Fifty-one years ago, on June 8, 1967, Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty, a spy ship, killing 34 and wounding 171.
To this day, the tragic event in the eastern Mediterranean Sea during the Six-Day War is immersed in controversy.
Investigations conducted by the United States and Israel concluded that the attack was an accident. Amid the fog of war, Israel mistook the American ship for an Egyptian freighter, the reports surmise.
Liberty’s Survivors Claim Cover-Up
But surviving Liberty crew, along with some historians, say that the investigations were cover-ups and the Israelis attacked the ship fully knowing that it was an American vessel. They say the U.S. government didn’t want to learn the truth out of concern about America’s close relationship with Israel.
The USS Liberty Veterans Association, a group of attack survivors, has called for a robust and transparent investigation into the incident for decades. Their voices have yet to be answered.
“We now know that the Navy Court of Inquiry was merely for show, as the officers were told to come to the conclusion the Liberty did [its] job and the attack was accidental,” Ernie Gallo, president of the USS Liberty Veterans Association, told The Intercept in 2017.
In 2007, Rear Adm. Merlin Staring, the Navy’s former judge advocate general, described the U.S. investigation as “a hasty, superficial, incomplete and totally inadequate inquiry.”
No Liberty Cover-Up, Says Spy Plane Officer
But others say that there wasn’t a cover-up.
Former Navy Chief Petty Officer Marvin Nowicki, who was aboard a U.S. spy plane, wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2001 that although he heard and recorded Israeli pilots’ and captains’ references to the U.S. flag flying on the deck of the Liberty, these remarks were made only after the attack was underway, and not before. It was when aircraft and motor torpedo boat operators moved closer to the Liberty, Nowicki wrote, that they were able to recognize the American flag.
This much is certain: Israel apologized for the attack and the following year paid $3.32 million to the U.S. government as compensation to the families of the 34 men killed. In 1969, Israel also paid $3.57 million to the wounded crew. Finally, in 1980, Israel paid $6 million for the ship’s damage plus interest dating to the day of the attack.
Watch BBC Documentary
Click on the video above to view the 2002 BBC documentary “USS Liberty: Dead In The Water.”