Surviving Sailors Break Their Silence 40 Years After Israeli Attack on US Navy Ship

Hustler Magazine
, July 2008

June 8, 1967 — the fourth day of the Six Day
War between Israel and Egypt, Syria and Jordan — was a
beautiful day in the Mediterranean. The
USS Liberty
was in international waters off
the coast of Egypt. Israeli aircraft had flown over the
USS Liberty in the morning and had reported that
the ship was American. The crew, in close proximity to
the war zone, was reassured by the presence of Israeli
aircraft. But at 2:00 p.m. sailors sunbathing on the
deck saw fighter jets coming at them in attack
formation. Red flashes from the wings of the fighters
were followed by explosions, blood and death. A
beautiful afternoon suddenly became a nightmare. Who was
attacking the USS Liberty and why? The attack on
the Liberty was an attack on America.

The Liberty was an intelligence ship. Its
purpose was to monitor Soviet and Arab communications in
order to warn both Israel and Washington should the
Soviets enter the war on behalf of its Arab allies. The
Liberty was armed only with four machineguns to
repel boarders. Its request for a destroyer escort had
been denied.

The assault on the Liberty is well documented.
With no warning, the Liberty was attacked by
successive waves of unmarked jets using cannon, rockets
and napalm. The attacking jets jammed all of the US
communications frequencies, an indication they knew the
Liberty was an American ship.

The air attack failed to sink the Liberty.
About 30 minutes into the attack three torpedo boats
appeared flying the Star of David. The Israeli boats
were not on a rescue mission. They attacked the
with cannon, machineguns and torpedoes. One
torpedo struck the Liberty mid-ship, instantly
killing 25 Americans while flooding the lower decks. The
Israeli torpedo boats destroyed the life rafts the
launched when the crew prepared to abandon
ship, sending the message there`d be no survivors.

At approximately 3:15 two French-built Israeli
helicopters carrying armed Israeli troops appeared over
the Liberty. Phil Tourney could see their faces
only 50/60 feet away. He gave them the finger. Surviving
crewmembers are convinced the Israelis were sent to
board and kill all survivors.

The Israeli jets destroyed the Liberty`s
communication antennas. While under attack from the
jets, crewmembers strung lines that permitted the ship
to send a call for help. The USS Saratoga and the USS
America launched fighters to drive off the attacking
aircraft, but the rescue mission was aborted by direct
orders from Washington.

When the Liberty notified the Sixth Fleet it
was again under attack, this time from surface ships,
the Fleet commander ordered the carriers America and
Saratoga to launch fighters to destroy or drive off the
attackers. The order was unencrypted and picked up by
Israel, which immediately called off its attack. The
torpedo boats and the hovering helicopters sped away.
Israel quickly notified Washington that it had
mistakenly attacked an American ship, and the US
fighters were recalled a second time.

The USS Liberty suffered 70% casualties, with
34 killed and 174 wounded. Although the expensive state
of the art ship was kept afloat by the heroic crew, it
later proved unsalvageable and was sold as scrap.

Why didn`t help come?

No explanation has ever been given by the US
government for Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and
President Lyndon B. Johnson`s orders for the Sixth Fleet
to abort the rescue mission. Lt. Commander David Lewis
of the Liberty told colleagues that Admiral L. R.
Geis, commander of the Sixth Fleet carrier force, told
him that when he challenged McNamara`s order to recall
the rescue mission, LBJ came on the line and said he
didn`t care if the ship sank, he wasn`t going to
embarrass an ally. The communications officer handling
the transmission has given the same account.

A BBC documentary on the Israeli raid reports
confusion about the attacker`s identity almost resulted
in a US assault on Egypt. Richard Parker, US political
counsel in Cairo, confirms in the BBC documentary he
received official communication an American retaliatory
attack on Egypt was on its way.

The US government`s official position on the USS
corresponds with Israel`s: The attack was
unintentional and a result of Israeli blunders. This is
the official position despite the fact that CIA Director
Richard Helms, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Assistant
Secretary of State Lucius Battle, and a long list of US
Navy officers, government officials and Liberty
survivors are on record saying the Israeli attack was

According to Helms, Battle and the minutes of a White
House meeting, President Johnson believed the attack was
intentional. Helms says LBJ was furious and complained
when The New York Times buried the story on page 29, but
that Johnson decided he had to publicly accept Israel`s
explanation. “The political pressure was too much,”
Helms said.

US communications personnel, intelligence analysts
and ambassadors report having read US intercepts of
Israeli orders to attack the Liberty. In one
intercept an Israeli pilot reports that the Liberty
is an American ship and asks for a repeat and
clarification of his orders to attack an American ship.
One Israeli who identified himself as one of the pilots
later came to America and met with US Representative
Pete McCloskey and Liberty survivors. The pilot
said he had refused to participate in the attack when he
saw it was an American ship. He was arrested upon
returning to base.

The Liberty flew the US flag. The ship`s
markings, GTR-5, measured several feet in height on both
sides of the bow. On the stern the ship was clearly
marked USS LIBERTY. Mistaking the Liberty
for an Egyptian ship, as Israel claims to have done, was

Tattered flags show ferocity of the attacks

The Israelis claim the Liberty flew no flag,
but two US flags full of holes from the attack exist.
When the first flag was shot down, crewmen replaced it
with a flag 7 feet by 13 feet. This flag with its battle
scars is on display at NSA headquarters at Ft. Mead,

Admiral John S. McCain Jr., the father of the current
US senator, ordered Admiral Isaac C. Kidd and Captain
Ward Boston to hold a court of inquiry and to complete
the investigation in only one week. In a signed
affidavit Captain Boston said President Johnson ordered
a cover-up and that he and Admiral Kidd were prevented
from doing a real investigation. Liberty
survivors were ordered never to speak to anyone about
the event. Their silence was finally broken when Lt.
Commander Jim Ennes published his book, Assault on the

It is now established fact that the attack on the
was intentional and was covered up by
President Johnson and every administration since. There
has never been a congressional investigation, nor has
the testimony of the majority of survivors ever been
officially taken. Moreover, testimony that conflicted
with the cover-up was deleted from the official record.

Disgusted by the US government`s official stance
discounting the survivors` reports, Admiral Tom Moorer,
retired Chief of Naval Operations and Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, organized the Moorer Commission
to make public the known facts about the attack and
cover-up. The Commission consisted of Admiral Moorer,
former Judge Advocate General of the US Navy Admiral
Merlin Staring, Marine Corps General Raymond G. Davis
and former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins.

The Commission`s Report concluded:

“That there is compelling evidence that Israel`s
attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American
ship and kill her entire crew.

“That fearing conflict with Israel, the White House
deliberately prevented the US Navy from coming to the
defense of USS Liberty by recalling Sixth Fleet
military rescue support while the ship was under attack.

“That surviving crew members were threatened with
`court-martial, imprisonment or worse` if they exposed
the truth; and [the survivors] were abandoned by their
own government.
“That there has been an official cover-up without
precedent in American naval history.
“That a danger to our national security exists whenever
our elected officials are willing to subordinate
American interests to those of any foreign nation.”

Why did Israel attack the Liberty? Was
something super secret going on that is so damaging it
must be protected at all cost?

Some experts believe Tel Aviv decided to sink the
because the ship`s surveillance capability
would discover Israel`s impending invasion and capture
of Syria`s Golan Heights, an action opposed by
Washington. Others believe Israel was concerned the
would discover Israel`s massacre of hundreds
of Egyptian POWs, a war crime contemporaneous with the
attack on the US ship. Still others believe that Israel
intended to blame the attack on Egypt in order to bring
America into the war. It is known the US was providing
Israel with reconnaissance and that there were joint
US-Israeli covert operations against the Arabs that
Washington was desperate to keep secret.

Survivors with whom I spoke said the attack was the
easy part of the experience. The hard part has been
living with 40 years of official cover-up and betrayal
by the US government. One survivor said that he was
asked to leave his Baptist church when he spoke about
the Liberty, because the minister and fellow
church-goers felt more loyalty to Israel than to a
member of the congregation who had served his country.
His church`s position was that if our government
believed Israel, the survivors should also.

Survivor Phil Tourney said that “being forced to live
with a cover-up is like being raped and no one will
believe you.”

Survivor Gary Brummett said he “feels like someone
who has been locked up for 40 years on a wrongful
conviction.” Until the US government acknowledges the
truth of the attack, Brummett says the survivors are
forced to live with the anger and dismay of being
betrayed by the country they served.

Survivor Bryce Lockwood has been angry for 40 years.
The torpedo that killed his shipmates, wrecked his ship
and damaged his health was made in the USA.

Survivor Ernie Gallo told me he “has been haunted for
four decades” by the knowledge that his
commander-in-chief recalled the US fighters that could
have prevented most of the Liberty`s casualties.

Every American should be troubled by the fact that
the President of the United States and the Secretary of
Defense prevented the US Sixth Fleet from protecting a
US Navy ship and its 294-man crew from foreign attack.
They should also be troubled that the President ordered
the Navy to determine the attack was unintentional.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant
Secretary of the US Treasury, former Associate Editor of
the Wall Street Journal and co-author of The Tyranny of
Good Intentions.

This article is based entirely on documented sources
and on interviews with six of the survivors, Capt. Ward
Boston, and Bill Knutson, the executive officer of the
USS America fighter squadron sent on the first aborted
rescue mission. The Moorer Commission report is
available online at
. For the BBC documentary on
the USS Liberty, Dead in the Water, go to
. See also

Army War College document
. A detailed account
showing that the attacking Israeli pilots were aware
that the Liberty was an American ship can be found in
the October 2, 2007,

Chicago Tribune
. See

New York Times
, Sept. 24, 1995 for Israeli massacre
of Egyptian POWs. The

USS Liberty site
is full of information.

Paul Craig Roberts [email
] was Assistant
Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan`s
first term.  He was Associate Editor of the
Street Journal.  He has held numerous academic
appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair,
Center for Strategic and International Studies,
Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow,
Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded
the Legion of Honor by French President Francois
Mitterrand. He is the author of

Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider`s Account of
Policymaking in Washington
and the Soviet Economy

Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy
and is the co-author
with Lawrence M. Stratton of

The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and
Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name
of Justice
. Click

for Peter
Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts
about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.