Attack On The USS Liberty
By James Donahue
The USS Liberty was a technical research ship operating in the Mediterranean Sea just off the Sinai
Peninsula during Israel’s Six-Day-War in June, 1967. The ship was attacked without provocation by Israeli Air Force
jet fighters and Israeli Navy motor torpedo boats.
A torpedo tore into the starboard side of the Liberty and the air gun attacks, not only strafing the
ship but sailors attempting to escape in lifeboats left 34 crew members dead and 171 others wounded. The ship was not sunk
because the attack was apparently called off.
Israel apologized for the incident, claiming the Liberty was mistaken for an Egyptian ship. The Israeli
government eventually paid $22.5 million to the families of the sailors killed in the attack, and another $3,566,457 in compensation
to the men that were wounded. A final payment of $6 million was paid for material damage to the ship.
This was the official story. But crew members, their families, and even some former members of the
Israeli Air Force have since claimed that the Israelis always knew they were attacking a U. S. ship and probably had full
intentions of sinking it and killing its entire crew.
When the war began on June 5, Israel’s General Yitzhak Rabin warned the American Naval Attache
in Tel Aviv that Israel would defend its coast and sink all unidentified ships. He asked that all U.S. ships stay away from
the coastal area or at least inform Israel of their exact position.
Israel was never told that the Liberty, a converted Liberty Ship from the Second World War, was operating
in the area. Even though it was operating as a Navy research vessel, the ship’s appearance belied its identity.
Radio messages intercepted just moments before the attack, however, made it clear that the pilots
involved in the assault knew they were firing on a U.S. vessel. The leading attack pilot radioed to ground control: "This
is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?
Ground control then answered: "Yes, follow orders…"
The pilot said: "But sir, it’s an American ship – I can see the flag."
Ground Control: "Never mind; hit it."
The attack might have sunk the Liberty and killed all 294 sailors on it that day but for the efforts
of seaman Terry Halbardier, who braved a hail of bullets to repair a communications cable and make it possible for the Liberty
to send an SOS. The nearby carriers America and Saratoga launched warplanes and were on their way to defend the Liberty when
the attack was called off.
When he learned of what was happening President Lyndon Johnson ordered the warplanes back to the carriers.
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was quoted as saying: "President Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American
ally over a few sailors."
And thus we learn just how close we came to a much more serious confrontation with Israel over that
1967 "mistake" that involved an attack on a U.S. Navy ship that should not have happened.
For years there was an attempted cover-up of the facts behind the incident. Surviving crew members
on the Liberty were reportedly sworn to secrecy. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Crewdson wrote a detailed report of
the incident for the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun in 2007. Instead of being commended for his work, Crewdson was laid
off. Why has the American media ignored this story?
Of course the burning question remains unanswered. The Israeli military knew it was an American ship
just moments before the attack. Why did they go ahead and attack the Liberty anyway? And why did President Johnson call down
the carrier planes flying to the ship’s defense?