USS Liberty Incident

Date: 
Thursday, June 8, 1967
Country: 
Israel
A 1967 false flag attack by Israel that tried and failed to sink the USS Liberty, a United States Navy signals intercept ship. The investigation was told to "conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity' despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary." Israel paid compensation but always contested that it was accidental.

USS Liberty, stern view. Flag, "GTR5" visible on stern, and see main satellite dish. Note 3 masts.

 

USS Liberty, bow view. Pilot and (and torpedo boat captains) have duty to "at all cost avoid attacks on any neutral merchant ship or warships".

The USS Liberty Incident of 1967 was a combined air and sea attack by Israel's Defense Forces, during the Six Day War, on the United States Navy signals intercept ship USS Liberty, a converted WW2 Victory class cargo ship. The ship was lightly armed with four 0.50 caliber machine guns. There were many radio antennas mounted on its open decks and three large masts, including two large parabolic reflector antennas.

For reasons never stated, President Johnson’s administration did not interfere when notified that the attack was in progress, and both Israel and U.S. governments have officially treated the incident as a case of mistaken identity. Johnson and McNamara told those heading the navy's inquiry to "conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity' despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary."[1]

 

Reliable Sources from independent commentators overwhelmingly dispute "accident theory"

Main article USS Liberty Incident Reliable Sources

"Reliable Sources" are articles/books that have come through a respected publication process showing some degree of editorial control. Eg a book from a respected publisher, a respected newspaper/magazine, or a web-site with multiple respected contributors. The full rule book is at Wikipedia: Reliable Sources.

Every one of the independent or "neutral" commentators (as best as can be ascertained) has come to believe that this attack could not have occured accidentally. This attack was not a case of "Friendly Fire".

However, it is necessary that the reader has the opportunity to check this for themselves and so the listing at the sub-article covers (or is intended to cover) all significant sources, including those showing conflict of interest, other bias or, in some cases, suspicion of fraud. The mass of detail contained within the table of information has been moved to the sub-article to improve readability of the article here.

Chronology

1967

Cover-up

At the behest of the Secretary of Defense and the White House almost everyone involved is ordered not to discuss the incident with anyone eg Ken Ecker Immediately following the attack I was threatened with court-martial if I discussed the incident with the press or anyone else.[2][3] and the Liberty crewmen are transferred to stations far apart from one another, no two at the same place. Several sources identify Admiral Kidd as the officer who threatened them "Kidd told the crew, ‘You are never, repeat never, to discuss this with anyone, not even your wives. If you do, you will be court-martialed and will end your lives in prison or worse.’"[4] In 1991, another survivor, John Hrankowski, wrote to the New York Times to say he was a member of the crew and was told, two hours after the attack, never to speak of it and that order remains in effect to this day.[5]

The surviving crewmembers were dispersed to other ships and told not to discuss the incident with anyone, including their own families. Many never said anything for at least 20 years, for fear of reprisal. Phil Tourney's book "What I saw that day" pulls no punches when he describes how the crew was treated by Admiral Isaac Kidd, with threats of court-martial and imprisonment "or worse" if they told anyone what they saw.[4] "From a first-hand account the author brings forth the viciousness of the attack on a ship that had a large American flag displayed, the carnage inflicted on her crew and the tremendous damage done, which included over 820 bullet and shrapnel holes and areas burned by napalm and a torpedo hole the size of a house."

Israel claims the attack was the result of a string of innocent errors and they mistook the USS Liberty for an Egyptian horse carrier - the El Quisar. This ship, also shown in Jane's Fighting Ships is barely a quarter the size of the Libertyand has a strikingly different outline/appearance.

US demand for disciplinary measures stands today

The official position of the United States of America concerning these events is in a diplomatic note of the 10th June (ie 48 hours after the attack) by Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Addressed to the Israeli Ambassador it says, amongst other things:

... the Secretary of State wishes to make clear that the United States Government expects the Government of Israel also to take the disciplinary measures which international law requires in the event of wrongful conduct by the military personnel of a State."

There has been no statement since then by the United States government reversing or amending this formal position.[6] A blanket absolution was granted by an Israeli judge who said that he had not discovered any deviation from the standard of reasonable conduct. No one in the Israeli government or military ever received any form of reprimand for their involvement in the attack.

1979 James Enness's book

In 1979, James Ennes, officer aboard USS Liberty during the attack, bravely defied the gag order placed on him by the US government and published "Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American intelligence Ship.".

The book reunited the USS Liberty crew and, despite the threats (still being uttered in 2010[7]) and their previous complete isolation from each other, former Liberty crew founded a non-profit Liberty Veterans Association and held a reunion in 1982. Many discovered for the first time that all their colleagues felt the same, the attack could not have been a genuine "Friendly Fire". The servicemen began petitioning Congress for an investigation but only received pro-forma letters from the White House claiming that the attack had already been investigated.

1982 IDF History Report

In 1982, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) History Department, Research and Instruction Branch, produced a comprehensive report about the June 1967 IDF attack on USS Liberty, self-styled as the official Israeli version of the facts. The report is entitled "The Attack on the 'Liberty' Incident."[8]

This report is notable for a picture (p.18) that claimed to be from the gun-camera of the attacking jet - but in fact shows a different ship. Israel has yet to release real gun-camera pictures, but this cannot be one of them. (Note that the original image in the report was extremely poor quality, a better version appeared in the 1987 Thames film).

1986 Jacobsen on war-crimes

The legality of Israel's actions was thoroughly examined by Walter L. Jacobsen and published as "A Juridical Examination of the Israeli Attack on the Liberty," in the Naval Law Review 36, (Winter 1986), 12-13.[9]

The summary of his report says: "Following the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, there were conflicting accounts of the event. Many questions remain unanswered. In this article, LCDR Jacobsen provides an analysis of the attack in light of existing international precepts as they relate to intelligence gathering, freedom of the seas, aggression, and self-defense. Following this analysis, the author concludes that the attack was not supportable in international law and recommends a thorough, public investigation into the attack by the United States Congress."

His report concludes that "[t]he attack was not legally justified....(there were) two further violations of international law...the use of unmarked military aircraft (and) ... the wanton destruction of life rafts."[10]

Jacobsen notes that there is a passing reference to the attack on the Liberty in Professor O'Connell's, The Influence of Law on Seapower (1975). It reads:

On 8 June 1967 Israeli torpedo boats and aircraft attacked the U.S.S. Liberty, an electronic surveillance ship which was monitoring Israeli transmissions from the high seas during the Six Day's War. ... The fact that something is done does not make it legal and Israel is reported to have paid over $3 million in compensation. The illegality may have lain in the attack on a neutral ship or it may have been compounded by the fact that the attack occurred on the high seas. D. O'Connell, The Influence of Law on Seapower 127 (1975).

1987 Thames Television documentary

The British television station, Thames Ltd made a documentary entitled "Attack on the Liberty" that presented the Israeli version whereby this was an accident and a "friendly fire" incident. Thames presented a 2nd "gun-camera picture" provided by Israel, one which was to puzzle analysts for years. In 2002 Ken Halliwell proposed that it was a fake, a US picture of the right ship taken weeks after the attack. See entry below for 2002.

2001 retired servicemen start to speak

Previous to the year 2001, it almost appeared as if the matter would be hushed up completely. Admiral Kidd, who presided over the original Court of Inquiry is known to have wanted the whole case reexamined, speaking to Boston and Ennes and other survivors and yet never put anything into writing until his death in 1999.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Thomas Moorer was 89 years old (b.1912, d.2004) when he summed up the Liberty incident in 2001:

"It’s ridiculous to say this was an accident. There was good weather, she was flying the U.S. flag and the planes and torpedo boats attacked over a long period of time."[11]

In 2003, Moorer's "Independent Investigation" reported and condemned Israel and in the Jan. 16, 2004, edition of the Stars and Stripes 2004, less than a month before he died, he wrote: While State Department officials and historians converge on Washington this week to discuss the 1967 war in the Middle East, I am compelled to speak out about one of U.S. history's most shocking cover-ups.[12]

2001 History News Network

A special edition documentary on the USS Liberty incident was broadcast by the History News Network in the summer of 2001, with particular attention to the allegations made in book of James Bamford, "Body of Secrets" which it describes as having "attracted a great deal of attention".

History News Network then published a rejoinder from AJ Cristol,[13] The judge concludes that Bamford is guilty of telling "tall tales."

2002 flurry of interest and accusations

"The Liberty Incident" by Jay Cristol

Determined that discussion of this incident was best written off as a "conspiracy theory", supporters of Israel had never published a book presenting their case. In 2002, after some 15 years[citation needed] of research, including interviews of 500 Israelis and 7 survivors, Jay Cristol published "The Liberty Incident" defending Israel's "accident theory" for the incident.