The untold story of the Israel’s deadly 1967 assault on a US spy ship
By James Scott, Reviewed by Brian R. Wright
“Notorious incident: In 1967 the spy ship USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats in international waters during the Six-Day War. Thirty-four sailors were killed and more than 170 wounded, many critically. Israel claimed mistaken identity, which a U.S. naval court of inquiry confirmed, but that explanation is contradicted by the facts of the case.
“Based on new revelations: James Scott has interviewed Liberty survivors, senior U.S. political and intelligence officials, and examined newly declassified documents in Israel and the United States to write this comprehensive, dramatic account. He reveals that officers in Israel’s chain of command were aware of the Liberty’ s identity and shows how events in Vietnam prompted the American government to deemphasize the attack despite widespread disbelief of Israel’s story.
“The son of an attack survivor: Scott’s father, John, was an officer and engineer aboard the Liberty who was awarded the Silver Star for helping to save the ship from sinking.”
I very much appreciate Scott’s book, and though I haven’t yet read all of the key books about the USS Liberty (Liberty), it is certainly among the best written, Scott’s journalism credentials show—Journalist of the Year per South Carolina Press Association in 2003. His descriptive prose on the attacks themselves shines:
Down in the engine room, Chief Petty Officer Richard Brooks heard the bell ring out over the roar of the machinery. The 31-year-old Yonkers, New York, native shot a glance at the engine order telegraph and saw that the skipper had thrown the lever to all ahead flank, signaling the need for full power. With each pass of the fighters, shrapnel ricocheted inside the cavernous engine room and dropped to the grated deck below. “Get me all the steam pressure,” the machinist’s mate barked into the voice tube to the boilermen. “I don’t want to wait 15 minutes. I want it all… NOW.” — Page 53
Countless more exciting accounts of brave acts are conveyed with heartpounding prose, as if you’re right there with these men in the heat of the battle. Though, of course, there was no battle, the Liberty was defenseless, simply the target of deliberate armed-forces mass slaughter by an implacable, diabolical foe. [And a foe, Israel, who got off with one of its more notable crimes against humanity with far less than a slap on the wrist… heck, quite the contrary, the following year, 1968, US foreign aid to Israel would jump from $26 million to $106 million!]
Scott also writes spryly and tenderly, as when he’s describing the heroic efforts of Dr. Richard Kiepfer to save the life of Seaman Gary Blanchard, victim of the initial strafing by the unmarked Israeli fighters on the Liberty’s main deck: [spoiler alert for segments below]
[The Liberty was not designed or prepared to handle mass casualties, and Dr. Kiepfer was not a trained surgeon.] In the hours since the attack, Kiepfer and his (2) medical corpsmen had performed a tracheotomy, cut open a sailor’s chest to relieve pressure on a collapsed lung, and stopped the bleeding from dozens of gunshot and shrapnel wounds. All this time Kiepfer’s own lacerated stomach was protected by a cinched life jacket that held his bandages in place… (p. 114)
To open Blanchard up and stop the bleeding, Kiepfer needed at least two more doctors, several nurses, and a crash team. He had no operating room, no anesthesiogolist, and no skilled help. Kiepfer was terrified.
“If I don’t do the surgery, you will die,” the doctor said, leveling with him. “And if I do do the surgery, you may still die.”
“Take your best shot,” Blanchard whispered…. (p 116)
… Kiepfer could only offer a spinal anesthetic to numb Blanchard’s pain. Unless the injured sailor passed out, he would be awake during surgery. The doctor ordered his impromptu surgical team to roll Blanchard onto his side so he could insert a needle into his back between his vertebrae. Kiepfer felt a slight pop as the needle penetrated the protective sack covering Blanchard’s spinal column. A touch of fluid emerged, his cue that he had hit the mark. He slowly injected the anesthetic. He removed the needle and the men rolled Blanchard onto his back.
Lieutenant Painter and Ensign Scott held Blanchard down as Kiepfer made his first incision into the patient’s abdomen. The doctor discovered what appeared to be several liters of blood in the abdominal cavity. Without equipment to suction the wound, Kiepfer could only use large surgical sponges to soak up the blood. The process was slow and arduous. The doctor wiped the wound and within moments the sponge saturated. Tom Van Cleave, the senior corpsman, handed him another sponge. Then another and another. Blanchard stared at the ceiling and occasionally moved his head to the side. “Mama,” he repeated, “Mama.”
It took more than an hour to soak up most of the blood. When Kiepfer finally was able to see inside Blanchard’s abdomen, he noted with despair that shrapnel had punctured his liver and right kidney. The injuries appeared massive. Even more concerning, the doctor discovered fresh bleeding. Some of the blood appeared bright red, meaning it was oxygen-rich and likely coming from Blanchard’s aorta. He also observed oxygen-depleted dark blood, returning to the heart from Blanchard’s vena cava. Both the aorta and the vena cava, two of the heart’s most important blood vessels, had been either injured or torn. With each heartbeat, more blood flowed into the cavity.
Kiepfer sank in defeat. There was nothing he could do to save Blanchard from bleeding to death. The doctor pressed packs over the open ends of Blanchard’s major blood vessels to slow the bleeding, then he and his assistant stitched up the incision. The men gave him a final dose of anesthetic to ease his suffering. Bloanchard’s blood pressure dropped. The men gathered around to watch as the 20-year-old sailor stared at the lights above. His breathing grew labored. At approximately 3 a.m., he died. (pp 117, 118) [end of spoiler alert]
All such passages cry out for a screenplay and a feature film. As for the remainder of the book, not so much. The writing throughout is first-class, just that the subject matter is not so screenworthy as the action scenes. Scott’s book is valuable for delving into the nitty gritty of the political situation vis a vis Washington and Tel Aviv .AND. for showing beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel deliberately attacked the Liberty with the intent to destroy her. Scott deals mainly with government-official and main-stream-media communications and reports and leaves out any real treatment of Israel’s motives, much less our own deep-state complicity with what IMHO was surely a black op, false-flag attack, with the fairly obvious intent of having the US mistake the attackers as Egyptians and bringing the US into the Six Day War militarily on the side of Israel.
For example, and I may have missed it, but I don’t see any discussion, or at most very little, of the following facts reported by Liberty survivors and witnesses:
- Details of the several Israeli surveillance aircraft flights around the Liberty, some within waving distance, commencing in the early dawn hours.
- The fact that the attacking aircraft were UNMARKED.
- The visitation, at the end of the combined air-sea attack, by two (three?) Israeli Army helicopters carrying machine-gun-bearing commandos with the obvious intent to land on the Liberty and kill all survivors. [At this point it became known that US aircraft were finally launched to protect the Liberty and also that Israel had publicly ‘confessed’ to having attacked the Liberty by mistake… so just as the first commando was about to drop on deck, the helicopters reeled him in, stopped the op, and got the heck out of Dodge City.]
- Murderous, war-crime behavior on the part of the Israeli motor torpedo boats consisting of machine gunning the life rafts and stretcher bearers carrying wounded men out of harms way.
- Any of the proceedings, especially findings, of the Independent Commission that Liberty supporters helped to convene under auspices of respected, accomplished military leaders of the highest stature.
Except for these omissions, Attack on the Liberty remains a solid piece of work convicting in the minds of all reasonable persons the state of Israel for a deliberately contrived act of mass murder on the high seas. Scott does tear into the court, Naval Court of Inquiry (NCOI), convened by John McCain (father of Senator John McCain), Commander in Chief, US Naval Forces, Europe. The court was told (by top Navy brass) to produce a report of the incident within a matter of days, not months, in fact McCain only provided one week to conduct the investigation begun June 14, 1967, and ending with the report on June 28. It was a cut-rate, whitewash-sham tribunal, whose mission was to exonerate Israel ASAP:
More importantly, the court failed to challenge Israel’s story despite a directive “to inquire into all the pertinent facts and circumstances leading to and connected with the armed attack.” The American government never forced Israel to produce its pilots, torpedo boat skippers, or commanders [or commandos — bw] to testify. Likewise the government never demanded that Israel submit its ship logs, flight books, or recordings of its pilot communications, all reasonable requests between allied nations. The only evidence submitted on Israel’s behalf were telegrams from Ernest Castle, the American naval attaché in Tel Aviv. These telegrams repeated Israel’s claim that the Liberty was unmarked, acted suspiciously, and resembled an Egyptian WW1-era cargo ship a fraction of the Liberty’s size…. [All were refuted by Captain McGonagle.]
Just a few additional citations from the work that seem especially pertinent: 1) to the effect that high-level Israeli officials absolutely knew the ship was a) American and b) the USS Liberty, 2) that American intelligence, significantly, the CIA (who had initially bought the Israeli excuse), through and through understood the attacks as intentional, and 3) several newspapers and magazines remained adamant that Israel was culpable for a major act of aggression by the attacks:
- More than 20 minutes before the fatal torpedo strike that killed 25 sailors, Israel’s chief air-controller conclusively identified the Liberty as an American ship. Years later (Lieutenant Colonel Shmuel) KIslev confessed that when the pilot radioed in the Liberty’s hull number, any doubt about the ship’s identity vanished. “At that point in time, in my mind, it was an American ship,” he admitted in a British television documentary. “I was sure it was an American ship.” (p. 216)
- … Many senior [CIA] agency leaders by then [summer and fall of 1967] had already concluded the attack was deliberate. “I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing,” [CIA director at the time, Richard] Helms told a CIA historian in an oral history interview declassified in 2008. “Why they wanted to attack the Liberty, whose bright idea this was, I can’t possibly know. But any statement to the effect that they didn’t know that it was an American ship and so forth is nonsense.” (p. 225)
- Many editorials doubted Israel’s explanations and criticized the Pentagon for its silence on that point. The conservative National Review urged Congress to investigate. “One thing at least is proved by analysis on the facts already at hand. The incident was not ‘an accident,'” the magazine opined. “It was an act either of stupidity gross enough to be negligence, or of aggression.” (p. 235)
Outstanding book, incontrovertible and politically at least a bit ‘correct.’ You can say you like it and agree with it… and still keep a substantial minority of your Jewish friends, that is the ones who do not believe that the state of Israel is the sine qua non of their faith.
 The Independent Commission consisted of honored high military officials including: Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, United States Navy (Ret.), Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Raymond G. Davis, United States Marine Corps, (MOH winner),Former Assistant Commandant of The Marine Corps; and Rear Admiral Merlin Staring, United States Navy (Ret.),Former Judge Advocate General of the Navy. It was the only investigation that included full testimony of officers and crew of the Liberty. It delivered its report in October 2003.
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