USS Liberty incident

1967 Israeli attack on American navy ship

The USS Liberty incident was an attack on a United States Navy technical research ship (spy ship), USS Liberty, by Israeli Air Force jet fighter aircraft and Israeli Navy motor torpedo boats, on 8 June 1967, during the Six-Day War. The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members (naval officers, seamen, two marines, and one civilian NSA employee), wounded 171 crew members, and severely damaged the ship. At the time, the ship was in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula, about about 25.5 nmi (29.3 mi; 47.2 km) northwest from the Egyptian city of Arish.

The damaged USS Liberty on 8 June 1967

Israel apologized for the attack, saying that the USS Liberty had been attacked in error after being mistaken for an Egyptian ship. Both the Israeli and U.S. governments conducted inquiries and issued reports that concluded the attack was a mistake due to Israeli confusion about the ship's identity. Others, including survivors of the attack, have rejected these conclusions and maintain that the attack was deliberate.

Quotes edit

  • The Court produced evidence that the Israeli armed forces had ample opportunity to identify LIBERTY correctly. The Court had insufficient information before it to make a judgment on the reasons for the decision by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats to attack ... 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.
    • US Defense Department News Release (June 28, 1967) concerning the Naval Court of Inquiry into the attack.
  • 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.
    • Dean Rusk, who was United States Secretary of State during the attack, in his memoirs As I Saw It (1990)
  • As the Liberty sat within eyeshot of El Arish, eavesdropping on surrounding communications, Israeli soldiers turned the town into a slaughterhouse, systematically butchering their prisoners... This and other war crimes were just some of the secrets Israel had sought to conceal... An essential element in the Israeli battle plan seemed to have been to hide much of the war behind a carefully constructed curtain of lies... Into this sea of deception and slaughter sailed the USS Liberty, an enormous spy factory loaded with the latest eavesdropping gear... the ship was a tired old second world war vessel crawling with antennae, and unthreatening to anyone - unless it was their secrets, not their lives, they wanted to protect. By then the Israeli navy and air force had conducted more than six hours of close surveillance of the Liberty off the Sinai and must have positively identified it as an American electronic spy ship. They knew she was the only military ship in the area. Nevertheless, the order was given to kill her and at 12.05 pm, three motor torpedo boats from the port of Ashdod, about 50 miles away, departed. Israeli air force fighters, loaded with 50mm cannon ammunition, rockets and napalm, followed. Without warning, the Israeli jets - swept-wing Dassault Mirage IIICs - struck. On board Liberty, Lieutenant Painter observed that the aircraft had "absolutely no markings", their identity unclear.
    • James Bamford "The cover-up", The Guardian (August 7, 2001)
    • Extracted from Bamford's Body of Secrets (Century)
  • According to NSA documents - classified top secret... some senior officials in Washington wanted above all to protect Israel from embarrassment. "Captain Vineyard had mentioned during this conversation," wrote Tordella, "that consideration was then being given by some unnamed Washington authorities to sink[ing] the Liberty in order that newspaper men would be unable to photograph her and thus inflame public opinion against the Israelis... "
    • James Bamford "The cover-up", The Guardian (August 7, 2001)
    • Extracted from Bamford's Body of Secrets (Century)
  • It is... a national disgrace that in the immediate aftermath of Memorial Day there is scant remembrance of the 34 crew members comprising naval officers, seamen, two marines and a civilian who were killed in the attack along with the 171 crew members who were wounded. While the official inquiries by both nations found the attack to be a case of mistaken identity of the Liberty, to this day there is a long record of distinguished officers and journalists who take strong exception to this view believing that the attack was deliberate. Indeed the attack on the Liberty is the only maritime incident in U.S. history where our military forces were killed that was never investigated by the Congress. ... As we approach the anniversary of the attack on the Liberty, let us take a few minutes to reflect soberly on whether the time has not come to once again be a honest broker, to call our Israeli friends to account when necessary with sanctions that hurt and to make clear to one and all that acts such as the attack on the flotilla of humanitarian ships bound to alleviate the suffering of the men, women and children of Gaza will not occur with impunity.
  • This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assault on the USS Liberty, and though it was among the worst attacks in history against a noncombatant U.S. naval vessel, the tragedy remains shrouded in secrecy. The question of if and when Israeli forces became aware they were killing Americans has proved a point of particular contention in the on-again, off-again public debate that has simmered over the last half a century. The Navy Court of Inquiry’s investigation proceedings following the incident were held in closed sessions, and the survivors who had been on board received gag orders forbidding them to ever talk about what they endured that day.
  • In a statement to The Intercept, Ernie Gallo, who currently serves as the president of the Liberty Veterans Association, said, "We now know that the Navy Court of Inquiry was merely for show, as the officers were told to come to the conclusion the Liberty did [its] job and the attack was accidental." Bamford also references the magnitude and length of the attack as proof of its deliberateness: The ship was hit repeatedly, first by planes dropping thousand-pound bombs and napalm, and then by torpedo boats. Israeli forces also jammed the Liberty's antennas and communication channels, took out the four .50-caliber machine guns on board, and reportedly shot at life rafts and crew members as they attempted to evacuate the vessel. "It was an attack in broad daylight," said Bamford. "They were flying a large U.S. flag. [The ship] said USS Liberty on the back. … I mean, what do you need?"

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