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USS Liberty incident

USS Liberty incident

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The USS Liberty incident was an attack on a United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 technical research ship
Technical research ship
Technical research ships were used by the United States Navy during the 1960s to gather intelligence by monitoring the electronic communications of nations in various parts of the world. At the time these ships were active, the mission of the ships was covert and discussion of the true mission was...

, , by Israeli Air Force
Israeli Air Force
The Israeli Air Force is the air force of the State of Israel and the aerial arm of the Israel Defense Forces. It was founded on May 28, 1948, shortly after the Israeli Declaration of Independence...

 jet fighter aircraft and Israeli Navy torpedo boat
Torpedo boat
A torpedo boat is a relatively small and fast naval vessel designed to carry torpedoes into battle. The first designs rammed enemy ships with explosive spar torpedoes, and later designs launched self-propelled Whitehead torpedoes. They were created to counter battleships and other large, slow and...

s, on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War
Six-Day War
The Six-Day War , also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt , Jordan, and Syria...

. The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members (naval officers, seamen, two Marines, and one civilian), wounded 170 crew members, and severely damaged the ship. At the time, the ship was in international waters
International waters
The terms international waters or trans-boundary waters apply where any of the following types of bodies of water transcend international boundaries: oceans, large marine ecosystems, enclosed or semi-enclosed regional seas and estuaries, rivers, lakes, groundwater systems , and wetlands.Oceans,...

 north of the Sinai Peninsula
Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about in area. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia as opposed to Africa, effectively serving as a land bridge between two...

, about 25.5 nmi (29.3 mi; 47.2 km) northwest from the Egyptian city of Arish.

Both the Israeli and U.S. government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

s conducted inquiries and issued reports that concluded the attack was a mistake due to Israeli confusion about the identity of the USS Liberty. Attack survivors contacted in 2007, by John M. Crewdson
John M. Crewdson
John M. Crewdson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. He was a senior correspondent for the Chicago Tribune for 24 years.- Early life :...

 for a Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune is a major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, and the flagship publication of the Tribune Company. Formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper" , it remains the most read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region and is...

 article about the attack, "to a man" rejected Israel's mistaken identity explanation. Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter
Marshall Carter
Marshall Sylvester Carter was a lieutenant general in the United States Army.-Biography:...

, the director of the NSA, told Congress that the attack "couldn't be anything else but deliberate." The deputy director of the NSA, Louis Tordella, stated that the attack "might have been ordered by some senior [Israeli] commander on the Sinai Peninsula who wrongly suspected that the LIBERTY was monitoring his activities."
In May 1968, the Israeli government paid US$3,323,500 (US$ million in ) as full payment to 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, it agreed to pay $6 million as settlement for the U.S. claim of $7,644,146 for material damage to the Liberty itself.

USS Liberty



was originally the 7725 LT (7,849 t) (light) civilian cargo vessel Simmons Victory, a mass-produced, standard-design Victory Ship
Victory ship
The Victory ship was a type of cargo ship produced in large numbers by North American shipyards during World War II to replace shipping losses caused by German submarines...

, the follow-on series to the famous Liberty Ship
Liberty ship
Liberty ships were cargo ships built in the United States during World War II. Though British in conception, they were adapted by the U.S. as they were cheap and quick to build, and came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial output. Based on vessels ordered by Britain to replace ships torpedoed by...

s, which supplied the United Kingdom and Allied troops with cargo. She was acquired by the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

, converted to an Auxiliary Technical Research Ship (AGTR), and began her first deployment in 1965, to waters off the west coast of Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. She carried out several more operations during the next two years.

Events leading to the attack


During the Six-Day War
Six-Day War
The Six-Day War , also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt , Jordan, and Syria...

 between Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 and several Arab
Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 nations, the United States of America maintained a neutral country
Neutral country
A neutral power in a particular war is a sovereign state which declares itself to be neutral towards the belligerents. A non-belligerent state does not need to be neutral. The rights and duties of a neutral power are defined in Sections 5 and 13 of the Hague Convention of 1907...

 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 nmi (14.4 mi; 23.2 km) and 6.5 nmi (7.5 mi; 12 km), respectively, to 20 nmi (23 mi; 37 km) and 15 nmi (17.3 mi; 27.8 km), and then later to 100 nmi (115.1 mi; 185.2 km) for both countries. Unfortunately, due to ineffective message handling and routing, the CPA change messages were not received until after the attack.

According to Israeli sources, at the start of the war on June 5, General Yitzhak Rabin
Yitzhak Rabin
' was an Israeli politician, statesman and general. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–77 and 1992 until his assassination in 1995....

 (then IDF Chief of Staff
Ramatkal
The Chief of the General Staff, also known as the Commander-in-Chief of the Israel Defense Forces is the supreme commander and Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. At any given time, the Chief of Staff is the only active officer holding the IDF's highest rank, Rav Aluf , which is usually...

) informed Commander
Commander (United States)
In the United States, commander is a military rank that is also sometimes used as a military title, depending on the branch of service. It is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the military, particularly in police and law enforcement.-Naval rank:In the United States...

 Ernest Carl Castle
Ernest Carl Castle
Ernest Carl Castle is a captain in the United States Navy.-Biography:Earnest Castle graduated from the United States Naval Academy and was the Naval Attaché to Israel during both the USS Liberty incident and the Six Day War following retirement he taught at the University of South...

, the American Naval Attaché in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv , officially Tel Aviv-Yafo , is the second most populous city in Israel, with a population of 404,400 on a land area of . The city is located on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline in west-central Israel. It is the largest and most populous city in the metropolitan area of Gush Dan, with...

, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal, including sinking unidentified ships. Also, 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
Dean Rusk
David Dean Rusk was the United States Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Rusk is the second-longest serving U.S...

 to U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour
Walworth Barbour
Walworth Barbour was United States Ambassador to Israel from 1961 to 1973.The American International School in Even Yehuda, Israel is named after him .-Positions held in the United States Diplomatic Service:...

, 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
Captain (naval)
Captain is the name most often given in English-speaking navies to the rank corresponding to command of the largest ships. The NATO rank code is OF-5, equivalent to an army full colonel....

 William L. McGonagle
William McGonagle
William Loren McGonagle was a United States Naval officer who received the Medal of Honor for his actions while in command of the when it was attacked in the Eastern Mediterranean on June 8, 1967 during the Six-Day War.After accepting a commission in the US Navy in 1944 McGonagle held various...

 of the Liberty immediately asked Vice Admiral
Vice admiral (United States)
In the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, and the United States Maritime Service, vice admiral is a three-star flag officer, with the pay grade of...

 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
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

, 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, 01:10Z
Coordinated Universal Time
Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is one of several closely related successors to Greenwich Mean Time. Computer servers, online services and other entities that rely on having a universally accepted time use UTC for that purpose...

 or 3:10 AM local time, the Pentagon issued an order to 6th Fleet headquarters to tell the Liberty to come no closer than 100 nmi (115.1 mi; 185.2 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 sent on the radio frequency that USS Liberty monitored for her orders until 15:25 Zulu
Coordinated Universal Time
Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is one of several closely related successors to Greenwich Mean Time. Computer servers, online services and other entities that rely on having a universally accepted time use UTC for that purpose...

, several hours after the attack, due to a long series of administrative and message routing 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)

Visual contact


During the morning of the attack, early June 8, the ship was overflown by Israeli Air Force
Israeli Air Force
The Israeli Air Force is the air force of the State of Israel and the aerial arm of the Israel Defense Forces. It was founded on May 28, 1948, shortly after the Israeli Declaration of Independence...

 (IAF) aircraft including a Nord Noratlas
Nord Noratlas
The Nord Noratlas was a 1950s French military transport aircraft intended to replace the older types in service at the end of World War II. Several hundred were produced in a run lasting over a decade, finding a wide variety of uses.-Development:...

 "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
Destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

 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 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 on 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 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 Libertys position. Investigative journalist James Bamford
James Bamford
V. James Bamford is an American bestselling author and journalist who writes about United States intelligence agencies, most notably the National Security Agency.-Biography:...

 points out that Liberty had only four .50 caliber machine guns mounted on her decks and, thus, could not have shelled the land.

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
Torpedo boat
A torpedo boat is a relatively small and fast naval vessel designed to carry torpedoes into battle. The first designs rammed enemy ships with explosive spar torpedoes, and later designs launched self-propelled Whitehead torpedoes. They were created to counter battleships and other large, slow and...

 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." Bamford, however, points out that the Liberty's top speed was far, far below 28 knots. His sources say that at the time of the attack the Liberty was following its signal-intercept mission course along the northern Sinai coast, at about 5 knots speed.

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 Iftach Spector
Iftach Spector
Iftach Spector is a retired Israeli Brigadier General, a former fighter pilot and commander of the airbases at Tel Nof and Ramat David. He serves on the Israel Advisory Council of Israel Policy Forum.- Biography :...

, 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.

Air and sea attacks


Beginning at 1:57 p.m., the Liberty was attacked by two Mirage IIIs employing cannon, rockets and bombs. The attack came while the crew was in "stand down" mode, with helmets and life jackets removed, while several officers, including the Captain, were sunning themselves on the deck. The Mirages were followed by two Dassault Mysteres carrying napalm
Napalm
Napalm is a thickening/gelling agent generally mixed with gasoline or a similar fuel for use in an incendiary device, primarily as an anti-personnel weapon...

. One napalm bomb hit the ship. The leader of the Mirage formation identified the ship as a destroyer
Destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

, mistaking the off-center fed parabolic antenna
Parabolic antenna
A parabolic antenna is an antenna that uses a parabolic reflector, a curved surface with the cross-sectional shape of a parabola, to direct the radio waves. The most common form is shaped like a dish and is popularly called a dish antenna or parabolic dish...

 on its forecastle
Forecastle
Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters...

 for a gun. The fact that the ship had Latin markings led IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin
Yitzhak Rabin
' was an Israeli politician, statesman and general. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–77 and 1992 until his assassination in 1995....

 to fear that the ship was Soviet; he ordered the planes and a three torpedo boat squadron that 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 (58.8 km/h) speed. He immediately ordered the attack stopped pending better identification "although this was difficult due to the billowing clouds of smoke that 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)

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 (NCOI), 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." Ensign Lucas testified at the NCOI that he left Liberty's bridge during the air attack and returned during the torpedo boat attack, before the torpedo hit. After returning to the bridge, he assisted Captain McGonagle and wrote entries in the Quartermaster's notebook.

Captain McGonagle said that Liberty maintained her westward heading throughout the air and sea attack. His NCOI testimony was 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." Ensign Lucas testified 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 sea attack.

McGonagle further testified that he "believed that the time of initial sighting of the torpedo boats ... was about 1420" (2:20 PM local time), and 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 said that he then ordered a sailor to proceed to machine gun Mount 51 and open fire. He 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 said that he "realized that there was a possibility of the aircraft having been Israeli and the attack had been conducted in error." At this point, he ordered the man in Mount 51 to cease fire, but the sailor fired a short burst before he was able to understand. At this same time, machine gun Mount 53 began firing at the center boat, and Captain McGonagle 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".

Ensign Lucas testified that after he returned to the bridge a torpedo hit Liberty. He said that after the torpedo hit, 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.

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 ft (12.2 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 that 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
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv , officially Tel Aviv-Yafo , is the second most populous city in Israel, with a population of 404,400 on a land area of . The city is located on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline in west-central Israel. It is the largest and most populous city in the metropolitan area of Gush Dan, with...

 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 Liberty.

Though Liberty was severely damaged, with a 39 ft (11.9 m) wide by 24 ft (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
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

 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 U.S. She was decommissioned in June 1968 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register
Naval Vessel Register
The Naval Vessel Register is the official inventory of ships and service craft in custody of or titled by the United States Navy. It contains information on ships and service craft that make up the official inventory of the Navy from the time a vessel is authorized through its life cycle and...

. Liberty was transferred to United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) in December 1970 and sold for scrap in 1973.

From the start, the response to 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 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
George Lenczowski
George Lenczowski was a lawyer, diplomat, scholar, and Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, at the University of California, Berkeley. Lenczowski was a pioneer in his field as the founder and first chair of the Committee of Middle Eastern Studies at Berkeley...

 notes: “It was significant that, in contrast to his secretary of state, President Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

 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
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

, the highest U.S. medal, for his actions. The Medal of Honor is generally presented by the President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 in the White House, but this time it was awarded at the Washington Navy Yard by the Secretary of the Navy
United States Secretary of the Navy
The Secretary of the Navy of the United States of America is the head of the Department of the Navy, a component organization of the Department of Defense...

 in an unpublicized ceremony, breaking with established tradition.

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
Silver Star
The Silver Star is the third-highest combat military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the United States armed forces for valor in the face of the enemy....

 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.

U.S. government investigations


American inquiries, memoranda, records of testimony, and various reports involving or mentioning the Liberty attack include, but are not limited to, the following:

The U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry record contains testimony by fourteen Liberty crew members and five subject matter experts; exhibits of attack damage photographs, various messages and memorandums; and findings of fact. The testimony record reveals "a shallow investigation, plagued by myriad disagreements between the captain and his crew." As to culpability
Culpability
Culpability descends from the Latin concept of fault . The concept of culpability is intimately tied up with notions of agency, freedom and free will...

, "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 U.S. 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
Clark Clifford
Clark McAdams Clifford was an American lawyer who served United States Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter, serving as United States Secretary of Defense for Johnson....

 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 during hearings concerning a foreign aid authorization bill, questions and statements from several senators and responses from then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara
Robert McNamara
Robert Strange McNamara was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense, serving under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968, during which time he played a large role in escalating the United States involvement in the Vietnam War...

, about the Liberty attack. For the most part, the senators were dismayed about the attack, as expressed by Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper
Bourke B. Hickenlooper
Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper , was a Republican politician from the US state of Iowa. He was lieutenant governor from 1939 to 1943 and then the 29th Governor of Iowa from 1943 to 1945...

: "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 Committee Chairman J. William Fulbright
J. William Fulbright
James William Fulbright was a United States Senator representing Arkansas from 1945 to 1975.Fulbright was a Southern Democrat and a staunch multilateralist who supported the creation of the United Nations and the longest serving chairman in the history of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee...

: "We asked for [the attack investigation report] about 2 weeks ago and have not received it yet from Secretary Rusk. ... By the time we get to it we will be on some other subject." Secretary McNamara promised fast delivery of the investigation report ("... you will have it in 4 hours."), 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." Since the hearings concerned a foreign aid bill, the committee's report omitted any mention of the Liberty incident.

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.

The Liberty Veterans Association (composed of veterans from the ship) states 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
Isaac C. Kidd, Jr.
Isaac Campbell Kidd, Jr. was an American Admiral in the United States Navy who served as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO's Atlantic Fleet, and also as commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet from 1975 to 1978. He was the son of Rear Admiral Isaac C...

, said that it would take 6 months to conduct properly. The inquiry's terms of reference
Terms of reference
Terms of reference describe the purpose and structure of a project, committee, meeting, negotiation, or any similar collection of people who have agreed to work together to accomplish a shared goal. The terms of reference of a project are often referred to as the project charter.- Terms of...

 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 fourteen 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 Yeshayahu Yerushalmi
    Yeshayahu Yerushalmi
    Lieutenant Colonel Yeshayahu Yerushalmi , sometimes referred to as Isaiah Yerushalmi , is a former Israeli judge. Yerushalmi was the presiding judge of the preliminary Israeli inquiry into the USS Liberty incident . In many subsequent accounts his name is transliterated as Y...

     ("Yerushalmi Report"—July 1967) (Adjudication of IDF negligence complaint
    Complaint
    In legal terminology, a complaint is a formal legal document that sets out the facts and legal reasons that the filing party or parties In legal terminology, a complaint is a formal legal document that sets out the facts and legal reasons (see: cause of action) that the filing party or parties In...

    s.)
  • Historical Report "The Liberty Incident"—IDF
    Israel Defense Forces
    The Israel Defense Forces , commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym Tzahal , are the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the ground forces, air force and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and has no civilian jurisdiction within Israel...

     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
Dean Rusk
David Dean Rusk was the United States Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Rusk is the second-longest serving U.S...

, U.S. 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
Lieutenant commander (United States)
Lieutenant commander is a mid-ranking officer rank in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, with the pay grade of O-4 and NATO rank code OF-3...

 James Ennes, a junior officer
Junior officer
The term junior officer is sometimes used to make clear that an officer in a military or paramilitary unit is not in overall command. The term senior officer is reserved for the officer in overall command....

 (and off-going Officer of the Deck
Officer of the Deck
Officer of the deck is a position in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard that confers certain authority and responsibility. The officer of the deck on a ship is the direct representative of the captain, having responsibility for the ship.-Overview:In port, the OOD is stationed on...

) on Libertys bridge at the time of the attack, authored a book titled Assault on the Liberty (Random House, 1980; Ballantine Books 1986; Reintree Press 2004) describing the incident during the Six Day War in June 1967 and claiming, among other things, it was deliberate. Ennes and Joe Meadors
Joe Meadors
Joe Meadors is an American former U.S. Navy signalman, who survived Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty, June 8, 1967.In 2010, he was a passenger on the Sfedoni, in the Gaza flotilla.He is married to Jean Meadors; they live in Corpus Christi, Texas....

, 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 USS Liberty Veterans Association
USS Liberty Veterans Association
The USS Liberty Veterans Association is an organization of former crew members and survivors of the USS Liberty incident on June 8, 1967.- Organizational structure :For 2010, the board of directors of the LVA consists of the following:...

, to which survivors and other former crew members belong. Other survivors run several additional websites. Citing Ennes's book, Lenczowski notes: Libertys 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
Ward Boston
Ward Boston, Jr. was an attorney and a retired United States Navy Captain.He served in World War II as a Navy fighter pilot and worked as a special agent for the FBI...

, 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
Anti-Defamation League
The Anti-Defamation League is an international non-governmental organization based in the United States. Describing itself as "the nation's premier civil rights/human relations agency", the ADL states that it "fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects...

 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:
  • 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
    Jenin
    Jenin is the largest town in the Northern West Bank, and the third largest city overall. It serves as the administrative center of the Jenin Governorate and is a major agricultural center for the surrounding towns. In 2007, the city had a population of 120,004 not including the adjacent refugee...

    , 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 nmi (16.1 mi; 25.9 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 the torpedo boats appeared to be approaching in an attack formation. Thus, he sent a person to the forward machine gun to fire at them. After several shots were fired, McGonagle ordered cease fire. Then a machine gun on 03 level sounded like it was firing, but nobody was seen at the gun. McGonagle said that he felt sure the torpedo boat captains believed they were under fire from the Liberty. Ensign Lucas, the ship's gunnery officer who left the bridge shortly after the beginning of the air attack and then returned during the torpedo boat attack, testified that he gave permission for manned firing of the 03 level machine gun after the torpedo boats began firing at Liberty. Then, later when the gun was unmanned, heat from a nearby fire apparently caused machine gun rounds at the 03 level gun to explode.
  • Admiral Shlomo Erell, former head of the Israeli Navy in 1967, notes that 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.


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.

Lenczowski notes that while the Israeli decision to “attack and destroy” the ship “may appear puzzling”, the explanation seems to be found in Libertys nature and its task to monitor communications on both sides in the war zone. He writes, “Israel clearly did not want the U.S. government to know too much about its dispositions for attacking Syria, initially planned for June 8, but postponed for 24 hours. It should be pointed out that the attack on the Liberty occurred on June 8, whereas on June 9 at 3 AM, Syria announced its acceptance of the cease-fire. Despite this, at 7 AM, that is, four hours later, Israel’s minister of defense, Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan was an Israeli military leader and politician. The fourth Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces , he became a fighting symbol to the world of the new State of Israel...

, “gave the order to go into action against Syria.” He further writes that timely knowledge of this decision and preparatory moves toward it “might have frustrated Israeli designs for the conquest of Syria’s Golan Heights” and, in the sense of Ennes’s accusations, provides “a plausible thesis that Israel deliberately decided to incapacitate the signals-collecting American ship and leave no one alive to tell the story of the attack.”

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
UGM-27 Polaris
The Polaris missile was a two-stage solid-fuel nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missile built during the Cold War by Lockheed Corporation of California for the United States Navy....

 armed Lafayette-class submarine
Lafayette class submarine
The Lafayette class of submarine was an evolutionary development from the of fleet ballistic missile submarine, slightly larger and generally improved...

 , 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
James Bamford
V. James Bamford is an American bestselling author and journalist who writes about United States intelligence agencies, most notably the National Security Agency.-Biography:...

, a former ABC News
ABC News
ABC News is the news gathering and broadcasting division of American broadcast television network ABC, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company...

 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 allegedly 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 up to 1,000 unarmed civilians and prisoners of war were murdered in the 1967 War. According to Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Claud Cockburn is an American political journalist. Cockburn was brought up in Ireland but has lived and worked in the United States since 1972. Together with Jeffrey St. Clair, he edits the political newsletter CounterPunch...

, Israeli reporter Gabriel Bron, a former IDF soldier allegedly witnessed the massacre, "The Egyptian POWs were ordered to dig pits, then army police shot them to death". A mass grave of 30 Egyptian soldiers was found in the Sinai peninsula in 2008. Forensic experts reported that the bodies likely dated to the 1967 war, though further examination would be necessary to determine if the soldiers were killed in combat or were executed. Michael Oren, in a review of Bamford's book, wrote that Bron told him "The one hundred and fifty POWs were not shot, and there were no mass murders" but that the they were helped by the Israeli soldiers who "gave them water, and in most cases just sent them in the direction of the Suez Canal."
"Deputy Foreign Minister, Eli Dayan
Eli Dayan
Eli Dayan is an Israeli former politician who served as a member of the Knesset for the Alignment and Labor Party between 1988 and 1996, and as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1995 until 1996.-Biography:...

 offered compensation to the victims families in 1995, but explained that Israel was unable to pursue those responsible due to the statute of limitations
Statute of limitations
A statute of limitations is an enactment in a common law legal system that sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated...

.

The press release for the BBC documentary film Dead in the Water states that new recorded and other evidence suggests the attack was a "daring ploy by Israel to fake an Egyptian attack" to give America a reason to enter the war against Egypt. Convinced that that attack was real, President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

 launched nuclear-armed planes targeted against Cairo from a U.S. 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. An information source for the aircraft being nuclear-armed, James Ennes, later stated that he was probably wrong in his original book. According to Ennes, the planes were not nuclear-armed, but most likely armed with Bullpup missiles
AGM-12 Bullpup
The AGM-12 Bullpup is an air-to-ground missile which was used on the A-4 Skyhawk, A-6 Intruder, F-105 Thunderchief and F-4 Phantom among others...

. The video also provides hearsay evidence of a covert alliance of U.S. and Israel intelligence agencies.

Admiral Thomas H. Moorer
Thomas Hinman Moorer
-External links:...

, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is by law the highest ranking military officer in the United States Armed Forces, and is the principal military adviser to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council and the Secretary of Defense...

 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 U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia James E. Akins
James E. Akins
James Elmer Akins was the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from September, 1973 to February, 1976, just in time to serve during the 1973 Oil Crisis of October, 1973 - March, 1974. Akins was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and on the advisory council of the Iran Policy Committee...

, held Israel to be culpable and suggested several theories for Israel's possible motives, including the desire to blame Egypt and bring the U.S. into the Six Day War.

NSA tapes and recent developments


Within an hour of learning that the Liberty had been torpedoed the director of NSA, LTG Marshall S. Carter
Marshall Carter
Marshall Sylvester Carter was a lieutenant general in the United States Army.-Biography:...

, 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
EC-121 Warning Star
The Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star was a United States Navy and United States Air Force airborne early warning radar surveillance aircraft. A military version of the Lockheed Constellation, it was designed to serve as an airborne early warning system to supplement the Distant Early Warning Line,...

 aircraft that flew near the attacks from 2:30 p.m. to 3:27 p.m., Sinai time (1230 to 1327 Z
Coordinated Universal Time
Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is one of several closely related successors to Greenwich Mean Time. Computer servers, online services and other entities that rely on having a universally accepted time use UTC for that purpose...

), had collected voice conversations between two Israeli helicopter pilots and the control tower at Hazor Airfield following the attack on the Liberty.

On July 2, 2003, the National Security Agency released copies of the recordings made by the EC-121 and the resultant translations and summaries. These revelations were elicited as part of a Freedom of Information Act
Freedom of Information Act (United States)
The Freedom of Information Act is a federal freedom of information law that allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure...

 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 released tapes 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.

A summary report of the NSA-translated tapes indicates that at 1234Z Hatzor air control began directing two Israeli Air Force helicopters to an Egyptian warship, to rescue its crew: "This ship has now been identified as Egyptian." The helicopters arrived near the ship at about 1303Z: "I see a big vessel, near it are three small vessels..." At 1308Z, Hatzor air control indicated concern about the nationality of the ship's crew: "The first matter to clarify is to find out what their nationality is." At 1310Z, one of the helicopter pilots asked the nearby torpedo boats' Division Commander about the meaning of the ship's hull number: "GTR5 is written on it. Does this mean something?" The response was: "Negative, it doesn't mean anything." At 1312Z, one of the helicopter pilots was asked by air control: "Did you clearly identify an American flag?" No answer appears in the transcript, but the air controller then says: "We request that you make another pass and check once more if this is really an American flag." Again, no response appears in the transcript. At about 1314Z, the helicopters were directed to return home.

The NSA reported that there had been no radio intercepts of the attack made by the Liberty herself, nor had there been any radio intercepts made by the U.S. submarine Amberjack.

On October 10, 2003, The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post is an Israeli daily English-language broadsheet newspaper, founded on December 1, 1932 by Gershon Agron as The Palestine Post. The daily readership numbers do not approach those of the major Hebrew newspapers....

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
Arieh O'Sullivan
Arieh O'Sullivan is an author, journalist and an award-winning defense correspondent who has covered Israel and the Middle East for over two decades. He currently serves as the bureau chief of The Media Line, a non-profit American news agency covering the Middle East...

, later confirmed that "the Israeli Air Force tapes he listened to contained blank spaces."

The Libertys 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
National Security Agency
The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as protecting U.S...

 (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
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

, and Defense Intelligence Agency
Defense Intelligence Agency
The Defense Intelligence Agency is a member of the Intelligence Community of the United States, and is the central producer and manager of military intelligence for the United States Department of Defense, employing over 16,500 U.S. military and civilian employees worldwide...

.

"... 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
Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune is a major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, and the flagship publication of the Tribune Company. Formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper" , it remains the most read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region and is...

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 American flag: The official Israeli reports say that the reconnaissance and fighter aircraft pilots, and the torpedo boat captains did not see any flag on Liberty. Official American reports say that the Liberty was flying her American flag before, during and after the attack. The only exception being a brief period in which one flag had been shot down and then replaced with a larger flag that measured approximately 13 ft (4 m) long. U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry finding number 2 states: "The calm conditions and slow speed of the ship may well have made the American flag difficult to identify." And finding number 28 states: "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". The NSA History Report (page 41) states: "... 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."

  • U.S. 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 U.S. Navy and in an interview with the Washington Post stated: To suggest that they [the IDF] couldn't identify the ship is ... ridiculous. Anybody who could not identify the Liberty could not tell the difference between the White House and the Washington Monument. 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 inches (457.2 mm)-high letters spelling the vessel's name across the stern
    Stern
    The stern is the rear or aft-most part of a ship or boat, technically defined as the area built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter rail to the taffrail. The stern lies opposite of the bow, the foremost part of a ship. Originally, the term only referred to the aft port section...

    . These markings were not cursive Arabic script but in the Latin alphabet
    Latin alphabet
    The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

    . Israeli pilots claim initially they were primarily concerned with ensuring the ship was a non-Israeli warship and that they ended the air attack when they noticed the Latin alphabet markings.

  • Ship's identification known during attack: A James Bamford
    James Bamford
    V. James Bamford is an American bestselling author and journalist who writes about United States intelligence agencies, most notably the National Security Agency.-Biography:...

     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 attack tapes requested by the FOIA request, the tapes released contained post-attack communications of Israeli helicopter pilots, their ground controller, and someone on one of the torpedo boats. The helicopters were sent to the attack site to provide assistance after the air attack. The helicopter pilots noticed an American flag flying from the ship almost immediately upon their arrival at the attack site and informed their controller. See other sources for a link to the NSA website with complete transcripts. The NSA Website denies that there are any U.S. recordings of the attack itself; although, this is disputed by several intelligence specialists who claim to have read the original transcripts.

  • 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 kn (36.5 mph; 58.8 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 Libertys speed to be 28 kn (34.1 mph; 54.9 km/h). The maximum sustained speed of Liberty was only 17.5 kn (21.3 mph; 34.3 km/h), 21 kn (25.6 mph; 41.2 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 kn (6.1 mph; 9.8 km/h) at the time of the attack.



  • Motive: James Bamford, among others, says one possible 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". Author and former crew member James M. Ennes theorized, in the epilogue of his book Assault on the Liberty, that the motive was to prevent the ship's crew from monitoring radio traffic that might reveal Israel being the aggressor in its impending invasion of Syria, which the White House opposed. According to the Anti Defamation League "the argument that Israel knowingly attacked an American ship has always lacked a convincing motive".

  • Israeli aircraft markings: The USS Liberty Veterans Association says that the attacking Israeli aircraft were not marked, but a crewmember recalls watching a Jewish officer cry on seeing the blue Star of David on the planes' fuselages. (There are no international treaties governing aerial warfare requiring markings.) The torpedo boats that attacked Liberty did fly the flag of Israel.

  • Jamming: During U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry testimony, Wayne L. Smith, Radioman Chief, testified: "... We did have [radio frequency] jamming in my estimation. I was unable to determine this exactly, but every time it seems when an attack was made on us, or a strafing run, it was preceded by, anywhere from 25 to 30 seconds, carrier on our HICOM circuit, and I had ascertained to check this by calling the transmitter room and they said that they had not keyed the transmitter. This prevailed during the attack and quite a bit after the attack, intermittently." In a U.S. Navy message dated July 11, 1967, sent by Rear Admiral Kidd (senior member of Naval Court of Inquiry) via the Naval Communications Unit, Naples, Italy to Commander in Chief U.S. Navy Europe and Chief Naval Operations, Rear Admiral Kidd stated, in part: "LIBERTY REPORTED APPARENT DISCRIMINATE JAMMING ON CERTAIN CW AND VOICE CIRCUITS JUST BEFORE AND DURING EACH AIRCRAFTS INDIVIDUAL ATTACK. EFFECT WAS TO SCARE MISCHIEF OUT OF THOSE BELOW WHO HEARD IT START, BECAUSE THEY KNEW A ROCKET OR BOMB WOULD SOON FOLLOW." None of the Israeli Defense Forces' investigations or reports confirm or deny radio frequency jamming was performed during or following the attack.

  • 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 el 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 Libertys captain and the Israelis both claim that help was offered, but at different times. The Libertys 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." Libertys 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 Forces'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 carrier
    Aircraft carrier
    An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

    s nearby but were recalled, according to the Liberty's senior Naval Security Group officer, Lieutenant Commander David Lewis. Lewis made an audio recording and later wrote 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
    SOS
    SOS is the commonly used description for the international Morse code distress signal...

    , aircraft were launched to come to our assistance and then Washington was notified. He said that the Secretary of Defense
    United States Secretary of Defense
    The Secretary of Defense is the head and chief executive officer of the Department of Defense of the United States of America. This position corresponds to what is generally known as a Defense Minister in other countries...

     (Robert McNamara
    Robert McNamara
    Robert Strange McNamara was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense, serving under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968, during which time he played a large role in escalating the United States involvement in the Vietnam War...

    ) 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."

Books

  • Scott, James, The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel's Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship, Simon & Schuster, 2009, (ISBN 978-1-4165-5482-0)
  • Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael B. Oren, Oxford University Press (ISBN 0-19-515174-7)
  • Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship, by James M. Ennes, Jr. (ISBN 0-9723116-0-2) Currently in its 9th printing.
  • The Puzzle Palace, by James Bamford, Penguin Books, 1982, has a detailed description of the Israeli attack on the SIGINT ship USS Liberty, and the events leading up to it, on pages 279–293.
  • Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, devotes a detailed chapter to the incident, and concludes it was deliberate. Doubleday, 2001 (ISBN 0-09-942774-5)
  • Peter Hounam
    Peter Hounam
    Peter Hounam is a British journalist who has worked for Sunday Times, The Mirror, the London Evening Standard, and BBC Television, as well as having published several books:...

    , Operation Cyanide: Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III, Vision Paperbacks. 2003, ISBN 1-904132-19-7,
  • Anthony Pearson, Conspiracy of Silence: The Attack on the USS Liberty, 1979 ISBN 0-7043-2164-5
  • John Borne, The USS Liberty, Dissenting History vs. Official History In Chapter 15 on "The Six Day War and Its Consequences", dissects the sequence of events and concurrent attacks on Arab towns and explores the possibility that the attack on this U.S. spy ship was an intentional act to prevent U.S. monitoring of Israeli military actions, and that the intent was to kill all U.S. personnel on board before any kind of communications could be sent out.
  • Phillip F. Tourney and John Glenn, "What I Saw That Day: Israel's June 8th, 1967 Holocaust of US Servicemen Aboard the USS Liberty and Its Aftermath", Liberty Publications, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4507-1554-6
  • Victor Thorn and John Glenn, "A Ship Without A Country: Eyewitness Accounts of the Attack on the USS Liberty", American Free Press, Washington, DC, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9818086-6-6

U.S. government sites


Sources claiming attack was a mistake



Sources claiming attack was deliberate


Survivors of the attack

Other sources