The article below was printed in 2007: Middle East Magazine.
Note: On 27 May 2007, the AGE newspaper printed a shorter article by Tim Fischer, former Deputy PM of Australia, on the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.
FORTY YEARS ON: THERE IS STILL MUCH TO LEARN ABOUT THE USS LIBERTY SAGA
-Tim Fischer, former Deputy PM of Australia and former Army Officer 1 / 6 / 2007
Forty years ago in a quiet corner of the Mediterranean off the Sinai Desert, an incredible attack was launched by Israeli jet fighters and torpedo boats on the USS Liberty.
It was the fourth day of the Six Day War, it was in international waters and it was clearly marked as the USS Liberty, a large intelligence gathering ship proudly flying the United States Flag. Conditions were calm and clear but by days end thirty-four American sailors were killed and one hundred and seventy two injured.
The USS Liberty limped back to Malta with several gaping holes visible and with a US Navy Court of Inquiry team on board making some investigations of what happened. President of this Court of Inquiry was Admiral Isaac C Kidd, and Captain Ward Boston, JR, was Counsel assisting, but under Pentagon orders the Court was not permitted to travel to Israel to complete its investigations.
There is an emotional and fierce debate to this day over the question of whether the attack by Israeli forces was deliberate, which was allegedly mounted to disrupt US intelligence gathering and provide cover for the day five invasion of Syria and capture of the Golan Heights. Against this chilling accusation, there is the book by retired USA Bankruptcy Judge Jay Cristol that contends the attack was undertaken by Israeli jet fighters and Israeli torpedo boats, but it was a dreadful mistake, an accidental attack.
As Donald Rumsfield say ‘Stuff happens in war’ and as Shimon Peres said recently about the cluster bombs into Southern Lebanon last year, ‘Mistakes occur in war’.
However as a reaction to the Cristol book, many key US Intelligence Officials and Ward Boston Jr himself have broken their strict orders under the Official Secrets Act to speak up and detail the chilling truth.
Ward Boston, JR, signed an Affidavit and I quote
“The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack, which killed 34 American sailors and injured 172 others, was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. It was our shared belief, based on the documentary evidence and testimony we received first hand, that the Israeli attack was planned and deliberate and could not possibly have been an accident.
“I am certain that the Israeli pilots that undertook the attack, as well as their superiors, who had ordered the attack, were well aware that the ship was American. I saw the flag, which had visibly identified the ship as American, riddled with bullet holes”.
The Affidavit is readily available through google, along with key statements debunking some official transcripts released to fudge the truth, somewhat retro fitted transcripts involving Israeli helicopter pilots who arrived on the scene well after the first fierce hour of attacks.
This statement by Stephen Forslund (US Air Force intelligence analyst) is clear enough and in anticipation of attack on the transcripts aspect, I quote:
“The transcripts made specific reference to the efforts to direct the jets to the target which was identified as American numerous times by the ground controller. The ground control began asking about the status of the target and whether it was sinking. They stressed that the target must be sunk and leave no trace.”
The reader can research the subject and reach a conclusion on deliberate or accidental, what is accepted by all is that it was an Israeli attack and 34 US sailors were killed. For my part, I now believe the evidence all points to it being a deliberate attack by Israel.
The two key issues arising continue to this day, if Israel did deliberately attack the most powerful nation on earth, it knows it can do so and get away with murder. Worst still, US military personnel now know that if it is politically inconvenient, they and their legacy are expendable.
The White House and Pentagon of the day, more so the US Congress, needed to bring the truth out and these key institutions today still need to get to the bottom of this saga, once and for all.
Why is this important forty years on? Because Israel needs to know that it will be exposed and held accountable for its actions and incidents, likewise Syria and the Palestinians, the Palestinians who might contend the Liberty saga was one factor in delaying the creation of the Nation State of Palestine. This type of action by Israel firstly must never be allowed to happen again and secondly must never be covered up.
In 1956, during the Suez crisis, Israel learnt that it could not rely on so-called Allied Nations when the chips were down. In 1967, with the Six Day War, it learnt that accidentally or otherwise it could attack the most powerful nation on earth and that the President of the day, Lyndon B Johnson, would order a monumental cover-up, effectively letting them off the hook.
We now know it is from this period that Israel cheerfully commenced building its own atomic bomb and cheerfully will push over the edge whenever it suits, because recent history shows that it that it can get away with such adventures. Remember the thousand of cluster bomblets that went into Southern Lebanon last August, after the cease-fire had been agreed, but before its actual commencement.
However I say again, it is the US that has most to answer for not honestly dealing with the attack on the USS Liberty, in turning its back on the families of the 34 killed and the families of the 172 survivors. Further in a very curious move, a Medal of Honour was awarded to the Liberty Commander, William L McGonagle, fair enough, but the actual ceremony was a secret, private ceremony.
The Pentagon has ugly spin form, just ask the family of Pat Tillman killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan but initially reported otherwise. In relation to the 34 sailors killed by the Israeli Forces, it is corrosive in the extreme that the Pentagon did not fiercely fight to bring the truth out, if not initially for operational reasons then surely after 30 years, if not 40 years.
To the thousands of US and Allied Forces this is the really ugly part, the cause of their death will be air brushed out if it is politically inconvenient for it to be revealed, for a period of at least 40 years, or more. You will fight for your country, you may die in battle for your country, but now you can have an expectation that the truth associated with your death will be tampered with, if it is politically inconvenient, by your own HQ.
There are further allegations that US Defence Secretary of the time, Robert McNamara, and President Lyndon Johnson ordered US fighters, launched from a nearby US Aircraft Carrier, to turn back and not go to the defence of the USS Liberty. Again, because of all of the ramifications arising, the world is entitled to know whether this is true of not.
It is a sad fact that on the 8th June 1967, the USS Liberty was definitely attacked by Israeli jet fighters and Israeli torpedo boats, it is a sad and confirmed fact that 34 US sailors were killed in the attack. It is true that Israel has paid some reparations to the families involved, and full marks to Israel in this regard.
It remains for the real truth to come out, particularly from the USA, the country Australia fought alongside in two World Wars, two Gulf Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan and still counting.
A former Attorney General of Israel, M Ben Y Air, once made a famous observation, and I quote exactly : “The Six Day War was forced upon us, the seventh day continues to this day and is our choice.”
To all of this I would observe the seventh day of ongoing conflict can be brought to an end with peace and tourism ushered in, and this will be greatly helped by bringing the truth out officially in relation to the incredible fourth day of the Six Day War, a war which was momentous for not only the Middle East but for the world and deadly for 34 USS Liberty sailors.