* USS LIBERTY: Navy Vet Who Foiled Israeli Attack Honored
* U.S. envoy: Obama wants 'immediate' Mideast talks
* USS Liberty: Periscope Photography May Finally Reveal Truth
* Israel's Attack on the Liberty, Revisited
USS LIBERTY: Navy Vet Who Foiled Israeli Attack Honored
Posted: 08 Jun 2009 09:41 AM PDT
Ray McGovern *
What’s the difference between murder and massacre?
The answer is Terry Halbardier, whose bravery and ingenuity as a 23-year-old Navy seaman spelled the difference between the murder of 34 of the USS Liberty crew and the intended massacre of all 294.
The date was June 8, 1967; for the families of the 34 murdered and for the Liberty’s survivors and their families, it is a "date which will live in infamy" – like the date of an earlier surprise attack on the U.S. Navy.
The infamy is twofold: (1) the Liberty, a virtually defenseless intelligence collection platform prominently flying an American flag in international waters, came under deliberate attack by Israeli aircraft and three 60-ton Israeli torpedo boats off the coast of the Sinai on a cloudless June afternoon during the six-day Israeli-Arab war; and (2) President Lyndon Johnson called back carrier aircraft dispatched to defend the Liberty lest Israel be embarrassed – the start of an unconscionable cover-up, including top Navy brass, that persists to this day.
Given all they have been through, the Liberty survivors and other veterans – who joined Halbardier to celebrate his belated receipt of the Silver Star – can be forgiven for having doubted that this day would ever come. In the award ceremony at the Visalia, Calif., office of Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican congressman pinned the Silver Star next to the Purple Heart that Halbardier found in his home mailbox three years ago
Nunes said, "The government has kept this quiet I think for too long, and I felt as my constituent he [Halbardier] needed to get recognized for the services he made to his country."
Nunes got that right. Despite the many indignities the Liberty crew has been subjected to, the mood in Visalia was pronouncedly a joyous one of Better (42 Years) Late Than Never. And, it did take some time to sink in: Wow, a gutsy congressman not afraid to let the truth hang out on this delicate issue.
Treatment Accorded the Skipper
As we gathered in Congressman Nunes’ office, I could not get out of my head the contrast between this simple, uncomplicated event and the rigmarole that senior Navy officers went through to pin a richly deserved Medal of Honor on another hero of that day, the Liberty’s skipper, Capt. William McGonagle.
Although badly wounded by Israeli fire on June 8, 1967, McGonagle was able to keep the bombed, torpedoed, napalmed Liberty afloat and limping toward Malta, where what was left of the bodies of the 34 crewmen killed and the 174 wounded could be attended to.
Do the math: yes, killed and wounded amounted to more than two-thirds of the Liberty crew of 294.
I remembered what a naval officer involved in McGonagle’s award ceremony told one of the Liberty crew: "The government is pretty jumpy about Israel … the State Department even asked the Israeli ambassador if his government had any objections to McGonagle getting the medal."
When McGonagle received his award, the White House (the normal venue for a Medal of Honor award) was all booked up, it seems, and President Johnson (who would have been the usual presenter) was unavailable. So it fell to the secretary of the navy to sneak off to the Washington Navy Yard on the banks of the acrid Anacostia River, where he presented McGonagle with the Medal of Honor and a citation that described the attack but not the identity of the attackers.
Please don’t misunderstand. The Liberty crew is not big on ceremony. They are VERY-not-big on politicians who wink when Navy comrades are killed and wounded at sea.
Getting the Truth Out
The Liberty survivors are big on getting the truth out about what actually happened that otherwise beautiful day in June 1967. Last Wednesday’s award of the Silver Star to Terry Halbardier marked a significant step in the direction of truth-telling. Is it too much to hope that the example set by Nunes may embolden other lawmakers to right the wrongs done to their Liberty-veteran constituents – and thus to chip away at what’s left of the cover-up?
Halbardier said he accepted his Silver Star on behalf of the entire 294-man crew. He and fellow survivor Don Pageler expressed particular satisfaction at the wording of the citation, which stated explicitly – with none of the usual fudging – the identity of the attackers: "The USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats in the East Mediterranean Sea…." In the past, official citations, like Capt. McGonagle’s, had avoided mentioning Israel by name when alluding to the attack.
I think former U.S. ambassador Edward Peck put it best in condemning this kind of approach as "obsequious, unctuous subservience to the peripheral interests of a foreign nation at the cost of the lives and morale of our own service members and their families." Strong words for a diplomat. But right on target.
Were it not for Halbardier’s bravery, ingenuity, and technical expertise, the USS Liberty would surely have sunk, taking down much – if not all – of the crew. Israeli commando helicopters were ready to take care of any personnel still that survived the sinking.
The first thing the Israeli aircraft bombed and strafed were the Liberty’s communications antennae and other equipment. They succeeded in destroying all the antennae that were functional. One antenna on the port side, though, had been out of commission and had escaped damage.
On Deck – Just a Guy From Texas
In receiving the Silver Star, Halbardier made light of his heroism, claiming that he was just a guy from Texas who could do a whole lot with simple stuff like baling wire. (In the infantry we called this kind of thing a "field expedient.") In any case, with his can-do attitude and his technical training, he figured he might be able to get that particular antenna working again. But first he would have to repair a cable that had been destroyed on deck and then connect the antenna to a transmitter.
The deck was still being strafed, but Halbardier grabbed a reel of cable, ran out onto the deck, and attached new cable to the antenna so a radioman could get an SOS out to the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean.
Voilà. "Mayday" went out; almost immediately the Israeli aircraft and torpedo ships broke off the attack and went back to base; the Israeli government sent a quick apology to Washington for its unfortunate "mistake;" and President Johnson issued orders to everyone to make believe the Israelis were telling the truth – or at least to remain silent.
To their discredit, top Navy brass went along, and the Liberty survivors were threatened with court-martial and prison if they so much as mentioned to their wives what had actually happened. They were enjoined as well from discussing it with one another. As Liberty crewman Don Pageler put it, "We all headed out after that, and we didn’t talk to each other."
The circumstances were ready-made for serious post-traumatic stress disorder.
The stories shared by Liberty survivors after the award ceremony, including descriptions of the macabre but necessary effort to reassemble torpedoed body parts, and the plague of survivor’s guilt, were as heart-rending as any I have heard. They are stories that should be shared more widely for those muzzled far too long – those who, even 42 years later, might be helped by being in contact with other Liberty survivors, and being able to talk about it.
These were the deep emotional scars to supplement the ones all over Halbardier’s body, some of which he uncovered when asked by the local press gathered there in Visalia. Typically, Halbardier made light of the shrapnel that had to be plucked out of his flesh, emphasizing that he was lucky compared to some of the other crew.
Despite Israeli protestations, the accumulated evidence, including intercepted voice communications, is such that no serious observer believes Israel’s "Oops" excuse of a terrible mistake.
The following exchanges are excerpts of testimony from U.S. military and diplomatic officials given to Alison Weir, founder of "If Americans Knew" and author of American Media Miss the Boat:
Israeli pilot to ground control: "This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?"
Ground control: "Yes, follow orders."
Pilot: "But sir, it’s an American ship – I can see the flag!"
Ground control: "Never mind; hit it!"
Haviland Smith, a CIA officer stationed in Beirut during the Six-Day War, says he was told that the transcripts were "deep-sixed," because the U.S. government did not want to embarrass Israel.
Tapes Also Destroyed
Equally telling is the fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) destroyed voice tapes seen by many intelligence analysts showing that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing.
I asked a former CIA colleague, who was also an analyst at that time, what he remembered of those circumstances. Here is his e-mail reply:
"The chief of the analysts studying the Arab-Israeli region at the time told me about the intercepted messages and said very flatly and firmly that the pilots reported seeing the American flag and repeated their requests of confirmation of the attack order. Whole platoons of Americans saw those intercepts. If NSA now says they do not exist, then someone ordered them destroyed."
One need hardly add at this point that the destruction of evidence without investigation is an open invitation to repetition in the future.
Think interrogation videotapes, for example.
As for the legal side: the late Capt. Ward Boston, unburdened himself on his accomplice role as the Navy lawyer appointed as senior counsel to Adm. Isaac Kidd, who led a one-week (!) investigation and then followed orders to pronounce the attack on the Liberty a case of "mistaken identity."
Boston signed a formal declaration on Jan. 8, 2004, in which he said he was "outraged at the efforts of the apologists for Israel in this country to claim that this attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity.’" Boston continued:
"The evidence was clear. Both Adm. Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack … was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. … Not only did the Israelis attack the ship with napalm, gunfire, and missiles, Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned three lifeboats that had been launched in an attempt by the crew to save the most seriously wounded – a war crime.
"I know from personal conversations I had with Adm. Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary."
Col. W. Patrick Lang, USA (ret.), who was the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top analyst for the Middle East for eight years, recounted the Israeli air attacks as follows:
"The flight leader spoke to his base to report that he had the ship in view, that it was the same ship he had been briefed on, and that it was clearly marked with the U.S. flag.
"The flight commander was reluctant. That was very clear. He didn’t want to do this. He asked them a couple of times, ‘Do you really want me to do this?’ I’ve remembered it ever since. It was very striking. I’ve been harboring this memory for all these years."
Lang, of course, is not alone. So too Terry Halbardier, who told those assembled last Wednesday, "I think about it [the attack on the Liberty] every day."
Why Sink the Ship?
What we know for sure is, as the independent commission headed by former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Thomas Moorer put it, the attack "was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew."
What we do not know for sure is why the Israelis wanted that done. Has no one dared ask the Israelis?
One view is that the Israelis did not want the United States to find out they were massing troops to seize the Golan Heights from Syria and wanted to deprive the U.S. of the opportunity to argue against such a move.
James Bamford offers an alternative view in his excellent book Body of Secrets. Bamford adduces evidence, including reporting from an Israeli journalist eyewitness and an Israeli military historian, of wholesale killing of Egyptian prisoners of war at the coastal town of El Arish in the Sinai. The Liberty was patrolling directly opposite El Arish in international waters but within easy range to pick up intelligence on what was going on there. And the Israelis were well aware of that.
But the important thing here is not to confuse what we know (the deliberate nature of the Israeli attack) with the ultimate purpose behind it, which remains open to speculation.
Also worth noting is the conventional wisdom prevalent in our Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) that Egypt forced Israel into war in June 1967. An excellent, authoritative source has debunked that – none other than former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin! In an unguarded moment in 1982, when he was prime minister, he admitted publicly:
"In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."
Thus, the Israeli attack admittedly amounted to starting a war of aggression, and the occupied West Bank territories and the Golan Heights – gained by the Israelis in the 1967 war – remain occupied to this day.
The post-WWII tribunal at Nuremberg distinguished a "war of aggression" from other war crimes, terming it the "supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole."
Perhaps the attempt to sink the Liberty and finish off all survivors qualifies as one of those accumulated evils.
Terry Halbardier summed it up this way on Wednesday: "There’s lots of theories, but let’s just say they didn’t want us listening in to what they wanted to do."
Getting Away With Murder
In sum, on June 8, 1967, the Israeli government learned that it could get away with murder, literally, and the crime would be covered up, so strong is the influence of the Israel Lobby in our Congress – and indeed, in the White House. And those USS Liberty veterans who survived well enough to call for an independent investigation have been hit with charges of, you guessed it, anti-Semitism.
Does all this have relevance today? Of course.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the new Israeli prime minister, has now had an up-close-and-personal chance to take the measure of our new president and has already thumbed his nose at Barack Obama’s plea for a halt in illegal construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
The Israelis seem convinced they remain in the catbird’s seat, largely because of the Israel Lobby’s influence with U.S. lawmakers and opinion makers – not to mention the entrée the Israelis enjoy to the chief executive himself by having one of their staunchest allies, Rahm Emanuel, in position as White House chief of staff.
The recent Obama-Netanyahu encounter reminded me very much of the meeting in Vienna between another young American president and Nikita Khrushchev in early June 1961. The Soviets took the measure of President John Kennedy, and we got the Cuban missile crisis, bringing the world close to nuclear destruction.
Netanyahu is currently whipping up frenzy and fear in the face of what he calls the "existential threat" posed by Iran – frenzy about the "danger" from Iran that could lead to military action of some kind. So confident is Netanyahu of the solidity of his position with movers and shakers in the U.S. that he may be sorely tempted to mount the kind of provocation that would be aimed at confronting Obama with an unwelcome choice between joining an Israeli attack on Iran or facing dire political consequences at home.
And nothing is outlandish any more. Remember Seymour Hersh’s report about Cheney’s office conjuring up plots as to how best to trigger a war with Iran?
"The one that interested me [SH] the most was why don’t we build – we in our shipyard – build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy SEALs on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up."
President Obama might want to think about delivering a pointed message via a senior U.S. military officer. It worked last time.
In early July 2008, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen was sent to Israel to read the riot act to then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, who seemed to be itching to start hostilities with Iran while Bush and Cheney were still in office.
We learned from the Israeli press that Mullen, to his credit, went so far as to warn the Israelis not to even think about another incident like the attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 – that the Israelis should disabuse themselves of the notion that U.S. military support would be knee-jerk automatic if Israel somehow provoked open hostilities with Iran.
This is the only occasion of which I am aware when a U.S. official of such seniority braced Israel about the Liberty incident. A gutsy move, especially with Cheney and Elliott Abrams then in the White House, two hawks who would bless – or even encourage – an Israeli provocation that would make it very difficult for Washington to avoid springing to the defense of its "ally."
The Israelis know that Mullen knows that the attack on the Liberty was deliberate. Mullen could have raised no more neuralgic an issue to take a shot across an Israeli bow than to cite the attack on the Liberty. The Jerusalem Post reported that Mullen cautioned that a Liberty-type incident must be avoided in any future military actions in the Middle East.
Will Netanyahu give more weight to Mullen or to pro-Israel politicians like Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey? Lautenberg, who has visited Israel 80 times since 1968, spoke with the Jerusalem Post earlier this week and pledged full support for pretty much whatever Israel wants to do:
"Israel didn’t ask us permission to drop bombs twice on Syrian nuclear facilities. I don’t hear America scolding Israel for what it did then. Hypothetically, if Israel were able to get rid of Iran’s nuclear bomb-making capability, I’m sure that America would not send Israel a chastising e-mail message. We have to give Israel the courtesy of [allowing it to] make its own decisions."
For good measure, Lautenberg said Israel "won’t return to the ‘67 borders. They are insufficient to permit Israel to function."
Let me ask again: Will Netanyahu give more weight to Mullen over Lautenberg and a pro-Israel U.S. secretary of state (Hillary Clinton) who spoke about "obliterating" Iran during last year’s campaign?
In gauging President Obama’s clout with the Washington power-brokers, Netanyahu is likely to draw conclusions more from things like Obama’s inability, or reluctance, to turn off the feckless, counterproductive sabotage squads inside Iran, than from any warnings Netanyahu may have heard from the president to please not attack Iran.
Seems we are pretty much back where we were a year ago, when it looked like Olmert might mount some kind of provocation involving Iran. Perhaps President Obama should send Adm. Mullen back to Israel.
And perhaps this time Mullen should take Terry Halbardier with him.
Netanyahu needs to be confronted without delay. And June 8, 2009 the 42nd Anniversary of the attempted sinking of the USS Liberty, could prove an interesting time to be in Tel Aviv.
* Raymond McGovern is a retired CIA officer turned political activist. McGovern was a Federal employee under seven U.S. presidents over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House for many of them.
U.S. envoy: Obama wants 'immediate' Mideast talks
Posted: 08 Jun 2009 09:35 AM PDT
United States President Barack Obama wants "immediate" talks between the Palestinians and Israel to forge a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement, U.S. envoy George Mitchell said on Monday.
"The President has told me to exert all efforts to create the circumstance when the parties can begin immediate discussions," Mitchell told reporters at the start of a Palestinian donors' conference in the Norwegian capital.
Mitchell, who is en route to the Middle East, said the aim of such talks was "a comprehensive peace and normalization of relations" between Israel and its neighbors, which would also serve "the security interests of the United States."
The envoy is to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Tuesday to discuss West Bank settlements, an issue driving a rift between the current Israeli and American governments. Obama has called for a total freeze to activity in the West Bank, while Netanyahu insists that construction be permitted in existing settlements to accommodate "natural growth."
Mitchell said the purpose of the donors' meeting was to "provide support for the Palestinian authority" and pave the way for a two-state solution with Israel.
"It's important that there is a building of institutions and governmental capacity so that at an early time there can be an independent and viable Palestinian state," Mitchell said.
Netanyahu announced Sunday that he would deliver a major address on his foreign policy next week. The decision comes in the wake of U.S. pressure over the peace process with the Palestinians and Obama's address to the Muslim world last week.
The prime minister has yet to finalize his address, and is expected to discuss it this week with his advisers, ministry representatives and other political officials.
The speech was moved up from next Tuesday to Sunday - possibly because Netanyahu wants to lay out his principles before Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman leaves for Brussels on Monday to meet with several European counterparts, according to a government source.
The sources said that Netanyahu has decided to deliver this address due to his "understanding of reality and knowing that he must present a political initiative."
USS Liberty: Periscope Photography May Finally Reveal Truth
Posted: 08 Jun 2009 07:18 AM PDT
by James M. Ennes, Jr.
The facts are well known. USS Liberty, an American intelligence collection ship operated by the U.S. Navy with 294 men aboard, was attacked by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats in international waters in clear weather during the 1967 Six-Day War. Thirty-four men were killed and 171 wounded. The ship was so badly damaged it had to be sold for scrap.
Israel called the attack a "tragic accident," claiming the ship was mistaken for an ancient Egyptian horse carrier less than half her size. Survivors and many top U.S. officials dismiss the Israeli story as contrived, unbelievable and untrue.
Survivors cite numerous falsehoods in the Israeli account. For instance, Israel claims the attacking jets circled the ship three times looking for a flag and that no flag was flown. They say a cease-fire order was given even before the ship was hit by a torpedo and that no further shots were fired. They call it a very brief case of "friendly fire" that ended when they saw our flag. They say they offered help immediately after the torpedo explosion.
Not true! A large American flag was clearly displayed in a good breeze and the attacking pilots did not circle looking for it. The torpedomen continued firing for another 40 minutes after the torpedo explosion, even firing upon life rafts in the water. Their offer of help did not come until two hours after the torpedo explosion. Many other conflicts exist between the Israeli and American versions.
In fact, the Israeli assault on the Liberty remains the only major maritime event in American history that has not been investigated by the Congress. For comparison, the U.S. committed more than 300 people and seven months to investigating the uncontested single hit by an Iraqi missile on USS Stark in the Arabian Gulf. Yet, even though 250 survivors of the Liberty say Israel is lying about the 75-minute attack on their ship, no member of Congress since Adlai Stevenson II has shown the slightest interest in finding the truth. When pressed, members of Congress generally tell their constituentsas they have since 1967 that an investigation would be impossible because too much time has passed, and because Israel could not be compelled to testify.
Submarine Photography Can Prove What Happened
Moments after the attack, several Liberty crewmen reported seeing a periscope very close to the ship. Then the periscope vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
A few weeks later, Liberty survivor Joe Lentini was approached by another sailor in the cafeteria of Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. Lentini was in uniform and on crutches. His ship's name, "USS LIBERTY," was embroidered on his shoulder.
"Were you there?" the sailor asked, seemingly astonished. When Lentini confirmed that he was, the man continued. "We were there," he said. "Our submarine. We saw the whole thing. We took pictures. Then we sent an officer back to the Pentagon to deliver them."
Lentini was so stunned by this news that he neglected to get the man's name or the name of the submarine. When he looked for the man again later, he was nowhere to be found.
I asked my Liberty shipmate, then-Lieutenant Jim O'Connor, what he knew about a submarine operating near us. Jim's job in the Liberty would have made him among the most likely people to know such things. Before the attack I had seen him plotting what looked to me like a submarine track on a chart.
Jim looked stunned. "I don't know how you learned about that," he said. "Yes, there was a submarine near us. If you ever quote me I'll swear you are lying." From then until he died 25 years later of Lou Gehrig's disease, Jim never mentioned the submarine again. When I asked him about it, he denied the earlier conversation.
During the next few years three other naval officers in key positions to know about such things all told me, "Yes, there was a submarine with you. There were three. They spent most of the war on the bottom, then they got out in a hurry."
Recently one of Liberty's intercept operators, Charles Rowley, told me that just before the attack he had intercepted a very strange, very short radio signal that he had forwarded to Washington. Instead of acknowledging his effort, Washington promptly ordered him to destroy any copies of that signal and to ignore any like it that he heard in the future. He felt he was being scolded for doing his job.
Rowley concluded that he had picked up a submarine signal and asked some other technicians about it. These men mentioned "Project Cyanide" but were unable or unwilling to say more. He concluded that "Cyanide" and the strange track on the chart all were associated with a compartmented submarine project to which only a very few people were privy. Most of those men died in the attack.
For the next several years, "Cyanide" and the mystery submarine remained elusive. One Liberty survivor mentioned a submarine to a free-lance reporter who wrote a book about it. Nearly everything he wrote was based on guesswork and was wrong. The book did nothing to advance the story.
Then in 1988 the Lyndon Johnson Library declassified and released an intriguing, highly sensitive document with the rare "Eyes Only" security caveat. This "Memorandum for the Record" dated 10 April 1967 reported a briefing of the "303 Committee" by General Ralph D. Steakley. Members present were Walt Rostow, Foy Kohler, Cyrus Vance and Admiral Rufus Taylor.
According to the memo, General Steakley "briefed the committee on a sensitive DOD project known as FRONTLET 615," which is identified in a handwritten note on the original memorandum as "submarine within U.A.R. waters." (At that time Egypt was formally known as "The United Arab Republic.") After considering alternatives, "the proposal was approved by the committee principals."
This memorandum was filed in the LBJ Library's USS Liberty archive. Why there? Obviously it has something to do with the Liberty. Could this have been the submarine we have heard about since 1967?
Survivors filed further Freedom of Information Act requests with the Library, Navy, Department of Defense, National Security Council, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Joint Chiefs of Staff and elsewhere seeking more information. We sent copies of the declassified memo to support our request. In every case we were told that there is no record within the government of Cyanide or Frontlet 615 or of any submarines operating near the Liberty in 1967.
When we called General Steakley, he told us that his job for nine years with the Joint Chiefs of Staff was to win approval of such projects from the appropriate authorities. He was rarely involved in the projects themselves. He could remember nothing about Frontlet 615.
In February 1997, we were contacted by a man who, like the first visitor in the cafeteria, told us, "I was there. We watched the attack through the periscope and took pictures." He added, "News reports said Liberty was under attack for only five minutes, but that attack lasted more than an hour."
This person identified himself as a relatively senior member of the crew of the submarine, but he was unwilling to give his name or to talk to us except through a third party, as he feared punishment for telling the story. He did, however, give us the name of the submarine: USS Amberjack SS522, a Guppy (snorkel)-equipped diesel boat built in 1945. He also told us that Amberjack's mission was reconnaissance within U.A.R. waters. Apparently Amberjack was the Frontlet 615 submarine.
This source gained credibility when we obtained Amberjack's official ship's history from the Department of Defense. Amberjack was indeed in the area during the Six-Day War, just as he said.
Further searches of Navy-oriented Web sites on the Internet quickly turned up four more Amberjack crewmen from the "Med Cruise" of June 1967. Some of these were Amberjack's most senior enlisted men. All four of these men, contacted by telephone, readily told us that they were very close to USS Liberty when we came under attack. Amberjack was so close, they said, and the sound of gunfire, missiles and the torpedo explosion so loud, that some of the crew thought Amberjack was under depth charge attack.
These men, all career submariners and all fairly senior at the time, had not seen or talked to one another for many years. Yet they all told the same story. They were very close to or "almost directly under" Liberty when the ship came under attack. Amberjack was specially fitted for periscope photography and was fully capable of photographing the attack, they said, although none of these four was certain that pictures were taken.
All four men told us that Amberjack proceeded from the Gaza Strip to a brief stop at Souda Bay, Crete, where the ship was kept at anchorage and the crew was not allowed ashore. Next, Amberjack went to Malta, where she tied up near the Liberty.
All four men told us that Amberjack was only one of five submarines in the Gaza Strip area. Others were USS Trutta SS421, USS Requin SS481, and French and Italian submarines. Any of those might also have photographed or recorded the attack.
Amberjack Skipper Denies Everything
Next we located Amberjack's 1967 skipper, August Hubal. By coincidence, Hubal was an Annapolis classmate of Liberty's Executive Officer, Phil Armstrong, who died in the attack. Hubal's room at the Naval Academy was directly across the hall from that of Liberty's Research Operations Department Head, David Lewis. Hubal knew both men well.
Now a retired Navy captain, Hubal denies everything. Interviewed by telephone, he insists that his ship was nowhere near Liberty. Amberjack was at least 100 miles away, he says. When we told Captain Hubal that several senior members of his crew, including a periscope photographer, have told us they were within sight of the attack, he shrugged that off. "They must be mistaken," he says, apparently still muffled by ancient security restrictions.
Why Is This Important?
These stories matter because they can resolve at last the differences between Israeli and American versions of what happened.
For 30 years Israel and its supporters have denounced survivors as liars and anti-Semites for reporting what happened to their ship. Members of Congress are unwilling even to listen to their stories. These men seek justice.
Recent White House executive orders call for the declassification of virtually every record more than 30 years old. Amberjack photography and other such reports fall in that category.
If the submarine photography can be found, it should show that the ship's flag was clearly visible to the attacking fighters and torpedo boats. Pictures also should show that the Israelis continued to fire from close range with the flag and other markings in clear view long after the torpedo explosion that they claim ended the attack. Pictures may reveal the methodical machine-gunning of Liberty's life rafts in the water. Other Amberjack records, reports and sound recordings should show the duration of the attack and other details denied by the attackers.
Liberty survivors will continue their quest for these records. We believe they exist and we think they can be found.
With those files and photographs declassified, Israel never again will be able to pretend that the survivors of the Liberty attack are lying.
Israel's Attack on the Liberty, Revisited
Posted: 08 Jun 2009 06:51 AM PDT
June 8th, 1967
Rockets, Napalm, Torpedoes & Lies
by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
In early June of 1967, at the onset of the Six Day War, the Pentagon sent the USS Liberty from Spain into international waters off the coast of Gaza to monitor the progress of Israel's attack on the Arab states. The Liberty was a lightly armed surveillance ship.
Only hours after the Liberty arrived it was spotted by the Israeli military. The IDF sent out reconnaissance planes to identify the ship. They made eight trips over a period of three hours. The Liberty was flying a large US flag and was easily recognizable as an American vessel.
A few hours later more planes came. These were Israeli Mirage III fighters, armed with rockets and machine guns. As off-duty officers sunbathed on the deck, the fighters opened fire on the defenseless ship with rockets and machine guns.
A few minutes later a second wave of planes streaked overhead, French-built Mystere jets, which not only pelted the ship with gunfire but also with napalm bomblets, coating the deck with the flaming jelly. By now, the Liberty was on fire and dozens were wounded and killed, excluding several of the ship's top officers.
The Liberty's radio team tried to issue a distress call, but discovered the frequencies had been jammed by the Israeli planes with what one communications specialist called "a buzzsaw sound." Finally, an open channel was found and the Liberty got out a message it was under attack to the USS America, the Sixth Fleet's large aircraft carrier.
Two F-4s left the carrier to come to the Liberty's aid. Apparently, the jets were armed only with nuclear weapons. When word reached the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara became irate and ordered the jets to return. "Tell the Sixth Fleet to get those aircraft back immediately," he barked. McNamara's injunction was reiterated in saltier terms by Admiral David L. McDonald, the chief of Naval Operations: "You get those fucking airplanes back on deck, and you get them back down." The planes turned around. And the attack on the Liberty continued.
After the Israeli fighter jets had emptied their arsenal of rockets, three Israeli attack boats approached the Liberty. Two torpedoes were launched at the crippled ship, one tore a 40-foot wide hole in the hull, flooding the lower compartments, and killing more than a dozen American sailors.
As the Liberty listed in the choppy seas, its deck aflame, crew members dropped life rafts into the water and prepared to scuttle the ship. Given the number of wounded, this was going to be a dangerous operation. But it soon proved impossible, as the Israeli attack boats strafed the rafts with machine gun fire. No body was going to get out alive that way.
After more than two hours of unremitting assault, the Israelis finally halted their attack. One of the torpedo boats approached the Liberty. An officer asked in English over a bullhorn: "Do you need any help?"
The wounded commander of the Liberty, Lt. William McGonagle, instructed the quartermaster to respond emphatically: "Fuck you."
The Israeli boat turned and left.
A Soviet destroyer responded before the US Navy, even though a US submarine, on a covert mission, was apparently in the area and had monitored the attack. The Soviet ship reached the Liberty six hours before the USS Davis. The captain of the Soviet ship offered his aid, but the Liberty's conning officer refused.
Finally, 16 hours after the attack two US destroyers reached the Liberty. By that time, 34 US sailors were dead and 174 injured, many seriously. As the wounded were being evacuated, an officer with the Office of Naval Intelligence instructed the men not to talk about their ordeal with the press.
The following morning Israel launched a surprise invasion of Syria, breaching the new cease-fire agreement and seizing control of the Golan Heights.
Within three weeks, the Navy put out a 700-page report, exonerating the Israelis, claiming the attack had been accidental and that the Israelis had pulled back as soon as they realized their mistake. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara suggested the whole affair should be forgotten. "These errors do occur," McNamara concluded.
In Assault on the Liberty, a harrowing first-hand account by James Ennes Jr., McNamara's version of events is proven to be as big a sham as his concurrent lies about Vietnam. Ennes's book created a media storm when it was first published by Random House in 1980, including (predictably) charges that Ennes was a liar and an anti-Semite. Still, the book sold more than 40,000 copies, but was eventually allowed to go out of print. Now Ennes has published an updated version, which incorporates much new evidence that the Israeli attack was deliberate and that the US government went to extraordinary lengths to disguise the truth.
It's a story of Israel aggression, Pentagon incompetence, official lies, and a cover-up that persists to this day. The book gains much of its power from the immediacy of Ennes's first-hand account of the attack and the lies that followed.
Now, 35 years later, Ennes warns that the bloodbath on board the Liberty and its aftermath should serve as a tragic cautionary tale about the continuing ties between the US government and the government of Israel.
The Attack on the Liberty is the kind of book that makes your blood seethe. Ennes skillfully documents the life of the average sailor on one of the more peculiar vessels in the US Navy, with an attention for detail that reminds one of Dana or O'Brien. After all, the year was 1967 and most of the men on the Liberty were certainly glad to be on a non-combat ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, rather than in the Gulf of Tonkin or Mekong Delta.
But this isn't Two Years Before the Mast. In fact, Ennes's tour on the Liberty last only a few short weeks. He had scarcely settled into a routine before his new ship was shattered before his eyes.
Ennes joined the Liberty in May of 1967, as an Electronics Material Officer. Serving on a "spook ship", as the Liberty was known to Navy wives, was supposed to be a sure path to career enhancement. The Liberty's normal routine was to ply the African coast, tuning in its eavesdropping equipment on the electronic traffic in the region.
The Liberty had barely reached Africa when it received a flash message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sail from the Ivory Coast to the Mediterranean, where it was to re-deploy off the coast of the Sinai to monitor the Israeli attack on Egypt and the allied Arab nations.
As the war intensified, the Liberty sent a request to the fleet headquarters requesting an escort. It was denied by Admiral William Martin. The Liberty moved alone to a position in international waters about 13 miles from the shore at El Arish, then under furious siege by the IDF.
On June 6, the Joint Chiefs sent Admiral McCain, father of the senator from Arizona, an urgent message instructing him to move the Liberty out of the war zone to a position at least 100 miles off the Gaza Coast. McCain never forwarded the message to the ship.
A little after seven in the morning on June 8, Ennes entered the bridge of the Liberty to take the morning watch. Ennes was told that an hour earlier a "flying boxcar" (later identified as a twin-engine Nord 2501 Noratlas) had flown over the ship at a low level.
Ennes says he noticed that the ship's American flag had become stained with soot and ordered a new flag run up the mast. The morning was clear and calm, with a light breeze.
At 9 am, Ennes spotted another reconnaissance plane, which circled the Liberty. An hour later two Israeli fighter jets buzzed the ship. Over the next four hours, Israeli planes flew over the Liberty five more times.
When the first fighter jet struck, a little before two in the afternoon, Ennes was scanning the skies from the starboard side of the bridge, binoculars in his hands. A rocket hit the ship just below where Ennes was standing, the fragments shredded the men closest to him.
After the explosion, Ennes noticed that he was the only man left standing. But he also had been hit by more than 20 shards of shrapnel and the force of the blast had shattered his left leg. As he crawled into the pilothouse, a second fighter jet streaked above them and unleashed its payload on the hobbled Liberty.
At that point, Ennes says the crew of the Liberty had no idea who was attacking them or why. For a few moments, they suspected it might be the Soviets, after an officer mistakenly identified the fighters as MIG-15s. They knew that the Egyptian air force already had been decimated by the Israelis. The idea that the Israelis might be attacking them didn't occur to them until one of the crew spotted a Star of David on the wing of one of the French-built Mystere jets.
Ennes was finally taken below deck to a makeshift dressing station, with other wounded men. It was hardly a safe harbor. As Ennes worried that his fractured leg might slice through his femoral artery leaving him to bleed to death, the Liberty was pummeled by rockets, machine-gun fire and an Italian-made torpedo packed with 1,000-pounds of explosive.
After the attack ended, Ennes was approached by his friend Pat O'Malley, a junior officer, who had just sent a list of killed and wounded to the Bureau of Naval Personnel. He got an immediate message back. "They said, 'Wounded in what action? Killed in what action?'," O'Malley told Ennes. "They said it wasn't an 'action,' it was an accident. I'd like for them to come out here and see the difference between an action and an accident. Stupid bastards."
The cover-up had begun.
The Pentagon lied to the public about the attack on the Liberty from the very beginning. In a decision personally approved by the loathsome McNamara, the Pentagon denied to the press that the Liberty was an intelligence ship, referring to it instead as a Technical Research ship, as if it were little more than a military version of Jacques Cousteau's Calypso.
The military press corps on the USS America, where most of the wounded sailors had been taken, were placed under extreme restrictions. All of the stories filed from the carrier were first routed through the Pentagon for security clearance, objectionable material was removed with barely a bleat of protest from the reporters or their publications.
Predictably, Israel's first response was to blame the victim, a tactic that has served them so well in the Palestinian situation. First, the IDF alleged that it had asked the State Department and the Pentagon to identify any US ships in the area and was told that there were none. Then the Israeli government charged that the Liberty failed to fly its flag and didn't respond to calls for it to identify itself. The Israelis contended that they assumed the Liberty was an Egyptian supply ship called El Quseir, which, even though it was a rusting transport ship then docked in Alexandria, the IDF said it suspected of shelling Israeli troops from the sea. Under these circumstances, the Israeli's said they were justified in opening fire on the Liberty. The Israelis said that they halted the attack almost immediately, when they realized their mistake.
"The Liberty contributed decisively toward its identification as an enemy ship," the IDF report concluded. This was a blatant falsehood, since the Israelis had identified the Liberty at least six hours prior to the attack on the ship.
Even though the Pentagon knew better, it gave credence to the Israeli account by saying that perhaps the Liberty's flag had lain limp on the flagpole in a windless sea. The Pentagon also suggested that the attack might have lasted less than 20 minutes.
After the initial battery of misinformation, the Pentagon imposed a news blackout on the Liberty disaster until after the completion of a Court of Inquiry investigation.
The inquiry was headed by Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. Kidd didn't have a free hand. He'd been instructed by Vice-Admiral McCain to limit the damage to the Pentagon and to protect the reputation of Israel.
The Kidd interviewed the crew on June 14 and 15. The questioning was extremely circumscribed. According to Ennes, the investigators "asked nothing that might be embarrassing to Israeland testimony that tended to embarrass Israel was covered with a 'Top Secret' label, if it was accepted at all."
Ennes notes that even testimony by the Liberty's communications officers about the jamming of the ship's radios was classified as "Top Secret." The reason? It proved that Israel knew it was attacking an American ship. "Here was strong evidence that the attack was planned in advance and that our ship's identity was known to the attackers (for it its practically impossible to jam the radio of a stranger), but this information was hushed up and no conclusions were drawn from it," Ennes writes.
Similarly, the Court of Inquiry deep-sixed testimony and affidavits regarding the flag-Ennes had ordered a crisp new one deployed early on the morning of the attack. The investigators buried intercepts of conversations between IDF pilots identifying the ship as flying an American flag.
It also refused to accept evidence about the IDF's use of napalm during the attacks and choose not to hear testimony regarding the duration of the attacks and the fact that the US Navy failed to send planes to defend the ship.
"No one came to help us," said Dr. Richard F. Kiepfer, the Liberty's physician. "We were promised help, but no help came. The Russians arrived before our own ships did. We asked for an escort before we ever came to the war zone and we were turned down."
None of this made its way into the 700-page Court of Inquiry report, which was completed within a couple of weeks and sent to Admiral McCain in London for review.
McCain approved the report over the objections of Captain Merlin Staring, the Navy legal officer assigned to the inquiry, who found the report to be flawed, incomplete and contrary to the evidence.
Staring sent a letter to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy disavowing himself from the report. The JAG seemed to take Staring's objections to heart. It prepared a summary for the Chief of Naval Operations that almost completely ignored the Kidd/McCain report. Instead, it concluded:
that the Liberty was easily recognizable as an American naval vessel;
that it's flag was fully deployed and flying in a moderate breeze;
that Israeli planes made at least eight reconnaissance flights at close range;
the ship came under a prolonged attack from Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats.
This succinct and largely accurate report was stamped Top Secret by Navy brass and stayed locked up for many years. But it was seen by many in the Pentagon and some in the Oval Office. But here was enough grumbling about the way the Liberty incident had been handled that LBJ summoned that old Washington fixer Clark Clifford to do damage control. It didn't take Clifford long to come up with the official line: the Israelis simply had made a tragic mistake.
It turns out that the Admiral Kidd and Captain Ward Boston, the two investigating officers who prepared the original report for Admiral McCain, both believed that the Israeli attack was intentional and sustained. In other words, the IDF knew that they were striking an American spy ship and they wanted to sink it and kill as many sailors as possible. Why then did the Navy investigators produce a sham report that concluded it was an accident?
Twenty-five years later we've finally found out. In June of 2002, Captain Boston told the Navy Times: "Officers follow orders."
It gets worse. There's plenty of evidence that US intelligence agencies learned on June 7 that Israel intended to attack the Liberty on the following day and that the strike had been personally ordered by Moshe Dayan.
As the attacks were going on, conversations between Israeli pilots were overheard by US Air Force officers in an EC121 surveillance plane overhead. The spy plane was spotted by Israeli jets, which were given orders to shoot it down. The American plane narrowly avoided the IDF missiles.
Initial reports on the incident prepared by the CIA, Office of Naval Intelligence and the National Security Agency all reached similar conclusions.
A particularly damning report compiled by a CIA informant suggests that Israeli Defense minister Moshe Dayan personally ordered the attack and wanted it to proceed until the Liberty was sunk and all on board killed. A heavily redacted version of the report was released in 1977. It reads in part:
"[The source] said that Dayan personally ordered the attack on the ship and that one of his generals adamantly opposed the action and said, 'This is pure murder.' One of the admirals who was present also disapproved of the action, and it was he who ordered it stopped and not Dayan."
This amazing document generated little attention from the press and Dayan was never publicly questioned about his role in the attack.
The analyses by the intelligence agencies are collected in a 1967 investigation by the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations. Two and half decades later that report remains classified. Why? A former committee staffer said: "So as not to embarrass Israel."
More proof has recently come to light from the Israeli side. A few years after Attack on the Liberty was originally published, Ennes got a call from Evan Toni, an Israeli pilot. Toni told Ennes that he had just read his book and wanted to tell him his story. Toni said that he was the pilot in the first Israeli Mirage fighter to reach the Liberty. He immediately recognized the ship to be a US Navy vessel. He radioed Israeli air command with this information and asked for instructions. Toni said he was ordered to "attack." He refused and flew back to the air base at Ashdod. When he arrived he was summarily arrested for disobeying orders.
How tightly does the Israeli lobby control the Hill? For the first time in history, an attack on an America ship was not subjected to a public investigation by Congress. In 1980, Adlai Stevenson and Barry Goldwater planned to open a senate hearing into the Liberty affair. Then Jimmy Carter intervened by brokering a deal with Menachem Begin, where Israel agreed to pony up $6 million to pay for damages to the ship. A State Department press release announced the payment said, "The book is now closed on the USS Liberty."
It certainly was the last chapter for Adlai Stevenson. He ran for governor of Illinois the following year, where his less than perfect record on Israel, and his unsettling questions about the Liberty affair, became an issue in the campaign. Big money flowed into the coffers of his Republican opponent, Big Jim Thompson, and Stevenson went down to a narrow defeat.
But the book wasn't closed for the sailors either, of course. After a Newsweek story exposed the gist of what really happened on that day in the Mediterranean, an enraged Admiral McCain placed all the sailors under a gag order. When one sailor told an officer that he was having problems living with the cover-up, he was told: "Forget about it, that's an order."
The Navy went to bizarre lengths to keep the crew of the Liberty from telling what they knew. When gag orders didn't work, they threatened sanctions. Ennes tells of the confinement and interrogation of two Liberty sailors that sounds like something right out of the CIA's MK-Ultra program.
"In an incredible abuse of authority, military officers held two young Liberty sailors against their will in a locked and heavily guarded psychiatric ward of the base hospital," Ennes writes. "For days these men were drugged and questioned about their recollections of the attack by a 'therapist' who admitted to being untrained in either psychiatry or psychology. At one point, they avoided electroshock only by bolting from the room and demanding to see the commanding officer."
Since coming home, the veterans who have tried to tell of their ordeal have been harassed relentlessly. They've been branded as drunks, bigots, liars and frauds. Often, it turns out, these slurs have been leaked by the Pentagon. And, oh yeah, they've also been painted as anti-Semites.
In a recent column, Charley Reese describes just how mean-spirited and petty this campaign became. "When a small town in Wisconsin decided to name its library in honor of the USS Liberty crewmen, a campaign claiming it was anti-Semitic was launched," writes Reese. "And when the town went ahead, the U.S. government ordered no Navy personnel to attend, and sent no messages. This little library was the first, and at the time the only, memorial to the men who died on the Liberty
So why then did the Israelis attack the Liberty?
A few days before the Six Days War, Israel's Foreign Minister Abba Eban visited Washington to inform LBJ about the forthcoming invasion. Johnson cautioned Eban that the US could not support such an attack.
It's possible, then, that the IDF assumed that the Liberty was spying on the Israeli war plans. Possible, but not likely. Despite the official denials, as Andrew and Leslie Cockburn demonstrate in Dangerous Liaison, at the time of the Six Days War the US and Israel had developed a warm covert relationship. So closely were the two sides working that US intelligence aid certainly helped secure Israel's devastating and swift victory. In fact, it's possible that the Liberty had been sent to the region to spy for the IDF.
A somewhat more likely scenario holds that Moshe Dayan wanted to keep the lid on Israel's plan to breach the new cease-fire and invade into Syria to seize the Golan.
It has also been suggested that Dayan ordered the attack on the Liberty with the intent of pinning the blame on the Egyptians and thus swinging public and political opinion in the United States solidly behind the Israelis. Of course, for this plan to work, the Liberty had to be destroyed and its crew killed.
There's another factor. The Liberty was positioned just off the coast from the town of El Arish. In fact, Ennes and others had used town's mosque tower to fix the location of the ship along the otherwise featureless desert shoreline. The IDF had seized El Arish and had used the airport there as a prisoner of war camp. On the very day the Liberty was attacked, the IDF was in the process of executing as many as 1,000 Palestinian and Egyptian POWs, a war crime that they surely wanted to conceal from prying eyes. According to Gabriel Bron, now an Israeli reporter, who witnessed part of the massacre as a soldier: "The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death."
The bigger question is why the US government would participate so enthusiastically in the cover-up of a war crime against its own sailors. Well, the Pentagon has never been slow to hide its own incompetence. And there's plenty of that in the Liberty affair: bungled communications, refusal to provide an escort, situating the defenseless Liberty too close to a raging battle, the inability to intervene in the attack and the inexcusably long time it took to reach the battered ship and its wounded.
That's but par for the course. But something else was going on that would only come to light later. Through most of the 1960s, the US congress had imposed a ban on the sale of arms to both Israel and Jordan. But at the time of the Liberty attack, the Pentagon (and its allies in the White House and on the Hill) was seeking to have this proscription overturned. The top brass certainly knew that any evidence of a deliberate attack on a US Navy ship by the IDF would scuttle their plans. So they hushed it up.
In January 1968, the arms embargo on Israel was lifted and the sale of American weapons began to flow. By 1971, Israel was buying $600 million of American-made weapons a year. Two years later the purchases topped $3 billion. Almost overnight, Israel had become the largest buyer of US-made arms and aircraft.
Perversely, then, the IDF's strike on the Liberty served to weld the US and Israel together, in a kind of political and military embrace. Now, every time the IDF attacks defenseless villages in Gaza and the West Bank with F-16s and Apache helicopters, the Palestinians quite rightly see the bloody assaults as a joint operation, with the Pentagon as a hidden partner.
Thus, does the legacy of Liberty live on, one raid after another.