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As on November 17, 2009
Taken from: Wikipedia - USS Liberty incident
The USS Liberty incident was an attack on a United States Navy technical research ship, USS Liberty, by Israeli jet fighter planes followed by motor torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War. The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members (naval officers, seamen, two Marines, and a civilian), wounded 171 crew members, and severely damaged the ship. At the time, the ship was in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula, about 25.5 nautical miles (47.2 km) northwest from the Egyptian city of Arish.
Both the Israeli and US governments conducted inquiries into the incident, and issued reports, which concluded that the attack was a mistake, due to Israeli confusion about the identity of the USS Liberty. Some US diplomats, veterans and intelligence officials who were involved in the incident continue to dispute these official findings, saying the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was not a mistake, and it remains the only major maritime incident in US history not investigated by the US Congress.
In May 1968, the Israeli government paid US$3,323,500 as full payment on behalf of the families of the 34 men killed in the attack. In March 1969 Israel paid a further $3,566,457 in compensation to the men who had been wounded. On 18 December 1980 Israel agreed to pay $6 million as settlement for the US claim of $7,644,146 for material damage to the Liberty itself.
On December 17, 1987, the issue was officially closed by the two governments through an exchange of diplomatic notes.
The attack on the Liberty
USS Liberty was originally the 7,725-ton (light) civilian cargo vessel Simmons Victory (a mass-produced, standard-design Victory Ship, the follow-on series to the famous Liberty Ships which supplied the United Kingdom and Allied troops with cargo). She was acquired by the United States Navy, converted to an Auxiliary Technical Research Ship (AGTR), and began her first deployment in 1965, to waters off the west coast of Africa. She carried out several more operations during the next two years.
Events leading up to the attack
During the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations, the United States of America maintained a neutral country status. Shortly before the war began, the USS Liberty was ordered to proceed to the eastern Mediterranean to perform an electronic intelligence collection mission. After the war erupted, due to concerns about her safety as she approached her patrol area, several messages were sent to Liberty to increase her allowable closest point of approach (CPA) to Egypt's and Israel's coasts from 12.5 nautical miles (23 km) and 6.5 nautical miles (12 km), respectively, to 20 nautical miles (37 km) and 15 nautical miles (17 km), and then later to 100 nautical miles (185 km) for both countries. Unfortunately, due to ineffective message handling and routing, the CPA change messages were not received until after the attack.
At the start of the war on June 5, Israeli sources said that General Yitzhak Rabin (then IDF Chief of Staff) informed Commander Ernest Carl Castle, the American Naval Attaché in Tel Aviv, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal, including sinking unidentified ships. He asked the U.S. to keep its ships away from the shore or at least inform Israel of their exact position. With the Liberty in international waters and gathering intelligence, the United States did not provide any information about its location.
American sources said that no inquiry about ships in the area was made until after the Liberty attack ended. In a message sent from U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk to U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Rusk asked for "urgent confirmation" of Israel's claim. Barbour responded: "No request for info on U.S. ships operating off Sinai was made until after Liberty incident." Further, Barbour stated: "Had Israelis made such an inquiry it would have been forwarded immediately to the chief of naval operations and other high naval commands and repeated to dept [Department of State]."
With the outbreak of war, Captain William L. McGonagle of the Liberty immediately asked Vice Admiral William I. Martin at the U.S. 6th Fleet headquarters to send a destroyer to accompany the Liberty and serve as its armed escort and as an auxiliary communications center. The following day, June 6, Admiral Martin replied: “Liberty is a clearly marked United States ship in international waters, not a participant in the conflict and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation. Request denied.” He promised, however, that in the unlikely event of an inadvertent attack, jet fighters from the Sixth Fleet could be overhead in ten minutes.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, and in response to Arab complaints that the U.S. and British were supporting Israel in the conflict, United States Ambassador Goldberg announced, that the U.S. forces were hundreds of miles from the conflict. At the time the statement was made, this was the case, since the Liberty was just entering the Mediterranean Sea but would ultimately steam to within a few miles of the Sinai Peninsula.
On the night of June 7 Washington time, early morning on June 8, 0110Z or 3:10 AM local time, the Pentagon issued an order to Sixth Fleet headquarters to tell the Liberty to come no closer than 100 nautical miles (185 km) to Israel, Syria, or the Sinai coast (Oren, p. 263). (pages 5 and Exhibit N, page 58).
According to the Naval Court of Inquiry(p. 23 ff, p. 111 ff) and National Security Agency official history, the order to withdraw was not broadcast on the frequencies that the Liberty crew was monitoring for orders until 1525 Zulu, hours after the attack, due to a long series of administrative and communications problems. The Navy said a large volume of unrelated high-precedence traffic, including intelligence intercepts related to the conflict, was being handled at the time and it also faulted a shortage of qualified radio men as a contributing factor to the failure to send the withdrawal message to Liberty in time.(p. 111 ff)
During the morning of the attack, early June 8, the ship was overflown by Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft including a Nord Noratlas "flying boxcar" and Mirage III jet fighters eight times. At least some of those flybys were from a close range. At about 5:45 a.m. Sinai time (GMT +2) reports were first received at Israeli Central Coastal Command (CCC) about the Liberty, identified by pilots as a Destroyer and the vessel was placed on the plot board using a red marker, indicating an unknown vessel. At 6:03 a.m. that morning, the Nord identified the ship as a U.S. supply ship, though the marker was only changed from the red 'unknown ship' to a green 'neutral ship' at 9 a.m., when CCC was ordered to do so after naval command inquired as to the marker's status. Also around 9 a.m. an Israeli jet reported that a ship north of El-Arish had opened fire on him after he tried to identify the vessel, resulting in naval command dispatching two destroyers to investigate. These destroyers returned to previous positions at 9:40 a.m. after doubts emerged during debriefing over the pilot's claim of receiving fire. When the Nord landed and its naval observer was debriefed, the ship was further identified as the USS Liberty based its "GTR-5" markings. Many Liberty crewmen gave testimony that one of the aircraft flew so close to Liberty that its propellers rattled the deck plating of the ship, and the pilots waved to the crew of Liberty, and the crewmen waved back.. The ship was removed from CCC's plot board at 11 am, due to its positional information being stale.
At 11:24 a.m., the Central Coastal Command received the first of several reports that El Arish, on the Sinai coast was being shelled from the sea, and half an hour later sent three torpedo boats to investigate. This was near the Liberty's position.
The ship, at this time, was slowly heading westward, in international waters, along the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. By 2 p.m, his course took the Liberty approximately 45 kilometers from its last sighting by IAF pilots.
At 1:41 p.m., the torpedo boats detected a target "20 miles northwest of El Arish and 14 miles off the coast of Bardawil" on their radar. The Combat Information Center officer on the torpedo boat Division flagship, "Ensign Yifrach Aharon, reported that the target had been detected at a range of 22 miles, that her speed had been tracked for a few minutes, after which he had determined that the target was moving westward at a speed of 30 knots. These data were forwarded to the Fleet Operations Control Center."
The speed of the target was significant because it indicated that the target was a combat vessel. "The Chief of Naval Operations asked the [torpedo boat] Division to double-check their calculations." "A few minutes later, the Division Commander reported that the target, now 17 miles from him, was moving at a speed of 28 knots" on a different heading. "Since the Division was cruising at the same speed as the target, and therefore could not intercept it the Division commander requested that IAF planes be dispatched."
At 1:48 p.m., the Chief of Naval Operations requested dispatch of IAF fighter aircraft to the ship's location. Two Mirage III type aircraft arrived at the ship at about 2:00 p.m. The formation leader, Captain Spector, reported the vessel appeared like some type of non-Israeli warship. Authorization to attack was issued by the chief air controller, Lieutenant Colonel Shmuel Kislev, immediately after a recorded exchange between a command headquarters weapons systems officer, one of the air controllers, and the chief air controller questioning a possible American presence.
The air and sea attacks
Beginning about 2 p.m. the Liberty was attacked by several IAF aircraft, initially by two Mirage IIIs, employing cannon, rockets and bombs, followed by two Dassault Mysteres carrying napalm. One napalm bomb hit the ship. The leader of the Mirage formation identified the ship as a destroyer, mistaking the off-center fed parabolic antenna on its forecastle for a gun. The fact that the ship had Western markings led IDF Chief of Staff Rabin to fear that the ship was Soviet, he ordered the planes and a three torpedo boat squadron which had been ordered into the area, to withhold fire pending positive identification of the ship, and sent in two helicopters to search for survivors. These radio communications were recorded by Israel. The order also was recorded in the ship's log, although the commander of the torpedo boat squadron stated that he had not received it.
When the commander of torpedo boats could see the Liberty, he immediately realized the ship was not a destroyer or any type of warship capable of 30 knots (56 km/h) speed. He immediately ordered the attack stopped pending better identification "although this was difficult due to the billowing clouds of smoke which enveloped the vessel; only her bow, part of her bridge and the tip of her mast could be discerned." The commander attempted to signal the ship but got a reply asking him to identify himself. He also observed gun fire from the ship. He consulted an Israeli identification guide to Arab fleets and concluded the ship was the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir. Another of his boat captains reached the same conclusion. Based on that identification, the gun fire and what he considered an evasive response to his signal, the commander ordered the attack to proceed.(ibid. p. 17)
Liberty turns to evade Israeli torpedo boats.The Liberty's captain, Commander McGonagle, was wounded during the air attack, but he remained in command on the ship's bridge. He testified, at the Naval Court of Inquiry, that "about midway during the [air] attack Ensign Lucas was noted on the bridge and at that time he became my assistant and assisted me in every way possible." Further, he testified that during "the latter moments of the air attack, it was noted that three high speed boats were approaching the ship from the northeast on a relative bearing of approximately 135 [degrees] at a distance of about 15 [nautical] miles. The ship at the time was still on [westward] course 283 [degrees] true, speed unknown, but believed to be in excess of five knots." McGonagle "believed that the time of initial sighting of the torpedo boats...was about 1420" (2:20 PM local time). He testified that the "boats appeared to be in a wedge type formation with the center boat the lead point of the wedge. Estimated speed of the boats was about 27 to 30 knots (56 km/h)," and that it "appeared that they were approaching the ship in a torpedo launch attitude." McGonagle "told a man from the bridge...to proceed to [machine gun] mount 51 and take the boats under fire." He then testified: "When the boats reached an approximate range of 2,000 yards, the center boat of the formation was signaling to us. Also, at this range, it appeared that they were flying an Israeli flag." It was not possible to "read the signals from the center torpedo boat because of the intermittent blocking of view by smoke and flames." McGonagle "realized that there was a possibility of the aircraft having been Israeli and the attack had been conducted in error." So, he "yelled to [the man in] machine gun [mount] 51 to tell him to hold fire." But the man "fired a short burst at the boats before he was able to understand" McGonagle's order. At this same time, McGonagle realized that "machine gun 53 began firing at the center boat," and he observed that its fire was "extremely effective and blanketed the area and the center torpedo boat." Machine gun mount 53 was located on the starboard amidships side, behind the pilot house. McGonagle could not see or "get to mount 53 from the starboard wing of the bridge." So, he "sent Mr. Lucas around the port side of the bridge, around to the skylights, to see if he could tell [Seaman] Quintero, whom [he] believed to be the gunner on Machine gun 53, to hold fire." Lucas "reported back in a few minutes in effect that he saw no one at mount 53." McGonagle expressed that he felt "sure that [the torpedo boat captains] felt that they were under fire from USS Liberty". (pages 37, 38, 39, 40)
Ensign Lucas testified at the Naval Court of Inquiry that he left Liberty's bridge during the air attack and returned during the torpedo boat attack, before the torpedo hit. While on the bridge, he assisted Captain McGonagle and wrote entries in the Quartermaster's notebook. He stated that Liberty was "attempting to get away from the area as fast as possible, on an approximate course of 000" (north) during the air and torpedo boat attack. After the torpedo hit, Lucas stated there was "some firing from the patrol boats", and that the "man in charge of mount 53 [the starboard amidships machine gun], Seaman Quintero, hollered to me, 'should I fire back?', and I gave him an affirmative on that. This was before he [Quintero] and the other men in mount 53 had been chased away by the fire and flames from the motor whaleboat." During a lull in firing from the torpedo boats, Lucas stated that "it sounded as if [mount 53] was firing at the patrol craft." Captain McGonagle sent him to tell the men to stop firing, but he found nobody manning the gun. Lucas speculated that the firing may have been ammunition "cooking off and firing", due to the nearby whaleboat fire. Additionally, at some point during the torpedo boat attack, Lucas recalled that a Seaman either volunteered or was ordered to go to the forward starboard machine gun mount and fired one shot before Captain McGonagle ordered him to cease fire. At about this same time, "the patrol craft were bearing approximately 160 relative", and one of them was trying to signal via blinking light. Lucas stated that "smoke from the motor whaleboat almost completely obscured the patrol craft", making it impossible to read the signal. (pages 14, 15, 16, 26, 27)
The Israeli torpedo boats attacked with cannon fire and launched five torpedoes at Liberty. One hit Liberty on the starboard side forward of the superstructure, creating a 40 feet (12 m) wide hole in what had been a former cargo hold converted to the ship's research spaces and killing 25 servicemen. It has been said that the torpedo hit a major hull frame which absorbed much of the energy; crew members reported that if the torpedo had missed the frame the Liberty would have split in two. Russian linguist and Marine Staff Sergeant Bryce Lockwood later commented: "I would never deny that it was God that kept the Liberty afloat!".
Most of the U.S. deaths and injuries in the incident were caused by the torpedo blast. According to some witnesses, the torpedo boats then approached Liberty and strafed crewmen (including damage control parties and sailors preparing life rafts for launch) on deck. (See disputed details below.)
Aftermath of the attack
At about 4 pm, two hours after the attack began, Israel informed the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv about the incident and later provided a helicopter to fly a U.S. naval attaché to the ship.(pp. 32,34) When the ship was confirmed to be American, the torpedo boats returned at about 4:40 pm to offer help; it was refused by the American ship.
Though Liberty was severely damaged, with a 39-foot (12 m) wide by 24-foot (7.3 m) high hole and a twisted keel, her crew kept her afloat, and she was able to leave the area under her own power. She was escorted to Malta by units of the U.S. 6th Fleet and was there given interim repairs. After these were completed in July 1967, Liberty returned to the United States. She was decommissioned in June 1968 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register. Liberty was transferred to United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) in December 1970 and sold for scrap in 1973.
From the start, the veracity of the Israeli claims of mistaken identity ranged between frank disbelief and unquestioning acceptance, within the administration in Washington. A communication to the Israeli Ambassador on June 10, by Secretary Rusk stated, among other things: “At the time of the attack, the USS Liberty was flying the American flag and its identification was clearly indicated in large white letters and numerals on its hull. … Experience demonstrates that both the flag and the identification number of the vessel were readily visible from the air…. Accordingly, there is every reason to believe that that the USS Liberty was identified, or at least her nationality determined, by Israeli aircraft approximately one hour before the attack. … The subsequent attack by the torpedo boats, substantially after the vessel was or should have been identified by Israeli military forces, manifests the same reckless disregard for human life.”
George Lenczowski notes: “It was significant that, in contrast to his secretary of state, President Johnson fully accepted the Israeli version of the tragic incident.” He notes that Johnson himself only included one small paragraph about the Liberty in his autobiography, in which he accepted the Israeli explanation of “error”, but also minimized the whole affair and distorted the actual number of dead and wounded, by lowering them from 34 to 10 and 171 to 100, respectively. Lenczowski further states: “It seems Johnson was more interested in avoiding a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union, …than in restraining Israel.”
McGonagle received the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. medal, for his actions. The Medal of Honor is generally presented by the President of the United States in the White House, but this time it was awarded at the Washington Navy Yard by the Secretary of the Navy in an unpublicized ceremony, breaking with established tradition. It also breaks the tradition in that, since 1942, the medal has been only awarded for actions on the face of the enemy, but in this case the attacker (Israel) was an ally at the time and it was ruled a friendly fire accident.
Other Liberty sailors received decorations for their actions during and after the attack, but most of the award citations omitted mention of Israel as the perpetrator. In 2009, however, a Silver Star awarded to crewmember Terry Halbardier, who braved machine-gun and cannon fire to repair a damaged antenna that restored the ship's communications, in the award citation named Israel as the attacker.
Investigations of the attack
American Government Investigations
American inquiries, memoranda, records of testimony, and various reports involving the Liberty attack include but are not limited to the following:
- U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry of June 1967
- Joint Chief of Staff's Report of June 1967
- CIA Intelligence Memorandums of June 1967
- Clark Clifford Report of July 1967
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony of July 1967
- House Armed Services Committee Investigation of 1971
- The NSA History Report of 1981
The U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry record contains indepth testimony by a limited number of Liberty crew members and subject matter experts; exhibits of attack damage photographs, various messages and memorandums; and findings of fact. As to culpability, "It was not the responsibility of the court to rule on the culpability of the attackers, and no evidence was heard from the attacking nation", the court concluded that "available evidence combines to indicate..(that the attack was) a case of mistaken identity." Additionally, the Court found that "heroism displayed by the Commanding Officer, officers and men of the Liberty was exceptional."
The Joint Chief of Staff's Report contains findings of fact related only to communication system failures associated with the Liberty attack. It was not concerned with matters of culpability, nor does it contain statements thereof.
The CIA Memorandums consist of two documents: one dated June 13, 1967, and the other dated June 21, 1967. The June 13 memorandum is an "account of circumstances of the attack...compiled from all available sources." The June 21 memorandum is a point-by-point analysis of Israeli inquiry findings of fact. It concludes: "The attack was not made in malice toward the US and was by mistake, but the failure of the IDF Headquarters and the attacking aircraft to identify the Liberty and the subsequent attack by torpedo boats were both incongruous and indicative of gross negligence."
The Clark Clifford Report consists of a review of "all available information on the subject" and "deals with the question of Israeli culpability", according to its transmittal memorandum. The report concludes: "The unprovoked attack on the Liberty constitutes a flagrant act of gross negligence for which the Israeli Government should be held completely responsible, and the Israeli military personnel involved should be punished."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony contains, as an aside matter, questions and statements from several senators and responses from then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, about the Liberty attack. For the most part, the senators were dismayed about the attack, as expressed by Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper: "From what I have read I can't tolerate for 1 minute that this [attack] was an accident." Also, there was concern about obtaining more information about the attack, as expressed by the committee's chairman: "We asked for [the attack investigation report] about 2 weeks ago and have not received it yet from Secretary Rusk." Secretary McNamara promised to arrange fast delivery of the investigation report and concluded his remarks by saying: "I simply want to emphasize that the investigative report does not show any evidence of a conscious intent to attack a U.S. vessel."
The House Armed Services Committee Investigation report is entitled, "Review of Department of Defense Worldwide Communications". It was not an investigation focused on the Liberty attack; although, the committee's report contains a section that describes communications flow involved with the Liberty incident.
The NSA History Report is, as its name connotes, a historical report that cited the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry record, various military and government messages and memorandum, and personal interviews for its content. The report ends with a section entitled, "Unanswered Questions", and provides no conclusion regarding culpability.
Critics—including an active group of survivors from the ship—assert that U.S. congressional investigations and other U.S. investigations were not actually investigations into the attack; but, rather, reports using evidence only from the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, or investigations unrelated to culpability that involved issues such as communications. In their view, the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry is the only actual investigation on the incident to date. They claim it was hastily conducted, in only 10 days, even though the court’s president, Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, said that it would take 6 months to conduct properly. The inquiry's terms of reference were limited to whether any shortcomings on the part of the Liberty's crew had contributed to the injuries and deaths that resulted from the attack. According to the Navy Court of Inquiry's record of proceedings, four days were spent hearing testimony: two days for 14 survivors of the attack and several U.S. Navy expert witnesses, and two partial days for two expert U.S. Navy witnesses. No testimony was heard from Israeli personnel involved.
The National Archives in College Park, Md., includes in its files on casualties from the Liberty copies of the original telegrams the Navy sent out to family members. The telegrams called the attack accidental. The telegrams were sent out June 9, the day before the Navy court of inquiry convened.
Israeli Government Investigations
Two subsequent Israeli inquiry reports and an historical report concluded the attack was conducted because Liberty was confused with an Egyptian vessel and because of failures in communications between Israel and the U.S. The three Israeli reports were:
- Fact Finding Inquiry by Colonel Ram Ron ("Ram Ron Report" - June 1967)
- Preliminary Inquiry (Hearing) by Examining Judge Y. Yerushalmi ("Yerushalmi Report" - July 1967) (Adjudication of IDF negligence complaints.)
- Historical Report "The Liberty Incident" - IDF History Department Report (1982)
In the historical report, it was acknowledged that IDF naval headquarters knew at least three hours before the attack that the ship was "an electromagnetic audio-surveillance ship of the U.S. Navy" but concluded that this information had simply "gotten lost, never passed along to the ground controllers who directed the air attack nor to the crews of the three Israeli torpedo boats."
The Israeli government said that three crucial errors were made: the refreshing of the status board (removing the ship's classification as American, so that the later shift did not see it identified), the erroneous identification of the ship as an Egyptian vessel, and the lack of notification from the returning aircraft informing Israeli headquarters of markings on the front of the hull (markings that would not be found on an Egyptian ship). As a common root of these problems, Israel blamed the combination of alarm and fatigue experienced by the Israeli forces at that point of the war when pilots were severely overworked.
After conducting his own fact-finding inquiry and reviewing evidence, Judge Yerushalmi's decision was: "I have not discovered any deviation from the standard of reasonable conduct which would justify committal of anyone for trial." In other words, he found no negligence by any IDF member associated with the attack.
Ongoing controversy and unresolved questions
Many intelligence and military officials dispute Israel's explanation.
Dean Rusk, US Secretary of State at the time of the incident, wrote:
“ I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn't believe them then, and I don't believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous. ”
Retired naval Lieutenant Commander James Ennes, a junior officer (and off-going Officer of the Deck) on USS Liberty (AGTR-5)'s bridge at the time of the attack, has authored a book titled Assault on the Liberty (Random House, 1980; Ballantine Books 1986; Reintree Press 2004) about the incident during the Six Day War in June, 1967 claiming it was deliberate. Ennes and Joe Meadors, another survivor of the attack, run a website about the incident. Meadors states that the classification of the attack as deliberate is the official policy of the association, to which all known survivors belong. Other survivors run several additional websites. Citing Ennes's book, Lenczowski notes: Liberty's personnel received firm orders not to say anything to anybody about the attack, and the naval inquiry was conducted in such a way as to earn it the name of "coverup".
In 2002 Captain Ward Boston, JAGC, U.S. Navy, senior counsel for the Court of Inquiry, claimed that the Court of Inquiry's findings were intended to cover up what was a deliberate attack by Israel on a ship it knew to be American. In 2004, in response to the publication of Jay Cristol’s book The Liberty Incident which Boston claimed was an "insidious attempt to whitewash the facts" he prepared and signed an affidavit in which he claimed that Admiral Kidd had told him that the government ordered Kidd to falsely report that the attack was a mistake, and that he and Kidd both believed the attack was deliberate. On the issue Boston wrote, in part:
“ The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack, which killed 34 American sailors and injured 172 others, was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. Each evening, after hearing testimony all day, we often spoke our private thoughts concerning what we had seen and heard. I recall Admiral Kidd repeatedly referring to the Israeli forces responsible for the attack as 'murderous bastards.' It was our shared belief, based on the documentary evidence and testimony we received first hand, that the Israeli attack was planned and deliberate, and could not possibly have been an accident. ”
Cristol wrote about Boston's professional qualifications and integrity, on page 149 of his book:
“ Boston brought two special assets in addition to his skill as a Navy lawyer. He had been a naval aviator in World War II and therefore had insight beyond that of one qualified only in the law. Also, Kidd knew him as a man of integrity. On an earlier matter Boston had been willing to bump heads with Kidd when Boston felt it was more important to do the right thing than to curry favor with the senior who would write his fitness report. ”
Cristol believes that Boston is not telling the truth about Kidd's views and any pressure from the U.S. government. A. Jay Cristol, who also served as an officer of the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General, suggests that Boston was responsible in part for the original conclusions of the Court of Inquiry, and that by later declaring that they were false he has admitted to "lying under oath." Cristol also notes that Boston's claims about pressure on Kidd were hearsay, and that Kidd was not alive to confirm or deny them. He also notes that Boston did not maintain prior to his affidavit and comments related to it that Kidd spoke of such instructions to him or to others. Finally, he provides a handwritten 1991 letter from Admiral Kidd that, according to Cristol, "suggest that Ward Boston has either a faulty memory or a vivid imagination".
The Anti-Defamation League supports Cristol's opinion:
“ ...according to his own account, Boston's evidence of a cover-up derives not from his own part in the investigation but solely on alleged conversations with Admiral Kidd, who purportedly told him he was forced to find that the attack was unintentional. Kidd died in 1999 and there is no way to verify Boston's allegations. However, Cristol argues that the 'documentary record' strongly indicated that Kidd 'supported the validity of the findings of the Court of Inquiry to his dying day.' ”
However, according to James Ennes, Admiral Kidd urged him and his group to keep pressing for an open congressional probe.
The following arguments, found in official reports or other sources, were published to support that the attack was due to mistaken identity:
Friendly fire accidents do occur in wartime. The day before the attack on the Liberty, Israeli aircraft had bombed an Israeli armored column south of the West Bank town of Jenin, demonstrating such mistakes do happen.
The incident took place during the Six Day War when Israel was engaged in battles with two Arab countries and preparing to attack a third, creating an environment where mistakes and confusion were prevalent. For example, at 11:45, a few hours before the attack, there was a large explosion on the shores of El-Arish followed by black smoke, probably caused by the destruction of an ammunition dump by retreating Egyptian forces. The Israeli army thought the area was being bombarded, and that an unidentified ship offshore was responsible. (According to U.S. sources, Liberty was 14 nautical miles (26 km) from those shores at the time of the explosion.)
As the torpedo boats rapidly approached, Liberty opened fire on them. This was after the aerial attacks. At the inquiry, Commander McGonagle expressed that he felt sure the torpedo boat captains believed they were under fire from the Liberty. No successful argument of benefit has been presented for Israel purposely attacking an American warship, especially considering the high cost of predictable complications that would follow after attacking a powerful ally, and the fact that Israel notified the American embassy immediately after the attack, according to former head of the Israeli Navy in 1967, Admiral Shlomo Erell.
Amidships starboard hull and superstructure attack damage.Several books and the BBC documentary USS Liberty: Dead in the Water argued that Liberty was attacked in order to prevent the U.S. from knowing about the forthcoming attack in the Golan Heights, which apparently would violate a cease-fire to which Israel's government had agreed. Russian author Joseph Daichman, in his book "History of the Mossad" states Israel was justified in attacking the Liberty. Israel knew that American radio signals were intercepted by the Soviet Union, and that the Soviets would certainly inform Egypt of the fact that by moving troops to the Golan Heights, Israel had left the Egyptian border undefended. Such a motive remains only speculation, however, and in fact the USS Liberty had no Hebrew translators on board, but was manned to monitor Arabic and Soviet radio traffic, although Israel may not have known this.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Barbour, had reported on the day of the Liberty attack that he "would not be surprised" by an Israeli attack on Syria, and the IDF Intelligence chief told a White House aide then in Israel that "there still remained the Syria problem and perhaps it would be necessary to give Syria a blow,"
The 1981 book Weapons by Russell Warren Howe asserts that Liberty was accompanied by the Polaris armed Lafayette class submarine USS Andrew Jackson, which filmed the entire episode through its periscope but was unable to provide assistance. According to Howe: "Two hundred feet below the ship, on a parallel course, was its 'shadow'- the Polaris strategic submarine Andrew Jackson, whose job was to take out all the Israeli long-range missile sites in the Negev if Tel Aviv decided to attack Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad. This was in order that Moscow would not have to perform this task itself and thus trigger World War Three."
James Bamford, a former ABC News producer, in his 2001 book Body of Secrets, proposes a different possible motive for a deliberate attack: to prevent the discovery of a massacre by the IDF of Egyptian prisoners of war that was supposedly taking place at the same time in the nearby town of El-Arish. In 1995, mass graves of Egyptian soldiers were discovered outside of El-Arish, and IDF veterans have admitted that unarmed civilians and prisoners of war were murdered in the 1967 War.
In 2003, journalist Peter Hounam wrote Operation Cyanide: How the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III, which proposes a completely different theory regarding the incident. In an attempt to explain why there was no support by U.S. forces as backup, Hounam claims that Israel and U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson had secretly agreed on day four of the Six Day War that Liberty would be sunk with complete loss of life. The attack would be blamed on Egypt, allowing the U.S. in turn to attack Egypt, thus helping out Israel. However, according to Hounam's theory, because the Liberty did not sink after two hours, the plan was quickly reversed, Israel apologized for the case of mistaken identity, and a cover-up put into place.
The press release for the BBC documentary (2002) states that new recorded and other evidence suggests the attack was a "daring ploy by Israel to fake an Eygptian attack" to give America a reason to enter the war against Egypt. Convinced that that attack was real, President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson launched nuclear-armed planes targeted against Cairo from a US aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. The planes were recalled only just in time, when it was clear the Liberty had not sunk and that Israel had carried out the attack. The main source for this information, Ennes, later stated that he was probably wrong in his original book. According to him it were not nuclear-armed planes, but most likely Bullpup missiles. The video also provides evidence of a covert alliance of US and Israel intelligence agencies.
Admiral Thomas H. Moore, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a critic of the official United States Government version of events, chaired a non-governmental investigation into the attack on the USS Liberty in 2003. The committee, which included former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia James E. Akins, held Israel to be culpable and suggested several theories for Israel's possible motives, including the desire to bring the US into the Six Day War against Egypt.
NSA tapes and recent developments
On July 2, 2003, the National Security Agency released copies of the recordings made by an EC-121 aircraft that flew near the attacks from 2:30 p.m. to 3:27 p.m., Sinai time (1230 to 1327 Z), and the resultant translations and summaries. These revelations were elicited as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Florida bankruptcy judge and retired naval aviator Jay Cristol. Two linguists who were aboard the EC-121 when the recordings were made, however, have claimed separately that at least two additional tapes were made that have been excluded from the NSA releases up to and including a June 8, 2007 release.
English transcripts of the tapes—recorded by U.S. warplanes—indicate that Israel still believed it had hit an Egyptian supply ship even after the attack had stopped. After the attack, the rescue helicopters are heard relaying several urgent requests that the rescuers ask the first survivor pulled out of the water what his nationality is, and discussing whether the survivors from the attacked ship will speak Arabic.
The NSA reported that there had been no radio intercepts related to the attack made by the Liberty herself, nor there had been any radio intercepts made by the U.S. submarine Amberjack.
Within an hour of learning that the Liberty had been torpedoed the Director, NSA, LTG Marshall S. Carter, USA, sent a message to all intercept sites requesting a special search of all communications that might reflect the attack or reaction. No communications were available. However, one of the airborne platforms, a U.S. Navy EC-121, had collected voice conversations between two Israeli helicopter pilots and the control tower at Hazor Airfield following the attack on the Liberty.
The NSA-translated tapes show that the helicopters were first dispatched to rescue Egyptians (control tower to helicopter 815 at 1234Z: "The ship has now been identified as an Egyptian ship"), and that they demonstrate confusion as to the identification of the target ship. (e.g. control tower to helicopter 815 at 1310Z "The first thing is for you to clarify what nationality they are. Notify me immediately.") Cristol adds: "The tapes confirm that the helicopter pilot observed the flag at 3:12 p.m." (1312Z) which would coincide with the audio tapes the Israel Air Force released to Cristol of the radio transmissions before, during and after the attack. The English translations of the Israeli Air Force tapes are published in Appendix 2 of Cristol's book The Liberty Incident.
On October 10, 2003, The Jerusalem Post ran an interview with Yiftah Spector, one of the pilots who participated in the attack, and thought to be the lead pilot of the first wave of planes. Spector said the ship was assumed to be Egyptian, stating that: "I circled it twice and it did not fire on me. My assumption was that it was likely to open fire at me and nevertheless I slowed down and I looked and there was positively no flag." The interview also contains the transcripts of the Israeli communications about the Liberty. The journalist who transcribed the tapes for that article, Arieh O'Sullivan, later confirmed that "the Israeli Air Force tapes he listened to contained blank spaces."
The Liberty's survivors contradict Spector. According to subsequently declassified NSA documents: "Every official interview of numerous Liberty crewmen gave consistent evidence that indeed the Liberty was flying an American flag - and, further, the weather conditions were ideal to ensure its easy observance and identification."
On June 8, 2005, the USS Liberty Veterans Association filed a "Report of War Crimes Committed Against the U.S. Military, June 8, 1967" with the Department of Defense (DoD). They say Department of Defense Directive 2311.01E requires the Department of Defense to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations contained in their report. DoD has responded that a new investigation will not be conducted since a Navy Court of Inquiry already investigated the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack.
As of 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) has yet to declassify "boxes and boxes" of Liberty documents. Numerous requests under both declassification directives and the Freedom of Information Act are pending in various agencies including the NSA, Central Intelligence Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency.
"...On June 8, 2007, the National Security Agency released hundreds of additional declassified documents on the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, a communications interception vessel, on June 8, 1967."
On October 2, 2007, The Chicago Tribune published a special report into the attack, containing numerous previously unreported quotes from former military personnel with first-hand knowledge of the incident. Many of these quotes directly contradict the U.S. National Security Agency's position that it never intercepted the communications of the attacking Israeli pilots, claiming that not only did transcripts of those communications exist, but also that it showed the Israelis knew they were attacking an American naval vessel.
Documents of the Israeli General Staff meetings, declassified in October 2008, show no discussion of a planned attack on an American ship.
Details in dispute
Many of the events surrounding the attack are the subject of controversy:
Visibility of ensign: The most vehemently debated point is the visibility of the three American flags that the ship was flying. The survivors uniformly agree that the Liberty was flying the Stars and Stripes before, during and after the attack, except for a brief period in which one flag that had been shot down was replaced with another, larger flag that measured 13 feet (4.0 m) long. The Israeli pilots claimed they did not see any flag. Survivor testimony to the Court of Inquiry was that the flags were clearly visible due to a moderate sea breeze. The Court of Inquiry found that "Flat, calm conditions and the slow five knot patrol speed of LIBERTY in forenoon when she was being looked over initially may well have produced insufficient wind for steaming colors enough to be seen by pilots" [sic]. NSA documents declassified on June 8, 2007 state "Every official interview of numerous Liberty crewmen gave consistent evidence that indeed the Liberty was flying an American flag and, further, the weather conditions were ideal to ensure its easy observance and identification." US crewmen's perceptions of intent: Surviving crewmembers of the Liberty claim that Israel's attack on the ship was "deliberate" and with full knowledge that the vessel was American. Israeli investigation and history reports agree that the attack was deliberate — but against what they believed was an Egyptian enemy vessel, not an American neutral vessel. Distinctiveness of USS Liberty's appearance: One major dispute is whether the Liberty would have been immediately recognized as a different ship from the Egyptian ship El Quseir. Admiral Tom Moorer stated that the Liberty was the most identifiable ship in the US Navy. Israel states in its inquiry and history reports that the identification as the El Quseir was made by the torpedo boats while the Liberty was enveloped in smoke and was based on "The Red Book", a guide to Arab fleets that did not include U.S. vessels.(Web site with images of both ships)
Identification markings: Liberty bore an eight-foot-high "5" and a four-foot-high "GTR" along either bow, clearly indicating her hull (or "pendant") number (AGTR-5), and had 18-inch (460 mm)-high letters spelling the vessel's name across the stern. These markings were not cursive Arabic script but in the Latin alphabet. Israeli pilots claim initially they were primarily concerned with making sure the ship was a warship not Israeli and that they called off the attack when they noticed the Latin alphabet markings.
Ship's identification known during attack: A James Bamford book, published in 2001, claimed that secret NSA intercepts recorded by an American EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft indicate that Israeli pilots had full knowledge they were attacking a U.S. vessel. This 2001 proposition has played a significant role in the ongoing controversies about the incident, and continues to be widely cited. The tapes were later released by the National Security Agency in 2003 as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Judge and author A. Jay Cristol. However, instead of the EC-121 tapes requested by the FOI the tapes released recorded communications after the attack was over with Israeli helicopter pilots who were not involved in the attack and who were sent to provide assistance. These pilots noticed an American flag flying from the ship and informed their control tower. See other sources for a link to the NSA website with complete transcripts. The NSA Website denies that there were any U.S. recordings of the attack itself although this is disputed by several intelligence specialists who claim to have read the original transcripts.
Probability of identification: Americans claim the thirteen closer flybys of the previous two days should have been sufficient for identification. Israel acknowledged the ship had been identified as American and neutral that morning; however, it claims that at 11 a.m., the ship was removed from the command status board. Later that morning, when explosions were heard in El-Arish, Israel claims to have reacquired the ship without being aware that it was the same one that was flown over earlier in the day.
Effort for identification: The American crew claims the attacking aircraft did not make identification runs over Liberty, but rather began to strafe immediately. Israel claims several identification passes were made. The Naval Court of Enquiry, based on the Israeli timeline of events, found "One may infer from the fact that within a period of approximately 15 minutes, the request was transmitted (for aircraft to be dispatched), received, a command decision made, aircraft dispatched, and the attack launched, that no significant time was expended in an effort to identify the ship from the air before the attack was launched."
Speed of the vessel: According to Israeli accounts, the torpedo boat made (admittedly erroneous) measurements that indicated the ship was steaming at 30 knots (56 km/h). Israeli naval doctrine at the time required that a ship traveling at that speed must be presumed to be a warship. A second boat calculated Liberty's speed to be 28 knots (52 km/h) The maximum sustained speed of Liberty was only 17.5 knots (32 km/h), 21 knots (39 km/h) being attainable by overriding the engine governors. According to Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, Liberty crewmen (including the Officer-of-the-Deck) and the Court of Enquiry findings the ship was steaming at 5 knots (9 km/h) at the time of the attack.
Motive: According to the Anti Defamation League "the argument that Israel knowingly attacked an American ship has always lacked a convincing motive". In addition to the numerous possible ones already mentioned, James Bamford, among others, says one motive was to prevent the United States from eavesdropping on Israeli military activities and monitoring the events taking place in nearby Gaza. In a study of the incident concluding that there was insufficient evidence to support either accidental or deliberate attack, Colonel Peyton E. Smith wrote of the possibility that "The attack was most likely deliberate for reasons far too sensitive to be disclosed by the US (or) Israeli government and that the truth may never be known". Israeli aircraft markings: Some American survivors of the attack assert that the Israeli aircraft were unmarked. However, aircraft markings are not required by the laws of war and two of the attacking aircraft were highly distinctive Dassault Mirage III aircraft, flown only by Israel in that region.
Jamming: Both Liberty and USS Saratoga radio operators reported hearing the distinctive buzzing sound usually indicative of radio frequency jamming. However, the Navy Court of Inquiry found that the Saratoga in fact received radio reports from the Liberty and successfully relayed these to the Sixth Fleet. (see page 28). According to a book by Russell Warren Howe (see below), Captain McGonagle testified that the jamming of his transmissions had been on American, not Egyptian, frequencies, suggesting that someone was aware of the nationality of the ship. However changing frequency is a standard technique to avoid radio jamming and jamming equipment is often designed to find the actual frequencies in use. Visual communications: Joe Meadors, the signalman on bridge, states that "Immediately prior to the torpedo attack, he was on the Signal Bridge repeatedly sending 'USS Liberty U.S. Navy Ship' by flashing light to the torpedo boats." The Israeli boats claim to have sent the signal "AA" (general call) for which the formal reply would be TTTT later followed by both vessels sending identification codes. Commander Moshe Oren claims he thought Liberty signaled AA in reply which was the same reply he received from the Egyptian destroyer Ibrahim Al-Awal eleven years earlier. Oren then consulted "The Red Book" (identification of Arabian navies) noting that the only match for the "old tub" with one funnel and two masts was the El Quseir. Meadors claims he never sent "AA".
Israeli ships' actions after the torpedo hit: Officers and men of Liberty claim that after the torpedo attack and the abandon ship order, motor torpedo boats strafed the ship's topside with automatic gunfire preventing men from escaping from below, and either machine-gunned or confiscated the empty life rafts that had been set afloat. The IDF claims that Liberty was not fired upon after the torpedo attack and that a rescue raft was fished from the water while searching for survivors. Israeli offers of help: Claims differ about the Israelis offering help. The Liberty's captain and the Israelis both claim that help was offered, but at different times. The Liberty's Deck Log, signed by the captain, has an entry at 3:03 stating: "One MTB returned to the ship and signalled, 'Do you need help.' Commanding officer directed that 'Negative' be sent in reply." The captain testified before the Court of Inquiry, on page 40 of recorded testimony: "One of the boats signaled by flashing light, in English, 'do you require assistance?' We had no means to communicate with the boat by light but hoisted code lima india. The signal intended to convey the fact that the ship was maneuvering with difficulty and that they should keep clear." Liberty's logbooks (exhibits attached to Court of Inquiry proceedings) all indicate signal flags were raised at about 3:40 to warn the Israeli boats to stay away, the ship was "not under command." James Ennes, in his book about the attack, on pages 102 and 103, acknowledges the Israelis offered help, claims it occurred at 4:30, and the offer was rejected. The Israel Defense Force's History Report about the attack, on page 19, claims help was offered at 4:30 and the offer was rejected.
U.S. rescue attempts: At least two rescue attempts were launched from U.S. aircraft carriers nearby but were recalled, according to David Lewis. Lewis wrote and made an audio recording about a meeting 6th Fleet Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis requested in his cabins: "He told me that since I was the senior Liberty survivor on board he wanted to tell me in confidence what had actually transpired. He told me that upon receipt of our SOS, aircraft were launched to come to our assistance and then Washington was notified. He said that the Secretary of Defense (Robert McNamara) had ordered that the aircraft be returned to the carrier which was done. RADM Geis then said that he speculated that Washington may have suspected that the aircraft carried nuclear weapons so he put together another flight of conventional aircraft that had no capability of carrying nuclear weapons. These he launched to assist us and again notified Washington of his actions. Again McNamara ordered the aircraft recalled. He requested confirmation of the order being unable to believe that Washington would let us sink. This time President Johnson ordered the recall with the comment that he did not care if every man drowned and the ship sank, but that he would not embarrass his allies. This is, to the best of my ability, what I recall transpiring 30 years ago."