Thursday, July 12, 2012
USS Liberty: Israel Did Not Intend to Bomb the Ship
By A. Jay Cristol
Mr. Cristol is the author of the forthcoming The Liberty Incident.
Editor's Note: This summer HNN devoted a special edition to Israel's attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 during the Six Day War, which resulted in the deaths of 34 Americans. Israel insists the attack was an accident. Many others contend it was deliberate, among them, James Bamford, author of Body of Secrets., which has attracted a great deal of attention. A. Jay Cristol, a federal bankruptcy judge in Florida, has spent 14 years researching the incident and has been allowed exlusive access to Israeli archives and officials. His long-awaited book, The Liberty Incident, will be published in March by Brassey. In the piece below, Judge Cristol critiques the claims advanced by Mr. Bamford. The judge's conclusion? Mr. Bamford is guilty of telling "tall tales."
Bamford: Describes the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty as "unprovoked."
Fact: He completely ignores that the United States had publicly announced to the world at the United Nations Security Council only two days before June 8, 1967 that it had no warships within hundreds of miles of the combat zone. The chain of reactions were started by an Israeli army report of explosions at El Arish. Since Israel controlled the air and the ground, they made the assumption that they were being shelled from the sea and a warship was in eye view. In view of the U.S. public announcement, it seems more logical for the Israelis to have assumed that a haze grey warship sailing within eye view of the ongoing combat was an enemy vessel rather than a U.S. ship.
Bamford: "Israel fighters and torpedo boats assaulted the ship for more than an hour."
Fact: The air attack lasted about 12 minutes and was terminated as soon as the Israel Air Force determined the ship was not an Arab ship. While the Air Force was initiating rescue operations, the torpedo boats approached, stopped, and began signaling to the Liberty. The response of the Liberty was to begin shooting at the torpedo boats which thereupon began the torpedo attack. It lasted less than 15 minutes during which time the navy torpedo boats believed they were facing an enemy who initiated the shooting at them.
Bamford: The Israeli attackers used "cannon fire, rockets, heavy bombs, burning napalm and five torpedoes"
Fact: No rockets were fired at Liberty. No bombs, "heavy" or otherwise, were used. The attacking aircraft were not armed to attack a ship. Had they dropped the standard 500 pound iron bombs normally used against ship targets, the Liberty would very likely have been sunk in minutes. (During the battle of Midway in World War II, U.S. Navy dive bombers using standard 500 pound iron bombs sank three Japanese aircraft carriers in ten minutes.) Four napalm canisters [bombs] were dropped by the attacking aircraft. At least three and possibly all missed. The Liberty's doctor reported no treatment of any crew member for napalm burns.
Bamford: "Israeli reconnaissance planes had positively identified the ship"
Fact: A routine Israel Navy reconnaissance flight at dawn on June 8 sighted Liberty at about 6:00 A.M. steaming southeasterly and south more than 70 miles further west of El Arish. Positive identification was made and the information passed to Naval Intelligence Headquarters and the Liberty was marked on the battle control board at Naval Headquarters. Five hours later, the Liberty mark was considered old information and removed from the battle control board. At 11:00 A.M., shifts changed and the information about the Liberty was not known to the officer who assumed command. At about 1:00 P.M., when the presence of a ship steaming west, 14 miles off the coast of the Sinai and reported to be shelling Israel Army positions from the sea became a tactical issue, the Navy Officer in command did not know about the dawn sighting of Liberty many miles to the west.
Bamford: "Throughout the attack, according to survivors, the Liberty was flying a large American flag,"
Fact: Immediately prior to the air attack, the Liberty had a 5 by 8-foot American flag hoisted but because of the light wind conditions it probably was not extended. This is the Finding of Fact number 2. of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry of June 18, 1967. As a matter of fact, a reference to the formula for visual acuity reveals that a flag that size, if fully extended in good light would not be identifiable beyond 1323 feet and the attacking aircraft never came that close. It is also the undisputed testimony of the Commanding Officer of the Liberty that the 5 by 8-foot flag was shot away on the first strafing run. A second, larger, 7 by 13 foot flag was hoisted after the air attack and prior to the torpedo attack but it was engulfed in smoke and thus was not an identification factor during the attacks. The first actual sighting of an American flag on the Liberty was made by an Israeli helicopter pilot more than 30 minutes after both air and sea attacks were over.
Bamford: "Nowicki heard both the pilots and the torpedo boat crew members referring to the American flag during the attack,"
"Nowicki also heard the pilots talk about the American flag."
Fact: No reference to an American flag was made on any radio intercept until 1512, approximately 30 minutes after the attack was over. I have obtained transcripts of the Israel Air Force tapes which confirm this. I have an appeal pending before the National Security Agency for release of their tapes, which are the tapes described by Bamford. Release of these tapes by NSA will corroborate both what Nowicki originally told Bamford as well as the transcripts of the Israel Air Force tapes. That is the attack was a mistake.
Bamford: [The Liberty] "had its name painted in English in ten-foot letters across the stern."
Fact: The name Liberty on the curved stern of the ship was not larger than 18 inches and because of the curvature of the stern, was extremely difficult to read under any circumstances. The ships identifier, "GTR-5" was painted on both sides of the ship near the bow and near the stern but only the number "5" was ten feet tall. The "GTR" was substantially smaller. It was the sighting of these markings by the second wave of aircraft that identified the ship as not an Arab ship and resulted in immediate termination of the air attack.
Bamford: "Among those who never believed Israel's explanation are the survivors and the captain of the ship."
Fact: The captain of the ship, William L. McGonagle, testified under oath before the U.S. navy Court of Inquiry on June 13, 1967 "I realized that there was a possibility of the aircraft having been Israeli and the attack having been conducted in error." [emphasis added] [Court of Inquiry Record, p. 39] Bamford attributes rejection of the Israel explanation of mistaken identity to "The Survivors." This infers all the survivors. Again, this is not a true statement.
Bamford: "Among those who never believed Israel's explanation are ... Secretary of State, Dean Rusk and Chief of Naval Operations (and later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Admiral Thomas Moorer;"
Fact: Dean Rusk never accepted the Israeli explanation but when I asked him in an interview at Athens, Georgia on April 5, 1989 on what evidence he based his opinion, he conceded that he never read the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry findings, the CIA Report, or the Clark Clifford Report. When pressed further, he said, "I did not make a career of studying the evidence."
Admiral Moorer was Commander in Chief Atlantic on the day of the attack on the Liberty and became Chief of Naval Operations on August 1, 1967. In two interviews in Washington, D.C. on February 10, 1989 and May 3, 1990, he explained that the Liberty's identity could not be mistaken because she was the "Ugliest ship in the Navy" and was larger in size than the Egyptian ship for which she was mistaken. The CIA Report concludes the opposite, that the two ships could be mistaken. Ironically, the findings of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry were approved by Moorer's office while he was the Chief of Naval Operations.
Bamford: [The Liberty] never fired a shot."
Fact: This statement is a lie. The evidence has been undisputed for more than three decades that when the torpedo boats approached, stopped, and began signaling, the Liberty began shooting at them. Captain McGonagle, the commanding officer, testified to this under oath at the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry and reconfirmed it in a videotaped press conference on board Liberty when the ship returned to the United States. He may be observed on videotape telling of the Liberty firing at the torpedo boats in the Thames TV documentary, Attack on the Liberty, aired on British television on January 27, 1987.
Bamford: "The evidence that Israel's attack was deliberate is overwhelming." [He refers to] "the mountain of evidence in my book indicating that Israel knew the ship was American."
Fact: All attacks are inherently deliberate. The question is: did the Israelis attack knowing that it was an American ship. Ten official U.S. investigations and three official Israeli investigations have all concluded that the attack was a tragic mistake or that there is no evidence to establish that it was not a tragic mistake. Seven U. S. Presidents, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush, and Clinton have all accepted the conclusion that the attack was a tragic mistake. Still, more than two dozen conspiracy theories, most of which like Mr. Bamford's conspiracy theory, are based on false or erroneous premises, and have been circulating for years. They all start from the assumption that all the above investigations were wrong or a deliberate cover up; that the Israelis knew they were attacking an American ship; and the only question is: "Why". Bamford's book presents a mountain of allegations but no credible evidence to prove the allegations.
Bamford: Refers to Marvin Nowicki plus "another Hebrew linguist" who, he says, "is" confident that the Israeli attack was a deliberate attack.
Fact: Here again Mr. Bamford lies. Dr. Marvin Nowicki, the U.S. Navy Hebrew linguist on the NSA EC-121 aircraft who heard the Israeli Air Force pilots' radio transmissions and supervised their recording, told Mr. Bamford exactly the opposite, that is Nowicki is certain the attack was a mistake. In an e-mail letter dated March 3, 2000, a copy of which was provided to me by Nowicki and which will be published in full in my forthcoming book, Nowicki wrote to Bamford, "...we recorded most, if not all, of the attack. Further, our intercepts, never before made public, showed the attack to be an accident on the part of the Israelis." Dr. Nowicki's letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal published on May 16, 2001 unequivocally contradicts what Bamford attributes to him. Nowicki said in the Wall Street Journal letter: "My position, which is opposite of Mr. Bamford's, is the attack, ..., was a gross error." There are not one, but two other NSA connected Hebrew linguists that, according to Dr. Nowicki, have heard the tapes and share his - not Bamford's - alleged conclusions.
ABOUT JUDGE CRISTOL:
He is a former U.S. Navy carrier pilot, and a lecturer for the Department of Defense on the Law of Naval Warfare. He retired from my Naval service with the rank of Captain. He is professionally knowledgeable about air combat and naval matters. He has spent fourteen years researching one question about the Liberty incident: did the Israelis attack her knowing she was a U.S. ship ("No") or was it a case of mistaken identity ("Yes")? This study was his doctoral dissertation accepted in 1997 by the Graduate School of International Studies of the University of Miami and is on file in the Library of Congress.
The quotations attributed to Mr. Bamford were taken from a statement he published in the New Republic.