Mass murder or tragic blunder?
by Martin Hanson
“Never before in the history of the US Navy has a Navy board of inquiry ignored the testimony of American eyewitnesses and taken, on faith, the word of their attackers” – Richard Kiepfer, USS Liberty survivor
On June 8, 1967, at the height of the ‘six-day-war’, the American intelligence-gathering ship U.S.S. Liberty was almost sunk by Israeli air and naval forces while in international waters off the coast of Egypt and flying a large American flag. The attack lasted over an hour and was preceded by several hours of reconnaissance flights that circled the Liberty. One torpedo struck the Liberty, killing 34 sailors and wounding over 170. Survivors believe it was a deliberate attempt to sink the ship with all hands since, as survivor Lloyd Painter said years later, the life rafts were repeatedly machine gunned by the torpedo boats.
Despite the torpedo the Liberty did not sink, and the survivors would have been able to tell the tale had they not been forbidden to mention the attack to anyone, on pain of court marshal. The Liberty’s skipper, Commander William McGonagle was promoted to Captain and awarded the highest award for bravery, the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the presentation was made in secret. The gravestones of those killed gave no details of how they died. Afterwards the survivors were split up, no two men serving on the same ship.
The Israelis have always claimed that it was an error due to misidentification, but the surviving American eyewitnesses stated emphatically that this was impossible.
The naval Court of Inquiry was ordered by Admiral John McCain, and chaired by Rear Admiral Kidd, assisted by legal counsel Captain Ward Boston. They were given a week to conduct an inquiry that should have taken six months. They were expressly forbidden to interview Israeli military personnel, yet without such vital testimony they reported that the incident was a case of mistaken identity. Years later however, Ward Boston, a legal counsel in the inquiry, stated in a sworn affidavit that crucial testimony given to the inquiry had not been included in the final report, including that given by Lloyd Painter.
So disgusted were senior naval officers at the cover-up that a number of retired senior naval officers conducted their own inquiry. They were led by Admiral Thomas H. Moorer who, from 1970 to 1974 had been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officer in the US armed forces.
Their report, in October 2003 (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Moorer_Report) was totally different from that of the preceding official inquiry. A shortened version of their main conclusions is as follows:
· The torpedo boat attack involved not only the firing of torpedoes, but the machine-gunning of Liberty's firefighters and stretcher-bearers as they struggled to save their ship and crew; the Israeli torpedo boats later returned to machine-gun at close range three of the Liberty's life rafts that had been lowered into the water by survivors to rescue the most seriously wounded;
· There is compelling evidence that Israel's attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew;
· Fearing conflict with Israel, the White House deliberately prevented the U.S. Navy from coming to the defense of USS Liberty by recalling Sixth Fleet military rescue support while the ship was under attack;
· Surviving crewmembers were later threatened with "court-martial, imprisonment or worse" if they exposed the truth; and were abandoned by their own government;
· There had been an official cover-up without precedent in American naval history.
· That due to continuing pressure by the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, this attack remains the only serious naval incident that has never been thoroughly investigated by Congress; to this day, no surviving crewmember has been permitted to officially and publicly testify about the attack;
· A danger to national security exists whenever elected officials are willing to subordinate American interests to those of any foreign nation, and specifically are unwilling to challenge Israel's interests when they conflict with American interests; this policy, evidenced by the failure to defend USS Liberty and the subsequent official cover-up of the Israeli attack, endangers the safety of Americans and the security of the United States.
These navy top-brass were not alone in their contempt for the official inquiry. Among the many Washington insiders who were skeptical was the then Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who stated in his memoirs: “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."
“The loss of liberty” and “USS Liberty: Dead in The Water” are two of numerous documentaries available on YouTube.