USS Liberty

On the fourth day of the 1967 Arab Israeli War, the intelligence ship ‘USS Liberty’ was steaming slowly in international waters, 14 miles off the Sinai Peninsula. Israeli armored forces were racing deep into Sinai in hot pursuit of the retreating Egyptian army. ‘Liberty,’ a World War II freighter, had been converted into an intelligence vessel by the top-secret US National Security Agency, and packed with the latest signals and electronic interception equipment. The ship bristled with antennas and electronic ‘ears’ including TRSSCOMM, a system that delivered real-time intercepts to Washington by bouncing a stream of microwaves off the moon. ‘Liberty’ had been rushed to Sinai to monitor communications of the belligerents in the Third Arab Israeli War: Israel and her foes, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. At 0800 hrs, 8 June, 1967, eight Israeli recon flights flew over ‘Liberty,’ which was flying a large American flag. At 1400 hrs, waves of low-flying Israeli Mystere and Mirage-III fighter-bombers repeatedly attacked the American vessel with rockets, napalm, and cannon. The air attacks lasted 20 minutes, concentrating on the ship’s electronic antennas and dishes. The ‘Liberty’ was left afire, listing sharply. Eight of her crew lay dead, a hundred seriously wounded, including the captain, Commander William McGonagle. At 1424 hrs, three Israeli torpedo boats attacked, raking the burning ‘Liberty’ with 20mm and 40mm shells. At 1431hrs an Israeli torpedo hit the ‘Liberty’ midship, precisely where the signals intelligence systems were located. Twenty-five more Americans died. Israeli gunboats circled the wounded ‘Liberty,’ firing at crewmen trying to fight the fires. At 1515, the crew were ordered to abandon ship. The Israeli warships closed and poured machine gun fire into the crowded life rafts, sinking two. As American sailors were being massacred in cold blood, a rescue mission by US Sixth Fleet carrier aircraft was mysteriously aborted on orders from the White House. An hour after the attack, Israeli warships and planes returned. Commander McGonagle gave the order. ‘prepare to repel borders.’ But the Israelis, probably fearful of intervention by the US Sixth Fleet, departed. ‘Liberty’ was left shattered but still defiant, her flag flying. The Israeli attacks killed 34 US seamen and wounded 171 out of a crew of 297, the worst loss of American naval personnel from hostile action since World War II. Less than an hour after the attack, Israel told Washington its forces had committed a ‘tragic error.’ Later, Israel claimed it had mistaken ‘Liberty’ for an ancient Egyptian horse transport. US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, and Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Admiral Thomas Moorer, insisted the Israeli attack was deliberate and designed to sink ‘Liberty.’ So did three CIA reports; one asserted Israel’s Defense Minister, Gen. Moshe Dayan, had personally ordered the attack. In contrast to American outrage over North Korea’s assault on the intelligence ship ‘Pueblo,’ Iraq’s mistaken missile strike on the USS ‘Stark,’ last fall’s bombing of the USS ‘Cole’ in Aden, and the recent US-China air incident, the savaging of ‘Liberty’ was quickly hushed up by President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The White House and Congress immediately accepted Israel’s explanation and let the matter drop. Israel later paid a token reparation of US $6 million. There were reports two Israeli pilots who had refused to attack ‘Liberty’ were jailed for 18 years. Surviving ‘Liberty’ crew members would not be silenced. They kept demanding an open inquiry and tried to tell their story of deliberate attack to the media. Israel’s government worked behind the scenes to thwart these efforts, going so far as having American pro-Israel groups accuse ‘Liberty’s’ survivors of being ‘anti-Semites’ and ‘Israel-haters.’ Major TV networks cancelled interviews with the crew. A book about the ‘Liberty’ by crewman James Ennes’ was dropped from distribution. The Israel lobby branded him ‘an Arab propagandist.’ The attack on ‘Liberty’ was fading into obscurity until last week, when intelligence expert James Bamford came out with Body of Secrets, his latest book about the National Security Agency. In a stunning revelation, Bamford writes that unknown to Israel, a US Navy EC-121 intelligence aircraft was flying high overhead the ‘Liberty,’ electronically recorded the attack. The US aircraft crew provides evidence that the Israeli pilots knew full well that they were attacking a US Navy ship flying the American flag. Why did Israel try to sink a naval vessel of its benefactor and ally? Most likely because ‘Liberty’s’ intercepts flatly contradicted Israel’s claim, made at the war’s beginning on 5 June, that Egypt had attacked Israel, and that Israel’s massive air assault on three Arab nations was in retaliation. In fact, Israel began the war by a devastating, Pearl-Harbor style surprise attack that caught the Arabs in bed and destroyed their entire air forces. Israel was also preparing to attack Syria to seize its strategic Golan Heights. Washington warned Israel not to invade Syria, which had remained inactive while Israel fought Egypt. Bamford says Israel’s offensive against Syria was abruptly postponed when ‘Liberty’ appeared off Sinai, then launched once it was knocked out of action. Israel’s claim that Syria had attacked it could have been disproved by ‘Liberty.’ Most significant, ‘Liberty’s’ intercepts may have shown that Israel seized upon sharply rising Arab-Israeli tensions in May-June 1967 to launch a long-planned war to invade and annex the West Bank, Jerusalem, Golan and Sinai. Far more shocking was Washington’s response. Writes Bamford: ‘Despite the overwhelming evidence that Israel attacked the ship and killed American servicemen deliberately, the Johnson Administration and Congress covered up the entire incident.’ Why? Domestic politics. Johnson, a man never noted for high moral values, preferred to cover up the attack rather than anger a key constituency and major financial backer of the Democratic Party. Congress waseven less eager to touch this ‘third rail’ issue. Commander McGonagle was quietly awarded the Medal of Honor for his and his men’s heroism – not in the White House, as is usual, but in an obscure ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard. Crew member’s graves were inscribed, ‘died in theEasternMediterranean..’ as if they had be killed by disease, rather than hostile action. A member of President Johnson’s staff believed there was a more complex reason for the cover-up: Johnson offered Jewish liberals unconditional backing of Israel, and a cover-up of the ‘Liberty’ attack, in exchange for the liberal toning down their strident criticism of his policies in the then raging Vietnam War. Israel, which claims it fought a war of self defense in 1967 and had no prior territorial ambitions, will be much displeased by Bamford’s revelations. Those who believe Israel illegally occupies the West Bank and Golan will be emboldened. Much more important, the US government’s long, disgraceful cover-up of the premeditated attack on ‘Liberty’ has now burst into the open and demands full-scale investigation. After 34 years, the voices of ‘Liberty’s’ dead and wounded seamen must finally be heard. ((02 MAY 2001)) Israel’s Attack on the USS Liberty. On June 8, 1967, the armed forces of Israel attacked the American intelligence ship USS Liberty for 90 minutes in international waters following several hours of close, low-level reconnaissance. Israel was later to claim the attack was a mistake, a simple case of misidentification, but survivors maintain otherwise. And some researchers contend that the attack was a deliberate attempt to prevent US Intelligence from witnessing the massacre of Egyptian Prisoners Of War. According to eyewitness accounts by Israeli officers and journalists, the Israeli Army executed as many as 1,000 Arab POW’s during the 1967 war. Historian Gabby Bron wrote in the Yediot Ahronot in Israel that he witnessed Israeli troops executing Egyptian prisoners on the morning of June 8, 1967, in the Sinai town of El Arish. Bron reported that he saw about 150 Egyptian POWs being held at the El Arish airport where they were sitting on the ground, densely crowded together with their hands held on the back of their necks. Every few minutes, Bron writes, Israeli soldiers would escort an Egyptian POW from the group to a hearing conducted by two men in Israeli army uniforms. Then the man would be taken away, given a spade, and forced to dig his own grave. “I watched as (one) man dug a hole for about 15 minutes,?Bron wrote. afterwards, the (Israeli military) policeman told him to throw the shovel away, and then one of them leveled an Uzi at him and shot two short bursts, each of three or four bullets.? Bron says he witnessed about ten such executions, until the grave was filled. Then an Israeli Colonel threatened him with a revolver, forcing him to leave the area. As these executions were underway, America’s most sophisticated intelligence platform, USS Liberty, was less than 13 miles from El Arish. Could the USS Liberty have intercepted voice radio messages authorising these killings? Did senior Israeli officers sanction the murders, or did they learn of them? How would they have reacted to the knowledge that USS Liberty was nearby and might have heard incriminating radio traffic? We may never know because Israel, America’s Ally,?launched a murderous attack on the virtually unarmed American intelligence ship. To this day, many Americans are unaware that this attack even took place. But recently, PRAVDA.Ru took the opportunity to interview Mr. Hrankowski, a survivor and crew member of the USS Liberty. Greetings Mr. Hrankowski! We at PRAVDA.Ru greatly appreciate this exclusive interview. We feel that, as a USS Liberty survivor, you are in the unique position to shed light on actually what happened and why. It is a great tragedy that 34 young American sailors died while serving their country. It is an even greater tragedy that the general public knows next to nothing about this event. What position did you serve on the USS Liberty? My position on the USS Liberty was in the Engineering Department. I was a boilerman. I also worked for the chief engineer in the log room office. One of the main questions regarding this attack is whether or not the Israeli attackers knew that they were attacking an American ship. The Israelis have claimed that they misidentified the Liberty for the Egyptian horse carrier El Quseir, but it has been reported that the USS liberty flew an American flag and was distinctly marked with US markings. It is also known that slow moving recon plans flew over the USS Liberty numerous times. Is there any doubt in your mind that the Israeli military knew that they were attacking an American ship? There is no doubt in my mind that the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was deliberate. Israel has claimed that it was a mistake and that they were firing upon an Arab horse freighter. The El Quesir was the name of the Arab ship. It was tied up and not sea worthy during the Six Day War, and the Israelis knew this. As for our Flag. All American ships fly the flag. Ours was flying until the Israelis shot it down and within seconds another was put up. It was our holiday Ensign, sized 9 feet by 13 feet. As for the slow moving aircraft. Planes started flying over us and checking us out at 5:30am and did so 9 to 13 times until the attack at 2:00PM. There is no doubt in my mind that they knew who they were attacking. It has been reported that the USS Saratago, responding to a SOS from the Liberty, launched jets to help the Liberty approximately 15 minutes into the Israeli attack. Why were the jets recalled? One could say that this act left American sailors to be murdered by an enemy force? A message from the USS Liberty got to the USS Saratoga 9 minutes into the attack. The USS Saratoga launched a flight of fighters immediately and they were called back. This happened three different times throughout the attack. Robert MacNamara called them back twice, and President Johnson called them back once, saying his thoughts were not for the USS Liberty. He did not want to embarrass his ally Israel. That act did leave us to get murdered, and what it actually is called is abandonment. Once your captain, William Loren McGonagle, realized that the Liberty was in danger of sinking, he ordered the crew to abandon ship. At this point, there were only three life rafts left that weren’t damaged. Your crew placed as many wounded into the life rafts and lowered them over the side of the Liberty. Please tell us what happened next. The order was given by the captain to abandon ship, because he thought we were going to sink. Three life rafts were in the water, but then Israeli Torpedo boats came up to them and shot two of them up and grabbed one on the boats. That is against the Geneva Convention. What prompted the Israelis to terminate their assault? I’m not sure what caused them to terminate the attack, but after 2 hours, they could not sink us. I would think that their time had run out. How long did it take for American help to arrive? It took 16 hours for the American fleet to get to us. But that night, while we were sailing to the sixth fleet, a Soviet ship offered help to us. They said that they would stay just at the horizon and if our ship was going to go down, they would help us. In a recent letter to President Bush, survivor Phillip F. Tourney claimed that the crew of the USS Liberty were ordered to remain silent under threat of court martial, imprisonment, or worse, and we all know whatworstmeant.?Did you yourself experience such threats? Admiral Kidd was the one who ordered us silent. That was a direct order to all of the crew. I heard it myself that day. If what has been reported is true, the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty can only be described as deliberate. In your opinion, why did this attack take place? As for why the Israelis attacked us, I’m not sure. I would not be able to give you a reason, because it would only be a guess. There is a new film out by the BBC called Dead in the Water. It was released in England on 6-10-02 and it gives some startling new evidence as to why the attack happened. Has the American government considered reinvestigating the attack? There are a few Congressional personal interested in helping us. We’re hoping that they are really willing. It would seem that this event has been covered up. Given all the information that has come forth and the testimony of such people as Secretary of State Dean Rusk and former JCS Chairman Admiral Thomas Moorer, the version that this attack was a mistake is very hard believe, which means that it was covered up for some reason. Why, in your opinion, was such a tragic event as an attack on US sailors covered up? You ask if the USS Liberty attack was covered up. My answer is simple: yes, it was. The question still remains today as to why. And with a Congressional Investigation, all the facts should be laid out and the reasons known. Your commanding officer, Captain William Loren McGonagle, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his services to his country. However, unlike tradition, when the president of the United States bestows the Congressional Medal of Honor, Captain McGonagle was awarded his medal in the Washington Navy Yard. In your opinion, why wasn’t your captain awarded the medal according to tradition? Our Captain did receive the Congressional Medal of Honor but not in the White house like it usually is given, but in a shipyard in Washington DC. Not many of us knew that he got it until many years later. On his written citation, there is no mention that Israel was the attackers. The same goes for all of our medals and citations; the Israelis are not mentioned at all. In your opinion, if the general American public were to become fully aware of Israel’s attack on the Liberty, could this affect the special relationship that America shares with its ally Israel? For instance, if many Americans learned of the attack and the cover-up, they might be less willing to bankroll Israel with financial and military aid. I’m not sure if that would happen. I think that if the truth be known about the attack it would hurt for a little while, but it would be a piece of history finally put to bed. Do you keep in contact with fellow Liberty survivors? If so, do they express hope that American will reinvestigate the attack? We USS Liberty survivors are always in contact. We all fight for the same thing. They want the investigation to happen soon, so we can all go on with our lives. Is there anything else that you would like to add? I thank PRAVDA.Ru for the time to express my views of the June 8, 1967 attack on my ship, the USS Liberty. I do hope your country will be able to see the new film by the BBC Dead in the Water by Mr. Christopherer Mitchell. There is also a new book that goes along with the new film. It was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Mr. Peter Hounam and is due to come out very shortly. The film and book open the incident up very well. ((10 JUN 2004))

























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