by Anayat Durrani
On June 8, 1967, on the
fourth day of Israel's attack on neighboring Arab countries, an
American intelligence ship called the USS Liberty with 294 men
aboard incurred an all-out assault by Israeli aircraft and motor
The unprovoked air and
sea attack would last 75 minutes. After the smoke cleared, the
severely damaged USS Liberty emerged with 34 dead crewmen and 171
wounded. The ship would miraculously remain afloat despite taking
over 821 rocket, cannon and machine-gun holes.
The story of the USS
Liberty is a tragic one. It is a tragedy not only for the events
that befell the brave crew of the USS Liberty that fateful day but
also because of the controversy that has surrounded this incident
for nearly 34 years.
The attack was met
immediately with denial and covered up by Israel and the United
States. The Israelis called it a “tragic case of
misidentification,” claiming they mistook the USS Liberty for an
out-of-service Egyptian horse carrier called El Quseir. The American
government accepted the Israeli excuse saying it was an accident,
despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Survivors and many
former top US officials like Secretary of State Dean Rusk and
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State Admiral Thomas Moorer said it
was a carefully orchestrated and deliberate attack by Israel against
an American ship. Yet, the United States has denied the USS Liberty
a congressional investigation. The ship remains the only major
maritime incident in US history that has not received a public
investigation by the US Congress.
“They fear the Israeli
and Jewish reactions. Also, I think that there is so much pro-Israel
propaganda that many American Jews really believe that the attack
was a tragic accident and that any attention to this story comes
from anti-Semites. That claim alone is enough to stifle
discussion,” says Ennes who was officer-of-the-deck on the bridge
the day of the attack.
In his book, Assault on
the Liberty, Ennes explained that before the attack he witnessed
more than 6 hours of surveillance by Israeli aircraft that circled
the USS Liberty thirteen times; sometimes close enough that they
“exchanged friendly waves.” The USS Liberty was on a peaceful
mission in the area, a safe distance from the fighting, in
international waters off the Sinai Peninsula in the Mediterranean
Sea. The ship was clearly identified by Israel as a US intelligence
ship and officers even heard Israelis recognize the ship as American
on their radio frequencies. The ship also had an American flag
hoisted high above it.
The remaining survivors of the USS Liberty continue to courageously
tell their story amidst claims that the survivors are liars,
anti-Semitic, and anti-Israeli. To this day, Israel insists the
incident was an “innocent mistake”. However, there is evidence
gathered by intelligence analysts and others that supports the
charge that Israel deliberately attacked the intelligence ship to
prevent it from monitoring Israeli plans to invade the Golan Heights
the following day.
“Thirty four of our
shipmates were killed and their killers still give a false account
of what happened. Israel did apologize and paid damages, but they
continue to lie. We just want them to stop lying,” says Ennes.
“Our 34 dead shipmates are entitled to the truth being in the
Joe Meadors was a
signalman on the bridge of the USS Liberty that day. When the
ship’s regular size American flag was shot down, Meadors and
another crewman immediately replaced it with an even larger American
flag. But the attack continued. Meadors remembers when he first
discovered the identity of their attackers.
“I didn't know the
attackers were Israeli until I saw the Israeli flag flying from one
of the torpedo boats that I saw from a distance of about 100 yards
as it sailed slowly up our port left side,” says Meadors.
Many questions remain
unanswered. During the attack, the White House blocked air rescue
for over 90 minutes until Navy jet aircraft were ordered in at which
time the Israelis ceased their attack and withdrew. The US Sixth
Fleet was less than 300 miles away during the attack but did not
come to the aid of the USS Liberty, despite guarantees that air
support would be provided within ten minutes if help were needed. It
would take more than 16 hours before the first American forces
reached the USS Liberty.
“The question of why
it took more than 16 hours for the Sixth Fleet to come to our
assistance is one that we have been trying to get answered for many
years,” says Meadors.
Because the attack was
never investigated, Meadors says it is premature to say whose
decision it was to attack the ship. But there is evidence pointing
to who ordered the attack. “We do have a CIA document that was
prepared as a result of receiving information from an informant in
the Israeli War Room who tells us that Moshe Dayan personally
ordered the attack,” says Meadors.
Though the United States
has released thousands of documents on the USS Liberty, Ennes says
they have still not released all. “They claim that some documents
we seek cannot be identified. In other cases the government claims
that release of certain documents would ‘embarrass an ally’.”
Yet the survivors have
forged on, determined to show that truth will ultimately stand the
test of time. With the establishment of the USS Liberty Veterans
Association in 1982 and a website created as a memorial to the USS
Liberty, they have publicized the true story of the USS Liberty in
hopes of keeping it alive in the public conscience. The surviving
crewman say they will never get closure until they receive a
congressional investigation and acknowledgement from Israel that the
attack was in fact deliberate.
“All we want is the
truth to be told after a complete and comprehensive public
Congressional investigation that routinely follows an incident of
this kind. Nothing more and certainly nothing less,” says Meadors.