Thanks to reader boadinum, I learned that the Al Jazeera program with the above title about the attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 was freely available on YouTube (see the embedded link at the end of this post) and I watched it yesterday. It was a fascinating program that had a lot of new information that was not made public before. The producers had correspondence, tape recordings, and interviews with survivors and government officials that reveal the sequence of events and what the discussions were prior to and after the attack.
It seems incontrovertible that the attack by Israeli warplanes and a torpedo boat on the Liberty was a deliberate attack with the attackers knowing full well that the ship was an American unarmed intelligence gathering vessel. The attackers seemed determined to sink the boat and kill every one on board and went to the extent of jamming its signals capability and even the frequency on which maritime distress signals are sent, the latter being a war crime.
The Israelis even shot and shredded all the life rafts, those that had been launched and those that were still on the ship, another war crime. They shot at all the sailors who were on deck. The final death toll was 34 with over 170 injured, many seriously with limbs blown off, out of a total crew of 304. Survivors said that blood and body parts were everywhere.
What added to the injury to the sailors was how their own government treated them. Lyndon Johnson, one of the most pro-Israel presidents, was warned by the Israel lobby that if he reacted strongly against Israel for this atrocity, they would make sure that he would lose the next presidential election in 1968 if he ran again. Meanwhile, his close advisors supposed to be aiding him, were in fact reporting to the Israeli government all the discussions the US government was having about the attack. As a result Johnson and his government completely capitulated and was more concerned about protecting Israel and keeping the facts out of the media than in obtaining justice for those killed.
The US government clamped down total secrecy on all the people on the ship and their families and posted guards on the hospital rooms of the injured so that they could not speak to anyone in the media. The ship had a gaping hole in its hull, had shell holes everywhere, was listing, taking in water and barely floating. The US government considered sinking the ship themselves so that the American people would not see the scale of the damage but in the end took the damaged ship to Malta where they got Maltese technicians to work round the clock to patch all the massive holes in the ship, clean it up, and put a fresh coat of paint on it so that when it returned to the US, the media would not see how much the damage had been.
Why did Israel attack the Liberty at all? The report suggests that they did not want the US to learn that they were secretly planning to expand the war to capture more territory such as the Golan Heights, contrary to their public statements. They knew that the Liberty was a sophisticated intelligence ship and its crew were intelligence specialists able to collect, decrypt, translate, and send back to Washington all the communications from that region and so they decided to destroy it. In order to keep that secret, they were willing to send over three hundred sailors of their closest ally and supporter to a watery grave.
The only thing that saved the Liberty was that one crew member created a makeshift antenna and they managed to transmit a distress sign to an aircraft carrier of the US Sixth Fleet stationed five hundred miles away. They sent out jets and Israel called off further attacks.
The sailors on board felt that their government was turning its back on them in order to placate the Israelis. The medals that the sailors received were given to them in secret, unlike in the usual public ceremonies, and they were warned not to talk about it to anyone on pain of court martial. The government conducted a quick and perfunctory investigation of the attack, concluded that it was a mistake by Israel and issued a report in which key testimony that contradicted their whitewashed account was eliminated.
Compare this with the way that the US reacted when the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen on October 12, 2000, again ripping a hole in its hull and killing 17 sailors and injuring 39 others. The scale of this attack and its effects were far smaller than the one on the Liberty but the government vigorously went after the attackers.
The documentary is a shocking expose of how Israel completely dominated the US government’s response to the attack and how the Johnson administration was more interested in protecting the interests of Israel than those of the US. As George Ball, US Undersecretary of State said at the time, “It seemed clear to the Israelis that as American leaders did not have the courage to punish them for the blatant murder of American citizens, they would let them get away with anything.”
And so it has proved, over and over again.
Here’s the program in its entirety. It is well worth watching all 48 minutes of it.