to prevent book sales and distribution while pressuring such influential television shows as ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS’s Sixty Minutes into canceling their planned segments. Successful books may sell tens of thousands of copies, but popular television programs reach tens of millions, so only a sliver of the American public ever learned the story of the Liberty. However, those who were politically aware and interested in the topic now had a solid reference source to cite and distribute, and the book also sparked the creation of the Liberty Veterans Association, which began to demand a reopening of the case and an honest investigation of what had happened that day.

The Israelis always claimed that the Liberty had been attacked because it was misidentified as a particular Egyptian naval vessel, and the official report of the American investigation had concurred. But Ennes’ book demolished that possibility.

(*) As America’s most advanced electronic surveillance ship, the Liberty had one of the most unique profiles in any navy, with its topside covered by an enormous array of different communications antennas, even including a 32-foot satellite-dish used to bounce signals off the Moon. By contrast, the Egyptian vessel was a decrepit old horse-transport just a fraction of the size, which was then rusting away in the port of Alexandria.

(*) By nearly all accounts, the air and naval forces deployed against the Liberty were completely unmarked, thus disguising their origins. None of the calls for help sent out mentioned the identity of the attackers, which the victims only discovered near the very end of the sustained engagement. If the Israeli forces had merely been striking against an assumed Egyptian military vessel, why would they have bothered to conceal their nationality?

(*) Despite repeated Israeli claims to the contrary, the Liberty had a large and very visible American flag flying at all times, and when the first one was shot down and destroyed early in the attack, an even larger Stars and Stripes was quickly hoisted as a replacement. The name of the ship was written in large English letters on its side, instead of the Arabic used by Egyptian vessels. The clear, bright weather that day provided perfect visibility.

(*) Israeli surveillance planes had repeatedly over-flown the Liberty all that morning, sometimes flying so low that the faces of the pilots could be seen, so the ship would have been easily identified.

(*) From the moment the attack began, Israeli electronic jamming had been employed to blanket all regular American communication channels, proving that the attackers knew the nationality of the ship they were targeting.

(*) The Israelis claimed that they initially assumed that the Liberty was a warship because it was traveling at a high speed of nearly 30 knots, but the ship’s speed during that entire period had merely been 5 knots, slower by a factor of six.

(*) The attack on the Liberty was a massive and coordinated action, lasting one to two hours, and involved waves of jet fighters, three torpedo boats, and a couple of large helicopters loaded with commandos. The initial strike destroyed all communications antennas in order to prevent the ship from calling for help, and later all the lifeboats were machine-gunned. The obvious goal was to sink the ship, leaving no survivors to report what had happened.

(*) After the attack ended, the Israelis steadfastly refused to admit any serious error on their part, with none of their commanders being prosecuted or even reprimanded, and instead placed the entire blame for the incident upon the Americans. Trophies from the Liberty attack still occupy a place of honor in Israel’s war museum. Financial compensation was only paid to the seriously wounded survivors after a long battle in American courts.

Confirming the Facts But Seeking a Motive

At the time, America was Israel’s primary international backer and ally, so the motive has always greatly puzzled observers—a deadly, unprovoked attack upon an American military vessel sailing in international waters, something which certainly constituted a major war-crime. Ennes had no clear answer to that question, and his carefully factual book closed with an Epilogue entitled “Why Did Israel Attack?” which provided a few pages of speculation. He suggested that the Israelis may have feared that the Liberty‘s electronic surveillance equipment might have revealed their plans to invade Syria and conquer the Golan Heights against American wishes, and indeed that attack occurred soon after the Liberty was crippled. The Syrian invasion was ordered by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and a declassified CIA intelligence report later claimed that Dayan had ordered the attack on the Liberty against the opposition of some of his generals. This explanation seemed somewhat plausible but far from solidly established.

Puzzle Palace
Puzzle Palace

With the Ennes book having blazed a trail, other authors gradually followed. As an electronic surveillance platform, the Liberty operated under the auspices of the NSA, an organization then so secret that its employees sometimes joked that the initials stood for “No Such Agency.” In 1982, those shrouds of mystery were finally pierced when journalist James Bamford published The Puzzle Palace, presenting the agency’s history and activities, which soon became a national bestseller and launched him on a career as one of America’s premier authors on national security matters.

From the very first, the NSA had been absolutely certain that the Israeli attack on the Liberty was deliberate, and the death or grievous injury of so many of its communication technicians and other employees together with an American cover-up deeply rankled the top leadership. So Bamford’s book included more than a dozen pages on the Liberty incident, revealing some of the secret intelligence evidence that had demonstrated Israel’s clear intent.

Taking Sides
Taking Sides

Two years later in 1984, foreign policy writer Stephen Green published a highly-regarded analysis of Israeli-American relations entitled Taking Sides, which drew glowing praise from former Sen. William Fulbright, who had chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee, international legal scholar Richard Falk of Princeton, and former Undersecretary of State George Ball. Green devoted his penultimate chapter to the Liberty incident, effectively summarizing the facts across those 30 pages and strongly endorsing most of Ennes’ conclusions, while providing additional evidence that the attack was deliberate, some of it based upon newly declassified documents. He also pointed out that if the operation had succeeded and the Liberty had been sunk with no survivors, America might have easily blamed Egypt for the attack, with major geopolitical consequences. Since the ship’s survival was little short of a miracle, that might have been the primary motive.

I was just a young child in 1967, and never heard a word about the attack at the time nor for long afterward. Even once the Ennes book appeared a dozen years later, I don’t remember seeing anything about it, nor was I aware of the accounts contained in the specialized volumes by Bamford and Green that soon followed. At some point, I think I did vaguely hear something about an American ship that had been accidentally attacked by Israel during the 1960s, but that was probably the limit of my knowledge.

In 1991 the subject finally did get some national attention in the aftermath of America’s victorious Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, as President George H.W. Bush became embroiled in a political battle with the Israeli government over the expansion of their illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza.

At that time, the Evans & Novak column by conservatives Rowland Evans and Robert Novak was among the most widely syndicated and influential in America, running in many hundreds of newspapers, and with Novak also having a large presence on the weekly political television shows. Their November 6, 1991 column dropped a major bombshell, reporting that radio transmissions proved the Israeli pilots had been fully aware that they were attacking an American ship and despite their frantic protestations had been ordered to go ahead and sink the Liberty regardless. These communications had been intercepted and decrypted by the intelligence staff at our Beirut Embassy, and the shocking transcripts were immediately provided to our ambassador, Dwight Porter, a highly esteemed diplomat, who had finally broken his self-imposed silence after 24 years. Moreover, these same facts were also confirmed by an American-born Israeli military officer who had been present at IDF headquarters that day, and who said that all the commanders there were sure that the ship being attacked was American. This may have been the first time I learned the true details of the 1967 incident, probably from one of Novak’s many television appearances.

Pro-Israel elements of the media and their numerous activist supporters immediately launched a fierce counter-attack, spearheaded by former New York Times Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, a fervent partisan of Israel, who denounced the Evans & Novak column as biased, misinterpreted, and fraudulent. When I read Novak’s memoirs last year, he described how Israel’s partisans had spent many years pressuring newspapers into dropping his column, which substantially reduced its reach as the years went by. The columnists were punished for crossing red-lines, their future influence diminished, and other journalists were given a powerful warning message against ever doing anything similar.

The USS Liberty: Dissenting History Vs. Official History
The USS Liberty: Dissenting History Vs. Official History

The story of the Liberty and especially the subsequent decades of political and media battles surrounding the case soon became the focus of scholarly research, with John E. Bourne making it the subject of his 1993 doctoral dissertation in history at NYU, then publishing the work through a small press two years later under the title The USS Liberty: Dissenting History Vs. Official History. Bourne’s coverage seemed meticulous and scrupulously fair, breaking little new ground but gathering together and conveniently referencing a great deal of the underlying information, including the surprising success of the Liberty survivors in getting their account of the attack into the public arena despite the overwhelmingly greater political and financial resources of their determined opponents.

One important point emphasized by Bourne is that while the version of events provided by the Liberty crewmen has been almost completely consistent and unchanging from the first day, the Israeli government and its partisans had promoted numerous contrary narratives, most of them mutually contradictory, with pro-Israel advocates making absolutely no effort to reconcile these, and instead merely ignoring such severe discrepancies. This surely relates to the fact that although there can only be one true account of a historical event, invented falsehoods may diverge in a wide variety of different directions.

A couple of years later in 1995, the front page of the New York Times broke a seemingly unrelated story, which certainly captured my attention at the time. Our national newspaper of record revealed that during both the 1956 and 1967 wars, the Israeli military had brutally massacred large numbers of Egyptian POWs, with the evidence coming from the detailed research of Israeli military historians, eyewitness testimony including that of a retired Israeli general, and the discovery of mass graves in the Sinai desert.

Body of Secrets
Body of Secrets

Then in 2001, James Bamford published Body of Secrets, a much longer and more detailed sequel to his earlier history of the NSA, which once again became a national bestseller. This time the author devoted one of his longest chapters entitled “Blood” entirely to the story of the Liberty, and provided many new revelations. Among other things, he suggested that the ship had been targeted for destruction because the Israeli leadership feared that its extensive electronic surveillance equipment might record evidence of the enormous war-crimes they had then been committing along the neighboring coast, now believed to involve the execution of some 1,000 helpless Egyptian captives and local civilians, certainly one of the largest such atrocities committed by any Western army since World War II. This now provided an additional possible motive for the seemingly inexplicable Israeli attack.Bamford’s book also contained an even more momentous disclosure. After 35 years of NSA silence, he revealed that the entire Liberty incident had been monitored in real-time by an American electronic spy plane cruising far overhead, which intercepted and rapidly translated all the radio communications between the attacking Israeli forces and their Tel Aviv controllers, information long regarded as “among NSA’s deepest secrets.” This helped explain why the senior leadership of the NSA had always been virtually unanimous that the attack was deliberate and intended to leave no survivors.

These intercepted conversations from the Israeli planes and torpedo boats had repeatedly mentioned seeing the Liberty‘s large American flag, putting the lie to decades of emphatic denials. In Washington, DC, the top leadership of the NSA had been outraged by this information, especially once they realized that the Johnson Administration intended to protect Israel from any embarrassment, and had even considered sinking the Liberty after the attack to prevent journalists from photographing the severe damage. Indeed, the Liberty was strangely ordered to sail to distant Malta rather than the much closer port in Crete, perhaps in hopes that the limping vessel with a large hole in its hull would sink along the way, thereby permanently hiding the visual evidence.

Bamford’s book also provided new information on the strange circumstances of the recall of two flights of carrier jets dispatched to rescue the Liberty during the attack, a development that had always been a source of puzzlement. The Liberty‘s senior intelligence officer revealed that he was later informed by the Sixth Fleet’s carrier admiral that the recall had been ordered by a direct phone call from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, with President Lyndon Johnson himself allegedly even getting on the line to demand that the order be obeyed and the Liberty left to its fate.

Bamford also noted that Israel’s brutal and unprovoked attack on the American ship was hardly inconsistent with that country’s other behavior. Not only had the Israelis been concurrently massacring so many hundreds of Egyptian POWs, but just a day or two earlier an Israeli tank column had attacked a convoy of unarmed UN peacekeepers flying their blue flag, brutally killing more than a dozen of them, while also blasting the local UN headquarters.

Bamford’s text ran more than 700 pages, with his discussion of the Liberty incident amounting to less than 10% of the total, but that chapter attracted a hugely disproportionate share of the press interest, with the New York Times even running a major news story on the important new evidence he provided. The book’s very favorable Times review also devoted quite a lot of space to his Liberty coverage, even though the reviewer strongly questioned the theory that the attack might have been motivated by Israel’s desire to conceal its concurrent war crimes. Although most such reviews were quite laudatory, the notoriously pro-Israel New Republic launched a fierce attack, authored by an American-born Israeli historian who had renounced his U.S. citizenship in order to enter Israeli government service, and I hardly considered it convincing at the time, even before I recently discovered Bamford’s very effective rebuttal.

Although I only read Bamford’s book itself a couple of years ago, I had seen the Times pieces and many of the other reviews when they originally appeared, and taken together all of this material further strengthened my conviction that the Liberty attack had been no accident.

Revealing the American Cover-Up After 40 Years

Up until this point, Israel’s partisans had mostly operated on defense, emphasizing the original verdict of accident issued by America’s official 1967 inquiry panel, while working to suppress the reach of books or articles that challenged this established position. Given this situation, Bourne’s thorough media research suggested that they probably believed that silence was the best strategy to follow. The longest piece actively promoting the accidental attack theory had been a 6,000 word article in the September 1984 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, possibly written in response to the Ennes or Green books. The two authors had been Israeli journalists who relied almost entirely upon Israeli sources, mostly official ones, and the piece was hardly likely to sway the growing number of skeptics.

The Liberty Incident
The Liberty Incident

But in 2002, A. Jay Cristol, a Jewish bankruptcy judge in Florida who had served nearly four decades in our naval reserves, released The Liberty Incident, arguing that the attack had been purely accidental. Cristol’s Preface emphasized his pro-Israel views and numerous Israeli friends, who encouraged and assisted this project, which he had begun some fifteen years earlier as an adult education masters thesis.

Although heavily promoted by Israel’s numerous partisans, who used the occasion to loudly declare “Case Closed,” I never heard of the book at the time, and was quite unimpressed when I recently read it, since it seemed to largely ignore or dismiss the mountain of evidence contrary to its thesis of Israeli innocence.

Indeed, the publication of Cristol’s book provoked a particularly important reaction. One of the individuals whom the author had favorably cited as “a man of integrity,” was retired Captain Ward Boston, Jr., the Navy attorney who had actually authored the official inquiry report in 1967. After having kept silent for nearly four decades, Boston was so outraged by Cristol’s analysis that he came forward and signed a legal affidavit revealing the true facts of the original investigation.

According to Boston, both he and his superior, Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the presiding judge, had been absolutely convinced at the time that Israel had deliberately attacked the Liberty and murdered our sailors, but they had been ordered by their political and military superiors, including Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., father of the late senator, to absolve the Jewish State of any blame. Moreover, major elements of their written report were deleted or altered before release, in further efforts to conceal the clear evidence of Israel’s guilt. Considering that for over 35 years, Boston’s official handiwork had been cited as the primary bulwark supporting Israeli innocence, his signed January 9, 2004 affidavit constituted a very powerful declaration to the contrary. Aside from condemning Cristol as a fraud and a liar and reporting that Admiral Kidd believed the author “must be an Israeli agent,” Boston’s statement closed with the following paragraph:

Contrary to the misinformation presented by Cristol and others, it is important for the American people to know that it is clear that Israel is responsible for deliberately attacking an American ship and murdering American sailors, whose bereaved shipmates have lived with this egregious conclusion for many years.

A few years later, a major expose in the Chicago Tribune finally demolished the remaining shards of the decades-long cover-up. Written by a senior Tribune journalist who had previously won a Pulitzer Prize at the New York Times and drawing upon dozens of interviews and a large cache of official government documents newly declassified after four decades, the 5,400 word article was probably the longest piece on the Liberty incident ever to appear in the mainstream American news media. Much of the material presented was extremely damning, fully confirming crucial elements of previous accounts and demonstrating the extent of the ensuing cover-up.

Tony Hart, a former communications operator at a relay station remembers listening to the words of Secretary of Defense McNamara as he personally ordered the recall of the jets sent to rescue the Liberty: “President [Lyndon] Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally over a few sailors.” This independently confirmed the account reported by a Liberty officer a few years earlier in Bamford’s book.

Aside from McNamara, nearly all the other senior members of the Johnson administration agreed with top intelligence advisor Clark Clifford that it was “inconceivable” that the attack had been a case of mistaken identity. NSA Director Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter later secretly testified to Congress that the attack “couldn’t be anything else but deliberate,” and numerous other former top national security officials provided similar statements to the Tribune, finally going on the record after forty years.

For decades, a crucial point of contention had been whether the Liberty was flying an American flag visible to the attacking Israeli forces. At the time, the Israeli court of inquiry had firmly declared that “Throughout the contact, no American or any other flag appeared on the ship.” As recently as 2003, the Jerusalem Post had interviewed the first Israeli pilot to attack, and he once again declared that he had circled the ship twice, slowing down and looking carefully, and “there was positively no flag.”

By contrast, declassified NSA documents stated that all the surviving crew members interviewed had uniformly agreed that their ship had been flying a large flag before, during, and after the attack, except for a brief period when it had been shot down, quickly replaced by their largest American flag, measuring 13 feet long.

NSA transcripts affirmed the claims of the Americans and proved that the Israelis were lying. As numerous sources had claimed over the years, the intercepted transmissions of the Israeli pilots had been immediately translated into English, with transcripts of their conversations rolling off the teletype machines at our intelligence offices around the world. These proved beyond any doubt that the pilots reported the ship was American and they had been ordered to sink it regardless, with the content of the transcripts confirmed by separate interviews with American intelligence specialists based in Nebraska, California, and Crete, while several other former American officials also confirmed the existence of those transcripts.

Five days later the Israeli Ambassador secretly warned his government that the Americans had “clear proof” that the attack had been deliberate. But according to a former CIA officer, the transcripts “were deep-sixed because the administration did not wish to embarrass the Israelis.” This official cover-up was partially circumvented by some shrewd intelligence officials who had those transcripts assigned for official training purposes at the U.S. Army’s intelligence school. W. Patrick Lang, who later spent eight years as Chief of Middle East intelligence for the DIA, vividly remembers seeing them in his coursework, and they left absolutely no doubt that the Israeli attack had been deliberate.

Although some tapes had been released, several of the personnel originally involved in recording and translating the transmissions agree that at least two of the key tapes have now gone missing or at least have not yet been declassified, and this is supported by gaps in the numbering of those that have been released.

New revelations in attack on American spy ship by John Crewdson • The Chicago Tribune • October 2, 2007 • 5,400 Words

Attack on the Liberty
Attack on the Liberty

A couple of years later in 2009, James Scott, a young, award-winning journalist and son of a Liberty survivor, published Attack on the Liberty, a book that seemed likely to become the final major account of the incident. Released by a prestigious mainstream press, the text ran more than 350 pages with copious notes and numerous photographs. When I read it six or seven years ago, I didn’t think it broke much new ground, but the work seemed to very effectively summarize all of the main material from more than four decades of research and debate, probably becoming that standard text on the topic.

A great deal of information is also now easily available on the Internet. Alison Weir runs If Americans Knew, an activist organization focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a section of her website provides a convenient repository of numerous primary source documents regarding the U.S.S. Liberty incident. A U.S.S. Liberty Memorial website also provides considerable material on the event.

In recent years, our own Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, has become one of the most regular writers on the story of the Liberty, producing half a dozen articles focused directly on that topic:

Sinking Liberty
Who will write the final chapter on Israel’s 1967 confrontation with the U.S. Navy?
Philip Giraldi • The American Conservative • March 17, 2011 • 1,600 Words
The USS Liberty Must Not be Forgotten
Forty-eight years is too long to wait for justice
Philip Giraldi • The Unz Review • June 9, 2015 • 1,200 Words
Remembering the U.S.S. Liberty
The power of the Israel Lobby
Philip Giraldi • The Unz Review • June 14, 2016 • 1,600 Words
Remembering the U.S.S. Liberty
The 50 year cover-up of a mass murder of U.S. servicemen orchestrated by Israel and its friends
Philip Giraldi • The Unz Review • June 6, 2017 • 1,600 Words
The USS Liberty Wins One!
The American Legion finally calls for a congressional inquiry
Philip Giraldi • The Unz Review • September 5, 2017 • 2,300 Words
Israel’s War Crimes Have Killed Americans
If the president loves to honor the military, start with the U.S.S. Liberty
Philip Giraldi • The Unz Review • May 5, 2020 • 2,300 Words

President Lyndon Johnson and a Planned Attack on Egypt?

Over the last few years my understanding of many major historical events has undergone a radical transformation, but the Liberty incident was not among them. Since I first encountered the story almost thirty years ago, my views had merely solidified rather than changed in any significant respect. I’d immediately been persuaded that the attack was intentional, soon followed by a disgraceful American cover-up, and the three or four books I eventually read on the topic had merely filled in some blanks, while casting my original conclusions into solid concrete. The only remaining mystery was the Israeli motive for such an apparently reckless undertaking, and with three or four somewhat plausible possibilities having been suggested, there seemed to be no way of deciding between them. Not only did I regard the topic as closed, but I believed it had been closed for at least a decade or two. And that was my settled opinion until a month ago.

The story of a deadly Israeli attack upon America’s own military and a long and shameful cover-up naturally provoked all sorts of wild speculation from conspiracy-minded individuals, who regularly expounded the most bizarre ideas on the comment-threads of any article discussing the topic. A couple of years ago, I noticed a flurry of such chatter, including claims of a diabolical plot by President Johnson to treacherously arrange the attack on his own ship as an excuse for starting World War III, with the theory having apparently been promoted by some recently published book.

Blood in the Water
Blood in the Water

At first I paid no attention to such nonsense, but I eventually took a look at the Amazon page of Blood in the Water by Joan Mellen, an author entirely unknown to me, and was shocked to discover lavish praise by Prof. Richard Falk of Princeton, an eminent international legal scholar. Thinking that the theory might be less absurd than it seemed, I clicked a button, bought it, and suspended my disbelief during the two days it took me to read the text.

Unfortunately, the contents were almost exactly as I had originally assumed, filled with implausible speculations, unwarranted assertions, and huge leaps of logic. Unsubstantiated claims were endlessly repeated, apparently in hopes of bludgeoning the reader into eventual acceptance. And although the text was purportedly written by a tenured professor of English at a small university, the editing was among the worst of any professionally-published book I had ever encountered, with the same sentence—or even the same short paragraph—sometimes duplicated on consecutive pages; such severe stylistic flaws merely deepened my skepticism about the credibility of the substantive material presented. Prof. Falk was an esteemed scholar, but he had also been in his late 80s when the book was released, and I assumed that he hadn’t actually read the text apart from a few small extracts, while his outrage at a half-century of governmental injustice had secured his endorsement of such a poor quality expose. I felt that my time reading it had been wasted, and I became more firmly convinced than ever that the story of the Liberty was closed.

Then earlier this year I once more began seeing some chatter about a very similar theory regarding the Liberty, again advanced by an author totally unknown to me and presented in a book bearing an especially lurid title. I naturally dismissed such nonsense under the principle of “once bitten, twice shy.”

However, a month or two ago, I happened to be reading a work by Michael Collins Piper, a conspiracy-researcher who had earned my considerable respect, and in a couple of sentences he alluded to the book in question, greatly praising its “astonishing” findings. So I looked it up on Amazon and found that it had been released in 2003. A book published 18 years ago by a tiny press that made such wild charges but had never attracted any attention nor reviews was hardly likely to be very persuasive, but since I had some time on my hands, I ordered a copy and a few days later took a look.

Operation Cyanide
Operation Cyanide

I had never heard of Peter Hounam and a book entitled Operation Cyanide containing wild talk of World War III in the subtitle certainly multiplied my doubts, but the cover carried a glowing endorsement by the BBC World Affairs Editor, hardly the sort of individual likely to lend his name to crackpots. Moreover, according to the back flap, Hounam had spent thirty years in mainstream British journalism, including a long stint as Chief Investigative Journalist at the London Sunday Times, so he obviously possessed serious credentials.

A bit of casual Googling confirmed these facts and also revealed that in 1987 Hounam had led the Sunday Times team that broke the huge story of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, with the evidence provided by Israeli technician Mordechai Vanunu, just before he was kidnapped by Mossad, returned to Israel, and given a twenty year prison sentence. Hounam certainly had a much more impressive background than I had initially assumed.

The book itself was of moderate length, running perhaps 100,000 words, but quite professionally written. The author carefully distinguished between solid evidence and cautious speculation, while also weighing the credibility of the various individuals whom he had interviewed and the other material used to support his conclusions. He drew upon most of the same earlier sources with which I was already familiar, as well as a few others that were new to me, generally explaining how he reached his conclusions and why. The overall text struck me as having exactly the sort of solid workmanship that one might expect from someone who had spent three decades in British investigative journalism, including a position near the top of the profession.

As Hounam explained on the first page, he had been approached in 2000 by a British television producer, who recruited him for a project to uncover the truth of the attack on the Liberty, an incident then entirely unfamiliar to him. His research of the history occupied the next two years, and included travels throughout the United States and Israel to interview numerous key figures. The result was an hour-long BBC documentary Dead in the Water, eventually shown on British television, as well as the book he concurrently produced based upon all the research he had collected.

As I began the text, the first pages of the Introduction immediately captured my attention. In late 2002, with the book almost completed, Hounam was contacted by Jim Nanjo, a 65-year-old retired American pilot with an interesting story to tell. During the mid-1960s he had served in a squadron of strategic nuclear bombers based in California, always on alert for the command to attack the USSR in the event of war. On three separate occasions during that period, he and the other pilots had been scrambled into their cockpits on a full-war alert rather than a training exercise, sitting in the planes for hours while awaiting the signal to launch their nuclear attack. Each time, they only discovered the event that had triggered the red alert after they received the stand-down order and walked back to their base. Once it had been the JFK assassination and another time the North Korean seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo, with the third incident being the 1967 attack upon the Liberty.

All of this made perfect sense, but when Hounam checked the pilot’s reported chronology, he discovered that the squadron had actually been put on full war-alert status at least an hour before the Liberty came under Israeli attack, an astonishing logical inconsistency if correct.

Memories may easily grow faulty after 35 years, but this strange anomaly was merely one of many that Hounam encountered during his exhaustive investigation and the facts that he uncovered gradually resolved themselves into the outline of a radically different reconstruction of historical events. Although more than half the book recounts the standard elements of the Liberty story that I had already read many times before, the other material was entirely new to me, never mentioned elsewhere.

President Johnson was a notorious micro-manager, very closely monitoring daily casualties in Vietnam, as well as the sudden new outbreak of war in the Middle East, and he always demanded to be told immediately of any important development. Yet when America’s most advanced spy ship with a crew of nearly 300 reported that it was under deadly attack by unknown enemy forces, he seems never to have been informed, at least according to the official White House logs. Instead, he supposedly spent the morning casually eating his favorite breakfast and then mostly engaging in domestic political chit-chat with various senators.

Declassified documents from the CIA, the NSA, and the Pentagon prove that red-alert messages had been sent to the White House Situation Room almost immediately, and American military policy is that any flash message reporting an attack on a U.S. naval vessel must be immediately passed to the president, even if he is asleep. Yet according to the official records, Johnson—wide awake and alert—received no notice until almost two hours later, after the assault on the Liberty had ended. Moreover, even when finally informed, he seemed to pay little attention to the most serious naval attack our country had suffered since World War II, instead focusing upon minor domestic political issues. Johnson did put in two calls to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who according to naval logs minutes later ordered the recall of the carrier planes sent to rescue the Liberty, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk later stated that McNamara would never have made that decision without first discussing it with his president. But based upon the official records Johnson himself had not yet been informed that any attack had occurred.

Indeed, according to the later recollections of Rusk and top intelligence advisor Clark Clifford, during the morning Situation Room meeting two hours later, the Soviets were still believed responsible for the attack, and the participants had a sense that war might have already broken out. Although the Israeli identity of the attackers had been known for more than an hour, most of our top government leaders still seemed to be contemplating World War III with the USSR.

Hounam believes that these numerous, glaring discrepancies indicated the official logs had been altered in potentially very serious ways, apparently with the intent of insulating President Johnson from having learned of the attack and its crucial details until long after that had occurred. The author’s analysis of these severe chronological discrepancies seems quite meticulous to me, covering several pages, and should be carefully read by anyone interested in these highly suspicious events and the seemingly doctored record.

Hounam also focused upon several unexplained elements presented in the books by Ennes and others. There does seem solid if very fragmentary evidence that the Liberty‘s positioning off the Egyptian coast was part of some broader American strategic plan, whose still classified details remain largely obscure to us. Ennes’ book briefly mentioned that an American submarine had secretly joined the Liberty as it traveled to its destination, and had actually been present throughout the entire attack, with some of the sailors seeing its periscope. Although one of the crew had been privy to the classified details, he later refused to divulge them to Ennes when asked. According to some accounts, the sub had even used a periscope camera to take photographs of the attack, which various individuals later claimed to have seen. The official name for that secret submarine project was “Operation Cyanide,” which Hounam used for the title of his book. One heavily-redacted government document obtained by Hounam provides tantalizing clues as to why the Liberty had officially been sent to the coast, but anything more than that is speculation.

There were other strange anomalies. A senior NSA official had been strongly opposed to sending the Liberty into a potentially dangerous war-zone but had been overruled, while the ship’s request for a destroyer escort from the Sixth Fleet had been summarily refused. The day before the attack, top NSA and Pentagon officials had recognized the obvious peril to the ship, even receiving a CIA intelligence report that the Israelis planned to attack, and this led to several urgent messages being sent from Washington, ordering the captain to withdraw to a safe distance 100 miles from the coast; but through a bizarre and inexplicable series of repeated routing errors, none of those messages had ever been received. All of these seemingly coincidental decisions and mistakes had ensured that the Liberty was alone and defenseless in a highly vulnerable location, and that it remained there until the Israeli attack finally came.

Hounam also sketched out the broader geopolitical context to the events he described. Although originally open to friendly relations with America, Egyptian leader Gamal Nasser had been denied promised US assistance due to the pressure of our powerful Israel Lobby and was therefore pushed into the arms of the USSR, becoming a key regional ally, arming his military forces with Soviet weaponry and even allowing nuclear-capable Soviet strategic bombers to be based on his territory. As a consequence, Johnson became intensely hostile towards Nasser, regarding him as “another Castro” and seeking the overthrow of his regime. This was one of the major reasons his administration offered a green-light to Israel’s decision to launch the Six Day War.

In the opening hours of that conflict, Israel’s surprise attack had destroyed the bulk of the Egyptian and Syrian air forces on the ground, and these devastating losses soon led Nasser and other Arab leaders to publicly accuse the American military of having entered the war on Israel’s side, charges almost universally dismissed as ridiculous both by journalists at the time and by later historians. But Hounam’s detailed investigation uncovered considerable evidence that that Nasser’s claims may have been true, at least with regard to aerial reconnaissance and electronic communications.

According to the statements of former American airman Greg Reight, he and his aerial photo reconnaissance unit were secretly deployed to Israel, assisting the attack by determining enemy losses and helping to select subsequent targets. This personal account closely matched the details of the overall operation previously described in Green’s book almost two decades earlier. All these claims were supported by the extremely sharp photos of destroyed Egyptian airfields later released by Israel and published in American news magazines since experts agreed that the Israeli air force did not then possess any of the necessary camera equipment.

A successful Florida businessman named Joe Sorrels provided a very detailed account of how his American intelligence unit had been infiltrated into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula before hostilities began and set up electronic monitoring and “spoofing” equipment, which may have played a crucial strategic role in enabling the sweeping Israeli victory. There were even claims that American electronic expertise helped locate the crucial gaps in the radar defenses of the Egyptian airfields that allowed Israel’s surprise attack to become so successful.

Hounam also emphasized the likely political motive behind Johnson’s possible decision to directly back Israel. By 1967 the Vietnam War was going badly, with mounting American losses and no victory in sight, and if this quagmire continued, the president’s reelection the following year might become very difficult. But if the Soviets suffered a humiliating setback in the Middle East, with their Egyptian and Syrian allies crushed by Israel, perhaps culminating in Nasser’s overthrow, that success might compensate for the problems in Southeast Asia, diverting public attention toward much more positive developments in a different region. Moreover, the influential Jewish groups that had once been among Johnson’s strongest supporters had lately become leading critics of the continuing Vietnam conflict; but since they were intensely pro-Israel, success in the Middle East might bring them back into the fold.

This provides the background for one of Hounam’s most controversial suggestions. He notes that in 1964, Johnson had persuaded Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution by a near-unanimous vote, authorizing military strikes against North Vietnam, but based upon an alleged attack upon American destroyers that most historians now agree was fictional. Although the resulting Vietnam War eventually became highly unpopular, Johnson’s initial “retaliatory” airstrikes just three months before the 1964 election rallied the country around him and helped ensure his huge landslide reelection victory against Sen. Barry Goldwater. And according to Ephraim Evren, a top Israeli diplomat in the U.S., just a few days before the outbreak of the Six Day War Johnson met with him privately and emphasized the urgent need “to get Congress to pass another Tonkin resolution,” but this time with regard to the Middle East. An excuse for direct, successful American military intervention on Israel’s behalf would obviously have solved many of Johnson’s existing political problems, greatly boosting his otherwise difficult reelection prospects the following year.

We must always keep in mind that only a miracle kept the Liberty afloat, and if it had been sunk without survivors as expected, almost no one in American media or government would have dared accuse Israel of such an irrational act. Instead, as Stephen Green had first suggested in 1984, Egyptian forces would very likely have been blamed, producing powerful demands for immediate American retaliation, but probably on a vastly greater scale than the fictional Tonkin Gulf attack, which had inflicted no injuries.

Indeed, Hounam’s detailed investigation discovered strong evidence that a powerful American “retaliatory” strike against Egypt had already been put into motion from almost the moment that the Liberty was first attacked. Paul Nes then served as charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and in a taped interview he recalled receiving an urgent flash message alerting him that the Liberty had been attacked, presumably by Egyptian planes, and that bombers from an American carrier were already on their way to strike Cairo in retaliation. With an American-Egyptian war about to break out, Nes and his subordinates immediately began destroying all their important documents. But not long afterward, another flash message arrived, identifying the attackers as Israeli and saying that the air strike had been called off. According to some accounts, the American warplanes were just minutes from Egypt’s capital city when they were recalled.

Let us consider this. In a taped interview a former top American diplomat revealed that in 1967 America came very close—perhaps even within minutes—of attacking Egypt in retaliation for the Liberty. Surely a revelation of this magnitude from such a credible source might be expected to reach the front page of the New York Times and other leading world newspapers. But instead I had never heard a word about it during the past 18 years, and a little Googling suggests that it has received virtually no discussion anywhere, except within the most obscure fringes of the Internet.

Most of this seems like very solid factual material, and although the resulting interpretations may differ, I think the hypothesis advanced by Hounam is quite plausible. He suggested that President Johnson helped arrange the attack on the Liberty, hoping to orchestrate a new Tonkin Gulf Resolution but on a much grander scale, allowing him to attack and oust Nasser in retaliation. An American military assault against such an important regional Soviet ally would certainly have raised the risk of a much broader conflict, so our strategic bomber force had been put on full war-alert an hour or more before the Liberty incident unfolded. However, the Liberty and its crew of eyewitnesses somehow managed to stay afloat and survive, and eventually word that their attackers had been Israeli rather than Egyptian reached our top political and military leadership ranks, so the plan had to be abandoned.

Our mainstream media has spent decades scrupulously avoiding the slightest hint that the attack on the Liberty had been part of a broader plot to unseat Nasser, one that probably involved President Johnson. But as the testimony of several eyewitnesses above indicates, many of these facts would have been known at least to the circle of military men and intelligence operatives involved in the project. So we should not be entirely surprised that elements of the story gradually leaked out, though often in garbled, inaccurate, and disjointed fashion.

Indeed, the first substantial account claiming that the Liberty attack had been intentional rather than accidental appeared in the writings of independent journalist Anthony Pearson, who in 1976 published a couple of long articles in Penthouse, allegedly based upon British intelligence sources, and he later incorporated these into his 1978 book Conspiracy of Silence. His account lacked any references, was written in a breathlessly conspiratorial fashion, and contained a number of glaring errors, so it was hardly reliable and usually dismissed. But it did seem to also contain a good deal of material that was only later confirmed by more reliable research, demonstrating that he had access to some knowledgeable individuals. And in his account, Pearson claimed that the attack had been part of a much broader American plan to overthrow Nasser, which suggests such rumors were circulating among his sources.

Bourne’s very thorough research mentioned that similar claims suggesting that the Liberty fell victim to an American-Israeli plan to bring down Nasser had also appeared in two books on intelligence matters published in 1980, Richard Deacon’s The Israeli Secret Service and Stewart Steven’s The Spymasters of Israel. These accounts similarly provided no sources and since they appeared too early to make use of Ennes’ detailed narrative, contained numerous factual errors, but they do further suggest that such theories, whether correct or not, had become quite widespread within intelligence circles.

A Nuclear Strike Against Egypt?

If this were the extent of the historical hypothesis advanced in Hounam’s relatively short book, his work would certainly rank as a remarkable piece of investigative journalism, possibly overturning decades of assumptions about the Liberty incident, and perhaps uncovering one of the most shocking examples of government treachery in American history. But there are additional elements, and although they are far less solidly established, they should not be ignored.

Recollections can easily fade over more than three decades, but some memories remain indelible. Hounam provides a great deal of testimony indicating that the bombers dispatched to strike Egypt in retaliation for its assumed attack on the Liberty may have been armed with nuclear warheads.

Mike Ratigan, a catapult operator on board the U.S.S. America, recalls that his entire ship was put into “Condition November,” a top alert status only used in connection with armed nuclear warheads, and that the special bombs being loaded onto the A-4 Skyhawk bombers were unlike any he had previously seen, while also being escorted by Marine guards, another very unusual situation. There was a widespread belief on the ship that a nuclear attack was about to be launched. For obvious reasons, the Navy had absolute rules that bombers carrying armed nuclear warheads were prohibited from landing on carriers, and after the flight was dispatched and then recalled, the planes were all diverted to a land airbase to be off-loaded, not returning to their carrier for four or five days.

That same carrier had been hosting 28 journalists from British and American media outlets, and some of these individuals also had strong recollections. Jay Goralski, a U.S. reporter, remembered that the bombers were launched in a retaliatory strike against shore targets and that they were only recalled and the strike aborted “at the last moment, just before they would have lost radio contact.” A UPI reporter named Harry Stathos saw the nuclear-armed aircraft being launched, and was told by the deck crew that the strike was targeting Cairo, though he agreed at the time not to disclose any of this information.

Liberty survivor Chuck Rowley later spoke to a carrier pilot who claimed he had flown one of the jets that day, saying he had been carrying nuclear weapons and had been ordered to target Cairo. Other Liberty survivors heard similar stories over the years from naval personnel who described the special alert status that day, as nuclear warheads were armed and loaded onto the bombers preparing to launch. Moe Shafer had been transferred to the Sixth Fleet flagship for treatment of his injuries, and he claimed that the commanding admiral mentioned to him that several of his bombers had been three minutes away from a nuclear attack on Cairo when they were recalled.

Joe Meadors, another former Liberty crewman, later heard from military personnel on Crete their astonishment at having to unload the armed nuclear warheads of bombers that had been diverted there rather than allowed to directly return to the carrier, and they were told that the planes had been sent to strike Cairo in retaliation for the Liberty.

All of this evidence is merely circumstantial, with much of it amounting to hearsay, often reported second or third hand by ordinary servicemen rather than by trained journalists or researchers. But there does seem to be quite a lot of it. Hounam remains somewhat agnostic about whether Cairo had indeed been targeted for a nuclear attack in retaliation for the Liberty, but he does not believe that the possibility can be entirely disregarded.

We must also keep in mind that a nuclear strike against Cairo would not necessarily mean the destruction of the densely populated urban center. The author notes that a squadron of nuclear-capable Soviet strategic bombers were based at a West Cairo airfield far from the urban core, and their presence in the Middle East had aroused great American concerns. He speculates that their destruction in a nuclear attack might have been seen as a very potent demonstration of supreme American power across the entire region but without inflicting the massive casualties of a bombing closer to the center of the city. Admittedly, all of this is pure conjecture, and until additional documents are declassified and made available, we lack the necessary means of forming any solid conclusions.

It is a truism that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and while the hypothesis that America in 1967 came very close to launching a nuclear attack against Nasser’s Egypt certainly falls into the former category, the evidence that Hounam has accumulated does not come close to meeting the requirements of the latter. However, while a month ago I would have regarded such a theory as utterly preposterous lunacy, not warranting a moment’s thought, I now view it as a serious possibility worth considering.

The absolute and total blackout that seems to have immediately enveloped Hounam’s remarkable book hardly increased the likelihood that many new sources would come forward, but the accompanying BBC documentary Dead in the Water was released and aired, becoming the first and only professional media treatment of that important historical episode.

As was appropriate, the bulk of the film covered the basic elements of the Liberty story, though including the suggestion that the motive of the Israeli action had been to provoke an American attack against Egypt and even raising the possibility that the use of nuclear weapons might have been planned. However, any speculation that President Johnson had been involved in the plot was left on the cutting-room floor, and perhaps this was the correct decision to make. The first serious documentary on a highly controversial but almost ignored historical event should probably stick close to the basics and not overly challenge its previously uninformed audience.

Although the documentary was never broadcast on American television, the rights were eventually transferred to the Liberty Veterans Association, which for many years sold the videocassette. A version of adequate quality is now available on Youtube, so those interested in the story of the Liberty may watch it and decide for themselves.

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There is also an intriguing backstory both to Hounam’s book and to the British documentary that had originally brought the author into the topic. The entire project apparently came about through the efforts of Richard Thompson, a former American Intelligence officer, who later became a highly successful international businessman. For years he had been a determined champion of the Liberty issue and the surviving crew members, and he organized and funded the film project, investing a total of $700,000 of his own money to bring it to fruition. After the documentary was complete, Jewish groups in Britain went to court to block its release, forcing Thompson to spend $200,000 in legal fees to overcome their challenge and allow the broadcast. And although Thompson’s name is not listed on the cover of the accompanying book, he seems to have played a major role in providing some of the underlying research and he shared the copyright with Hounam.

Thompson had regularly attended annual Liberty reunions, and at the 40th in 2007, he arranged to meet with Mark Glenn, a journalist for American Free Press, an alternative tabloid newsweekly, known for its willingness to cover controversial issues, including those portraying Israel in a negative light. Thompson claimed to have important new information about the backstory to the Liberty incident, facts that further extended Hounam’s findings, and he promised to provide the material to Glenn in a series of interviews. However, while driving home from Washington the following morning, Thompson died in a strange one-car accident, as his vehicle crossed the dividing meridian of the interstate highway and collided with a tree. Although aged 76, Thompson had seemed in perfect health and he had previously reported being stalked by individuals apparently connected to Israel, so Glenn found his death suspicious, as did Michael Collins Piper, a noted conspiracy-researcher. More of Thompson’s background was provided in a fairly lengthy obituary that appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a well-regarded and somewhat establishmentarian publication critical of Israel.

This possibly suspicious death was not the only one associated with the Liberty issue. Anthony Pearson’s articles in Penthouse and his subsequent book had been the first to claim that the Israeli attack was deliberate, and a few years later he began to complain of persecution by the Mossad; soon afterwards, he was dead, allegedly having been poisoned. Bourne’s research reported that a rather dubious individual involved in numerous unsuccessful attempts during the mid-1980s to raise funding for a film on the Liberty was found shot to death in his Pasadena home in 1988, though the motive for the unsolved homicide may have been entirely unconnected.

Means, Motive, and Opportunity

The especially controversial elements of the theories propounded in Hounam’s 2003 book probably precluded any discussion by most others writing on the Liberty incident, which is why the work never came to my attention until quite recently. In his comprehensive 2009 book, Scott thanked Thompson for having provided him with numerous out-takes from his Dead in the Water documentary, but neither Thompson’s name nor that of Hounam appeared anywhere else in the text, perhaps because such a reference might have alarmed the very mainstream publisher, Simon and Schuster. Hounam’s name also is nowhere to be found on Alison Weir’s website nor that of the U.S.S. Liberty memorial organization. Even individuals who had published several articles on the Liberty were completely unfamiliar with Hounam’s ground-breaking research when I queried them.

However during the last few years, this situation has begun to change. Mellen’s 2018 book had developed a theory quite similar to the one that Hounam had published fifteen years earlier, and she repeatedly referenced him. As I now reread her work, all the severe flaws I had previously noticed were still just as apparent, but I also recognized that she did provide a considerable amount of additional useful information, supplementing Hounam.

The previous year had been the 50th anniversary of the Liberty incident and noted conspiracy researcher Phillip F. Nelson had marked the occasion by releasing a far stronger book on the incident. The author fully acknowledged that he was closely following the trail blazed by Hounam, whose work he repeatedly characterized as “seminal.” Remember the Liberty! was written in association with several of the Liberty survivors and included a Foreword by highly-regarded former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
Nelson was an especially harsh critic of Lyndon Johnson, probably best known for his 2010 and 2014 books marshaling the considerable evidence implicating LBJ in the assassination of his predecessor John F. Kennedy, and at certain points he seemed insufficiently cautious about accepting some of less solidly-attested accusations in the case of the Liberty. But the author does provide a great deal of important information on the president’s very difficult political situation in 1967, persuasively extending Hounam’s argument that a new Tonkin Gulf type event in the Middle East and a sweeping American military victory might have been crucial to Johnson’s prospects for reelection in 1968.

During the three generations since World War II, America has ranked as the world’s leading superpower, with its military possessing unmatched global reach and strength. Although the Liberty was a nearly defenseless intelligence ship sailing international waters, our powerful Sixth Fleet was nearby, so the deadly attack upon the vessel was not merely an obvious war-crime, but a very strange one, perhaps the most serious that our forces had suffered in decades, yet still entirely unpunished even today.

Solving such a crime usually involves a careful consideration of means, motive, and opportunity. There is no doubt that Israel’s military deliberately attacked our ship, but the other two legs of the tripod remain puzzling. The risks that Israel took in its unprovoked attack against the ship of its sole ally were enormous. And the opportunity to sink the Liberty only came about due to a long and very strange series of supposed American communication errors. But if we accept the framework proposed by Hounam, Nelson, Mellen, and their adherents and postulate the secret involvement of President Lyndon Johnson, both these difficulties immediately disappear.

Planning to sacrifice a few hundred American lives and risk World War III to bolster his reelection chances would obviously add a very black mark to the reputation of our 36th president. But based upon my extensive historical research, I do not think he would have been the first American leader to have followed this sort of callous political calculus, although such decisions were afterward concealed by later generations of historians. Indeed, a couple of years ago, I came to very similar conclusions regarding the primary architect behind the outbreak of World War II:

During the 1930s, John T. Flynn was one of America’s most influential progressive journalists, and although he had begun as a strong supporter of Roosevelt and his New Deal, he gradually became a sharp critic, concluding that FDR’s various governmental schemes had failed to revive the American economy. Then in 1937 a new economic collapse spiked unemployment back to the same levels as when the president had first entered office, confirming Flynn in his harsh verdict. And as I wrote last year:

Indeed, Flynn alleges that by late 1937, FDR had turned towards an aggressive foreign policy aimed at involving the country in a major foreign war, primarily because he believed that this was the only route out of his desperate economic and political box, a stratagem not unknown among national leaders throughout history. In his January 5, 1938 New Republic column, he alerted his disbelieving readers to the looming prospect of a large naval military build-up and warfare on the horizon after a top Roosevelt adviser had privately boasted to him that a large bout of “military Keynesianism” and a major war would cure the country’s seemingly insurmountable economic problems. At that time, war with Japan, possibly over Latin American interests, seemed the intended goal, but developing events in Europe soon persuaded FDR that fomenting a general war against Germany was the best course of action. Memoirs and other historical documents obtained by later researchers seem to generally support Flynn’s accusations by indicating that Roosevelt ordered his diplomats to exert enormous pressure upon both the British and Polish governments to avoid any negotiated settlement with Germany, thereby leading to the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The last point is an important one since the confidential opinions of those closest to important historical events should be accorded considerable evidentiary weight. In a recent article John Wear mustered the numerous contemporaneous assessments that implicated FDR as a pivotal figure in orchestrating the world war by his constant pressure upon the British political leadership, a policy that he privately even admitted could mean his impeachment if revealed. Among other testimony, we have the statements of the Polish and British ambassadors to Washington and the American ambassador to London, who also passed along the concurring opinion of Prime Minister Chamberlain himself. Indeed, the German capture and publication of secret Polish diplomatic documents in 1939 had already revealed much of this information, and William Henry Chamberlin confirmed their authenticity in his 1950 book. But since the mainstream media never reported any of this information, these facts remain little known even today.

Postscript: Someone brought to my attention an outstanding four-part documentary series on the story of the Liberty directed by Matthew Skow that was released last year, based upon extensive interviews with the surviving crew members and having very high production values. The overall feature runs nearly five hours, with the last segment focusing primarily on the controversial issues raised in Hounam’s book. It’s available for purchase or rent, and I’d highly recommend it.

Sacrificing Liberty
A Four Episode Docuseries
Matthew Skow • TruHistory Films • 2000 • 4 hours 44 minutes

“The true story of the USS Liberty is more shocking than any spy novel written by Tom Clancy. The most top-secret spy ship in the world. Its client was the NSA. The ship and its 294 U.S. Navy sailors were rushed to the Mediterranean Sea. Only the White House and Pentagon knew that Israel was ready to attack Arab nations. The USS Liberty was deliberately sent into a kill zone. The casualties were staggering: 34 killed and 174 wounded. The coverup began immediately and has continued since 1967. Until now! The aging survivors have finally told their true story. Sacrificing Liberty sets the record straight.”

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.

Oath of Enlistment. No Expiration Date-But There IS an Exception

Merriam-Webster defines Oath as “a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says” and “a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words”

by Joe Meadors

Oaths are administered to both those entering the military and those assuming Congressional office. The text of the two oaths differ a bit:

I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (So help me God).” Military Oath

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” Congressional Oath

There are obvious differences between the two but what they both share is the lack of an expiration date and the obligation to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

What is most notable about both oaths is what is not included, but is sacrosanct, i.e., “immune from criticism or violation.”

YOU WILL ALLOW ISRAEL TO COMMIT WAR CRIMES AGAINST THE UNITED STATES WITH IMPUNITY!

Case in point, the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

We well documented the War Crimes Israel committed during the attack in the War Crimes Report we filed with the Department of the Army on June 8, 2005–the 38th anniversary of the attack on our ship.

The Department of Defense response to our War Crimes Report? Absolutely nothing.

How did Members of Congress respond to requests that they recommend the Department of Defense do something–anything–about our War Crimes Report? They told their constituents that the US government has investigated the attack numerous times and all reported that Israel was blameless.

Said another way, Members of Congress lied to their constituents.

Not allowing ourselves to sit on our laurels, we contacted many Members of Congress and asked them to allow us to provide honest information about the attack for them to use in their boilerplate responses. We’ve done this many times in the past to no avail and to no one’s surprise, this request was again ignored by Congress.

You can help us persuade Congress to move from texts provided by Israel partisans to facts provided by USS Liberty survivors in their boilerplate.

Email your Congressional Delegation and let us know what the response from Congress is.

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 Uniform Code of Military Justice: Not Uniformly Applied

Legal Definition of Uniform Code of Military Justice: “body of laws containing the substantive and procedural law that governs members of the armed services and the military courts.”

by Joe Meadors

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the legal code all members of the Armed Forces operate under.

If they want to.

The same can be said about Department of Defense Directives.

And the US Navy Judge Advocate General Manual.

Let me provide some specific examples where the obligations under the UCMJ, Department of Defense Directives and the US Navy JAG Manual have been waived with respect to the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

Findings of fact constitute an investigating officer’s description of details of events based on evidence. Findings must be as specific as possible about time, places, and persons involved. Each fact may be made a separate finding. An investigating officer may determine the most effective presentation for a particular case. Each fact must be supported by the statement of a witness, statement of the investigating officer, documentary evidence, or tangible (real) evidence attached to the investigative report as an enclosure. Each finding of fact should reference each enclosure that supports it.

JAG Instruction 5800.7G Manual of the Judge Advocate General, Page A-2-g

With that in mind, read the very first Finding of Fact in the US Navy Court of Inquiry Report into the attack on our ship.

Not only will you not find any evidence that the attack was “a case of mistaken identity” in the record as required by the JAG Manual, but it is contradicted by the Court’s own Legal Advisor, Capt. Ward Boston.

Capt. Ward Boston Statement in the Congressional Record October 11, 2004, Page E1877
DoD Directive 5100.77

And then there’s the recall of the aircraft ordered by LBJ while we were still under attack. A clear capital violation of Article 99 of the UCMJ.

UCMJ Article 99 (Emphasis Added)

We have been trying to persuade the Department of Defense to investigate the War Crimes that were committed during the attack ever since we learned that testimony about the deliberate machine gunning of our life rafts given by Lloyd Painter and proferred by Glenn Oliphant has been removed from the Report of the US Navy Court of Inquiry.

The submission of our War Crimes Report on the 38th anniversary of the attack is merely a codification of the repeated requests we have made to the DoD to investigate the War Crimes that were removed from its Report.

The fact that we are still waiting for the US government to investigate the attack should tell you how the DoD responded to our War Crimes Report, all the while waiving is obligations under the UCMJ, the DoD Law of War Program and the Navy JAG Manual.

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 USS Liberty in Pictures

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. We have hundreds of photos of the damage done by the attack. How many words do our pictures tell about the USS Liberty?

by Joe Meadors

Yes, Virginia. There was an attack on the USS Liberty. That may seem to be a novel way to begin a blog post by a USS Liberty survivor. It’s liberally based on a September 21, 1897 editorial in the New York’s Sun written by Francis Pharcellus Church in response to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s question to the editor, “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Francis Pharcellus Church, Sept. 21, 1897 Editorial in the New York’s Sun

The first paragraph of Mr. Church’s editorial can be modified only slightly to address the skepticism some feel about the facts about the attack on our ship.

To address that skepticism and hoping they will believe what they see, let me provide some photos taken following the attack:

I’ll never forget the blood in the forward 50 cal. gun tub sloshing back and forth as the ship rolled.  Wish I had a camera that day.

Wayne Stiles, co-pilot on the first helicopter to reach the USS Liberty following the Israeli attack

Hundreds more photos of the damage inflicted upon the USS Liberty during the attack can be found in the Photos section of our official Facebook Page.

If the physical damage to the ship does not support our effort to ensure the US government finally investigates the attack, consider those killed during the attack.

In the 54+ years since the attack, not a single Member of Congress has attended a Memorial Service honoring those fallen during the attack. There was a time when we held an annual Memorial Service at the site of the mass grave in Arlington National Cemetery, Mass Grave #1817, Section 34 on the anniversary of the attack. That Memorial Service was moved to the Navy Memorial in Washington, DC when it became difficult for some of our supporters to make the walk to the mass grave.

Not a single Member of Congress ever attended or sent an official delegation to attend any of those annual Memorial Services.

Here are those Killed in Action during the attack on the USS Liberty that Members of Congress have deemed to be unworthy of publicly displaying their honor, support and compassion.

Members of Congress live for the opportunity of expressing public affirmations of honor, support and compassion for those lost on the USS Pueblo, USS Stark and USS Cole and the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut.

Members of Congress never miss the opportunity of attending a Memorial Service for those lost in those attacks.

But not for the USS Liberty.

Why is it ok to refuse to attend a Memorial Service for those lost on the USS Liberty?

Where is the outrage?

What did we do that resulted in our being a pariah in the Halls of Congress?

If your son, daughter, father or mother were killed in action and their deaths were treated so disrespectfully by Members of Congress would you sit idly by and allow it to happen?

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.

How Will Historians Study the USS Liberty Attack?

Merriam-Webster defines “history” “as a chronological record of significant events (such as those affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes” and “events that form the subject matter of a history”

They also define “cover-up” as “a usually concerted effort to keep an illegal or unethical act or situation from being made public”

by Joe Meadors

What happens when a few generations from now someone learns about the attack on the USS Liberty and does a bit of research to find out what happened? What sources will be available to them?

The US government?

The DoD and every Member of Congress will point to the US Navy Court of Inquiry Report and the record in the Naval History and Heritage Command as the gold standard of what happened during the attack.

Historians will have access to the US Navy Court of Inquiry Report.

Available evidence combines to indicate the attack on LIBERTY on 8 June was in fact a case of mistaken identity.

US Navy Court of Inquiry Finding of Fact Number One

But they won’t have access to statements from the Members of the Court of Inquiry that bring into question that Finding of Fact. Not on any US government website is Ward Boston’s statement:

I know from personal conversations I had with Admiral Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of “mistaken identity” despite overwhelming evidence to the Contrary.

Capt. Ward Boston, Legal Advisor to the US Navy Court of Inquiry Investigating USS Liberty Attack

They will also be presented with the official US Navy Historian’s position that IS on an official US Navy website:

It involves the mistaken attack by four Israeli jet fighters and three motor torpedo boats (MTB) on the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), which was conducting an intelligence collection mission in international waters off the north coast of the Sinai Peninsula in the midst of the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War. (Emphasis Added)

H-Gram 007 Written by Samuel Cox Senior Executive Service Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired) Director, Naval History and Heritage Command, Curator of the Navy

How about the Israeli government?

The documentation published to the public in the IDF archives is what is in our database. We could not find any additional documentation on the subject.

Limor Itzhak, Director of the public unit, I.D.F & Defense Establishment archives, Ministry of Defense in a Sept. 14, 2021 Email to the Author

We already have the documents included in the IDF Archives posted to our Archive but they’re literally worthless for an effort to determine what happened.

How do you create the honest historical record of an attack on a US Navy ship?

Do it the same way we did for the attacks on the USS Pueblo, USS Stark, USS Cole and the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I view the reaction of Congress to the attack on our ship as a defining moment in the relationship between members of Congress and our military.

In the past many could claim to support the military but oppose the action they are involved in.

Now they ignore the action we were involved in and refuse to honor, support, and even listen to those of us who were involved with the attack on the USS Liberty.

They are trying to bury the attack—and their response to the attack—in the dustbin of history.

Ignore USS Liberty Survivors. Refuse to investigate the attack. Don’t make any complete, official and honest record of the attack.

The attack on the USS Liberty is on the verge of disappearing right before our eyes. We cannot allow that to happen.

Contact your Congressional Delegation and tell them convene a Congressional investigation of the attack on the USS Liberty. Ask them to create an official record of the attack.

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 Liberty Incident Revealed”-Published by USNI Press-Revealed

In his screed about the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, “The Liberty Incident Revealed,” Capt. Jay Cristol paints a picture of an attack different from one that USS Liberty survivors lived through. Despite being highly touted by the US Naval Institute Press, the book doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s obvious purpose is to serve as an Israel apologia.

But it fails miserably.

by Joe Meadors

The USNI Press does yeoman’s work in advertising Jay Cristol’s book, “The Liberty Incident Revealed” That is IF you are into blatant pro-Israel propaganda.

The Liberty Incident Revealed is the complete and final story about the Israeli Air Force and Navy attack on the USS Liberty during the Six Day War in June 1967.

US Naval Institute Press

It is “the complete and final story” about an attack on a US Navy ship that the US government hasn’t investigated in the past 54+ years and shows no inclination to do so now. How can the USNI Press claim Cristol’s account is “the complete and final story” when our own government hasn’t bothered to find out what happened.

Cutting through all of the controversy and conspiracy theories about Israel’s deadly attack, Cristol revises his well-regarded book about the event with an expanded and in-depth analysis of all of the sources, including the released tapes of the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts.

US Naval Institute Press

The NSA tapes should be the gold standard that proves the attack was as Capt. Cristol (and obviously the USNI Press) wants you to believe. That the Israeli military conducted the attack in accordance with international law and US statutes.

But they don’t. In fact, what the NSA has released is virtually worthless when it comes to determining what happened during the attack. Cristol mentions the NSA as if just mentioning the name gives his account credibility.

But it doesn’t. And it is so obvious that it doesn’t that it makes one wonder why the USNI Press included the claim in their advertisement.

The first recording (104) is 15 minutes.

The second recording (105) is 32 minutes.

The third recording (106) is 4 minutes.

The NSA would have you believe that their radio intercept officers turned on their tape recorders for 15 minutes, then turned them off and on again for 32 minutes, then off and finally on again for 4 minutes, then off.

Is that how the NSA works?

Cristol’s successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the NSA, while resulting in the release of those tapes, has been greeted by anti-Israel sources insisting that the NSA tapes are fraudulent and are part of a larger conspiracy to deceive the American public.

US Naval Institute Press

This comment is obviously not directed at us since we don’t insist the NSA tapes are fraudulent but that they are incomplete.

And we don’t believe that a conspiracy exists to deceive the American public.

What we DO believe is that an opposing force committed War Crimes during the attack on the USS Liberty. Further, we believe that the US government has not investigated the attack which makes this the only attack on a US Navy ship since the end of WWII NOT to be the subject of a Congressional investigation, or as the Congressional Research Service tells us, not the subject of a US government investigation.

I will continue this analysis in a subsequent blog entry.

We live to educate the American Public about the attack on our ship and to ensure the US government finally investigates it. To do this, we must enlist those who follow this blog to ask their followers to do the same, etc.

To participate in our effort, please encourage your friends and colleagues to visit our Landing Page and subscribe to our blog updates.

You can also ask the NSA to release all the tapes of the attack. They admit they have them but won’t release them. I’ve asked them so many times they have told me they will simply discard any further requests from me to have them released.

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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