the armed forces of Israel attacked the American intelligence ship USS Liberty for 90 minutes in
international waters in broad daylight following several hours of close, low-level reconnaissance.
Thirty-four men died, 171 were hurt, and the ship was so badly damaged that it had to be
The government of Israel has lied about the circumstances ever since, telling a story markedly
different from that told by American survivors. Congress has refused to question Israel's
demonstrably false account, even though the State Department's own analysis finds the Israeli
story to be untrue.
Yet the most pressing question remaining from that infamy is not whether the attack was
deliberate. That was settled long ago for most reasonable people. The question is why Israel
risked its cozy relationship with America by killing American seaman on the high seas.
Indeed, spokesmen for Israel use that question in Israel's defense. Why, they ask, would Israel risk
alienating its American friends?
So why did Israel attack? Intelligence analysts and others have long supposed that Israel attacked
to prevent the ship from reporting the impending invasion of the Golan Heights, then imminent
despite cease fire pleas by the United States. Israel's defenders reject that explanation.
Recent reports in the Israeli and Egyptian press suggest another powerful possibility.
According to eyewitness accounts by Israeli officers and journalists, the Israeli Army - the army
that claims to hold itself to a higher moral standard than other armies - executed as many as 1,000
Arab prisoners 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.
USS Liberty was nearby
As those executions were underway, America's most sophisticated intelligence platform, USS
Liberty, was less than 13 miles from El Arish.
We were close enough to see the town mosque with the naked eye. With binoculars we could
make out individual buildings and might have seen the executions if we had looked in the right
Could our operators have heard voice radio messages revealing 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?
Would they have been desperate enough to attack an American ship?
The Liberty attack was a war crime
The attack on USS Liberty was itself a war crime. US Navy Commander Walter Jacobsen, a Navy
Legal Officer then doing graduate work at George Washington University, conducted an
extensive legal analysis of the attack.
His conclusion, reported in the Winter, 1986, Naval Law Review, was that several aspects of the
attack violated provisions of the Geneva Conventions -- war crimes. Specifically, Commander
Jacobsen found that the attack was not legally justified, that it constituted an act of aggression
under the United Nations Charter, that the use of unmarked aircraft, the wanton destruction of life
rafts in the water, the jamming of international radio distress frequencies, and the failure of the
torpedo boat commanders to render immediate assistance to a disabled and helpless enemy were
all violations of international law.
US refusal to investigate violates Geneva Conventions
For years, USS Liberty survivors have asked Members of Congress to investigate the
circumstances of the attack.
The Israeli version is untrue. We did fly a flag. We did identify ourselves. We were in international
waters. They did not stop firing after seeing our flag as they claim, but continued to fire for
another 40 minutes. The attack lasted 75 minutes and was not brief or accidental as Israel claims.
We did not "attempt to hide" or escape when detected, as Israeli has charged. These things are
easy to prove.
More important are the war crimes discussed by Commander Jacobsen. These things should have
been investigated in 1967. Yet U.S. officials have ignored the offenses for 29 years, refusing to
investigate or even to acknowledge them.
That refusal is itself a crime. The United States, as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of
1949, is "under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered
to be committed" violations of the conventions, and to see that violators are brought to trial.
There are no exceptions. War crimes reported to government officials must be investigated and
Yet even this is ignored by U.S. officials. Liberty survivors for many years have reported the
crimes committed against us and have requested an appropriate investigation. Despite the law, our
complaints are ignored. No investigation of these charges has ever been held.
Recently Liberty's Joe Meadors, a former president and chairman of the Liberty Veterans
Association, has filed formal complaints with the House and Senate Ethics Committees against
members who have ignored our complaints.
To no surprise, these complaints, too, are being ignored.
Navy Refusal to investigate violates Navy Regulations
When the Liberty was attacked, Captain Joseph Tully in the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga
received the ship's call for help and immediately sent jet aircraft to her assistance. Tully's jets were
recalled almost immediately by orders from Washington. As a result, American jet fighter support
was withheld for more than 90 minutes. By then the damage was done and 34 men were dead or
Had those aircraft been sent, they would probably have arrived before the torpedo boats started
their part of the attack. At least 25 lives could have been saved.
We survivors have tried for 29 years to learn why we were denied the immediate air support that
we were promised in case of trouble. There are no answers. The Navy still will not even admit
that help was not sent, even though one of the aircraft carrier commanders has offered to testify
that he was forbidden to help us.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the body of law that governs every military person,
provides that "Any person subject to this chapter who before or in the presence of the enemy . . .
does not afford all practicable relief and assistance to . . . troops, vessels, or aircraft of the armed
forces . . . when engaged in battle . . . shall be punished by death or such punishment as a court
martial may direct."
That provision was clearly violated when Liberty's air support was withheld. Yet the Navy will
not even admit that we were not defended.
George Orwell suggested in 1945 that some animals are more equal than other animals. Some
countries, too, it would seem.
James Ennes retired from the Navy in 1978 as a lieutenant commander after 27 years of enlisted
and commissioned service. He was a lieutenant on the bridge of the USS Liberty on the day of the
attack. His book on the subject, Assault on the Liberty (Random House, 1980), is a "Notable
Naval Book" selection of the U.S. Naval Institute and was "editors choice" when reviewed in The
Washington Post. top of page
"The Fateful Triangle"
If you wish to read a review of "The Fateful Triangle" click this link. The article is about one-half way down on the page, entitled "The Fateful Triangle" ... top of page
c. 1998 by Jew Watch
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