Assault on the Liberty

A summary based upon the dust cover summary from Assault on the Liberty by James M. Ennes, Jr.

In June 1967, jet aircraft and motor torpedo boats of Israel brutally assaulted an American naval vessel, USS Liberty, in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea. The attack was preceded by more than six hours of intense low-level surveillance by Israeli photo-reconnaissance aircraft, which buzzed the intelligence ship thirteen times, sometimes flying as low as 200 feet directly overhead. The reconnaissance pilots were heard by intercept operators in Germany and by American airborne intercept operators reporting to their headquarters that they could see an American flag and men sunbathing on deck.

The carefully orchestrated assault that followed was initiated by high-performance jet aircraft, was followed up by slower and more maneuverable jets carrying napalm, and was finally turned over to lethal torpedo boats which fired five torpedoes. Four missed. The one torpedo that hit the ship blasted a forty-foot hole in the ship's side.

The attack lasted more than two hours -- killing 34 Americans and wounding 174 others -- and inflicted 821 rocket and machine-gun holes. And when the Liberty stubbornly remained afloat despite her damage, Israeli forces machine-gunned her life rafts and sent troop-carrying helicopters in to finish the job. US Air Force intercept operators heard Israeli jet being vectored to "the American ship" which they were ordered to sink quickly. Those who have seen these transcripts insist that they leave no doubt that the Israelis knew they were attacking an American ship.

Before USS Liberty arrived in the area, U.S. Sixth Fleet Commander Admiral William Martin promised to provide air support within ten minutes if an emergency arose. Yet when the ship did come under attack, the White House blocked any air rescue for more than 90 minutes. Officers on the bridge of the aircraft carrier Saratoga heard Liberty's radio operators calling for help while bombs burst in the background, but were forbidden to help. When Navy jet aircraft were finally authorized to come to the ship's aid, the Israeli government suddenly ended the attack and withdrew, claiming that they had mistaken the ship for an Egyptian horse transport named El Quseir. Only then did the identity of the assailants become known.

Details of the attack were hushed up in both countries. Israel claimed that her forces mistook USS Liberty for an Egyptian ship, and our government publicly accepted that excuse despite evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, in top secret diplomatic mail, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk accused the Israelis of demonstrating "blatant disregard for human life" and said that the attack was no accident. Then our government downplayed the intensity of the surveillance and the severity of the attack and imposed a news blackout to keep the official story under control. The official version is that the Liberty was reconnoitered only three times and then only from great distance. The American people were told that the air attack lasted only five minutes and that it was followed by a single torpedo and an immediate apology and offer of assistance.

The story has continued to fester for forty years. During that time numerous senior members of the Lyndon Johnson administration, in office at the time, have come forward to say that the attack was no accident. These include former Secretary of State Dean Rusk; former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Tom Moorer; former NSA chief General Marshall Carter and his deputy, Dr. Lou Tordella; former White House Press Secretary George Christian; former US Ambassador to Lebanon Dwight Porter who heard some of the radio conversations at the time, and others. Two former Israeli military officers have come forward to tell their inside stories confirming survivors' charges that the attack was no accident. Despite these reports, and despite charges by survivors that the official Israeli story is untrue, Congress refuses to conduct a public investigation. The attack on the USS Liberty remains the only major maritime incident in all US history that has not been publicly investigated by the United States Congress.

Assault on the Liberty was published in six hard cover editions by Random House, in one paperback edition by the Ivy Books division of Ballantine, and in one overseas Arabic language edition by the Language Management Corporation of Nicosia, Cyprus. More than 100,000 copies have been sold. It has been reprinted three times by Signature Book Printing Company of Gaithersburg, Maryland, for Reintree Press with a new addendum that updates the story.

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Jim Ennes and Joe Meadors

USS Liberty