The day in US history that should be considered as a 'day that will live in infamy' is not December 7, 1941, it is June 8, 1967. This is the day that Israeli forces killed 34 crew members, and wounded 172 others that were aboard the USS Liberty during the Six Day War, when Israel launched a 'surprise attack' against Egypt primarily, but also Syria, and Lebanon.
A little background to the conflict is that Egypt was given false intel by the Soviets that Israel was going to invade Syria, and tensions were already high, as Egypt had declared that the Strait of Tiran was off-limits to Israel, and implemented a blockade. Israel expressed their outrage, but Nasser asserted their legal right to do so, and actually invited Israel to take the matter to the International Court of Justice, yet Israel flatly refused.
Egypt advanced their forces to the border in case Israel attacked Syria, and though everyone by then knew that Egypt had received faulty intel from Russia, Israel decided to seize upon the opportunity to attack.
The US was monitoring the situation heavily, and had interpreters and linguists being rushed into the region from all over the world. All hands were on deck, so to speak, as the intel operations incorporated, land, air, and sea components to the spying operations.
Our stated goal was to monitor Soviet communication with Arab nations, to keep an ear to the ground for any Soviet involvement or support, but it appears that there were more incriminating conversations taking place between Israeli forces.
Israel attacked Egypt most heavily, reportedly taking out approximately 80% of their aircraft. Many Egyptian prisoners of war had been taken, and were apparently not calculated for, so the facilitation and transportation of POW's had been grossly neglected in their planning for the assaults. As a consequence, the Israelis started slaughtering large numbers of them in El Arish.
According to reports of the day:
"A convoy of Indian peacekeeper soldiers, flying the blue United Nations flag from their jeeps and trucks, were on their way to Gaza when they met an Israeli tank column on the road. As the Israelis approached, the UN observers pulled aside and stopped to get out of the way. One of the tanks rotated its turret and opened fire from a few feet away. The Israeli tank then rammed its gun through the windshield of an Indian jeep and decapitated the two men inside. When other Indians went to aid their comrades, they were mowed down by machine-gun fire. Another Israeli tank thrust its gun into a UN truck, lifted it, and smashed it to the ground, killing or wounding all the occupants. In Gaza, Israeli tanks blasted six rounds into UN headquarters, which was flying the UN flag. Fourteen UN members were killed in these incidents. One Indian officer called it deliberate, cold-blooded killing of unarmed UN soldiers. It would be a sign of things to come."
"...Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai had become nuisances. There was no place to house them, not enough Israelis to watch them, and few vehicles to transport them to prison camps. But there was another way to deal with them. As the Liberty sat within eye shot of El Arish, eavesdropping on surrounding communications, Israeli soldiers turned the town into a slaughterhouse, systematically butchering their prisoners.
In the shadow of the El Arish mosque, they lined up about sixty unarmed Egyptian prisoners, hands tied behind their backs, and then opened fire with machine guns until the pale desert sand turned red. Then they forced other prisoners to bury the victims in mass graves. "I saw a line of prisoners, civilians and military," said Abdelsalam Moussa, one of those who dug the graves, "and they opened fire at them all at once. When they were dead, they told us to bury them."
Nearby, another group of Israelis gunned down thirty more prisoners and then ordered some Bedouins to cover them with sand. In still another incident at El Arish, the Israeli journalist Gabi Bron saw about 150 Egyptian POWs sitting on the ground, crowded together with their hands held at the backs of their necks. "The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death," Bron said. "I witnessed the executions with my own eyes on the morning of June eighth, in the airport area of El Arish."
The Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki, who worked in the army's history department after the war, said he and other officers collected testimony from dozens of soldiers who admitted killing POWs. According to Yitzhaki, Israeli troops killed, in cold blood, as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai, including some 400 in the sand dunes of El Arish."
Miscommunications and some strange turns of fate landed the USS Liberty, a battleship that was retro-fitted by the NSA with about $10 million worth of equipment for use as a spy ship for receiving and recording transmissions, about 13 miles off the coast of El Arish. Surviving crew members stated that they were able to see the minaret of El Arish with the naked eye from their vantage point.
The Israelis, knowing that they were close enough to have intercepted their communications during the massive slaughter that was taking place on the shore, claimed that they were receiving shell fire from the coastline. This is a wholly implausible premise, as the ship's location has been documented and verified as being 13 miles off the coast, as their original mission plan had them situated, and the only weapons they had on board were four 50 caliber machine guns, which are not capable of reaching a target at that range.
There were fly-bys all morning from Israeli reconnaissance aircraft, but as the killings began taking place, the recon planes were replaced by those in attack formation. The aircraft fired on the bridge and communications equipment first, with no attempts made to establish dialog with the ship.
It is apparent that the Israelis were sure that Liberty had damning evidence of the slaughter, so the first thing they sought to establish was domination of the dialog by silencing the ship. They fired machine guns, rockets, and heat-seeking missiles, for the purpose of specifically targeting the communications equipment.
As if this wasn't bad enough, once they were out of ammo, a second pair of Israeli aircraft, Mysteres, also dumped drums of napalm onto the Liberty, and that was followed by machine gun fire, and 5 torpedoes being launched by Israeli Motor Torpedo Boats, with one striking the Liberty, and blowing a hole in the hull that you could fairly well drive a bus through, around a 40 foot in diameter gaping hole.
But, wait, there's more, they continued firing machine guns, killing crew members on deck, and also took aim at the liferafts in the carriers. As crewmen scrambled to try to get liferafts in the water, the Israelis kept firing on them, and destroyed 2 of them, and retrieved a third liferaft from the water, leaving the men with no means of surviving.
Resourceful members of the communications team rigged up a way to signal an SOS, and got through to American forces, or every crew member surely would have died that day. Stan White, the top enlisted man on the ship stated, "When 'prepare to abandon ship' was announced, what was left of our lifeboats were released overboard; these were immediately machine-gunned by the torpedo boats. It was obvious that no one was meant to survive this assault."
The Israelis, when they made their first report to any other country, said they mistook the ship for an Egyptian ship, El Quiser. It is a ridiculous assertion, as the USS Liberty was 455 feet in length, had massive communications towers and equipment, a completely different profile, and sat higher in the water, at only 275 feet in length, and 2,750 tons of displacement, as compared to the Liberty's 10,680 tons of displacement.
There exists much dispute to this day, but it is quite ironic that in an article, Israeli historian Michael Oren states that it is beyond reproach that it was not a mistake, which can be proven now by declassified documents. However, within the article, he affirms the main points of contention with Israel's whitewash, stating that:
"The ship sported large antennas and radar discs, but apart from four .50-caliber machine-gun mounts, it had no visible armaments. The markings 'GTR-5' were freshly painted on its bow, and from its mast flew a standard, navy-issue American flag."
These were the main claims made by Israel for the attack being an accident, that they had mistaken it for El Quesir, which was not outfitted with $10.2 million worth of communications equipment, and that there was no visible flag, and no visible hull number, but he readily admits that none of those conditions were factual.
Everything else from here is irrelevant. These are the main claims made by the Israelis that day, and normalcy bias is covered, as an Israeli historian attempting to debunk the charges states the facts of the matter outright. We know that an active decision was made by Israel to attack an American vessel, with the intent to kill every crew member aboard.
When they first attacked, little did either Liberty or her attackers know that there was an EC-121 miles above them capturing and recording intel themselves, as well. So, among the declassified details that Micheal Oren mentions, were communications from the attacking Israelis that the EC-121 picked up Israeli chatter about an American flag, and that the Mystere flight leader radioed to HQ, saying, "It would be a mitzvah if we can get a flight with iron bombs," he said. "Otherwise, the Navy's going to get here and they're going to do the shooting." Also intercepted was an exchange with another pilot and HQ:
"Pay attention," one of the pilots told his headquarters. "The ship's markings are Charlie Tango Romeo 5," he said, indicating that the Liberty's identification markings were CTR-5. (Actually, they were GTR-5.)"
And as bad as all of that is, it gets worse for those of us who are Americans, as author James Bamford states in his book, Body Of Secrets:
"At 11:29 A.M. (5:29 P.M. Liberty), Johnson took the unusual step of ordering the JCS to recall the fighters while the Liberty still lay smoldering, sinking, fearful of another attack, without aid, and with its decks covered with the dead, the dying, and the wounded.
On board the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, Rear Admiral Lawrence R. Geis, who commanded the carrier force in the Mediterranean, was angry and puzzled at the recall and protested it to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Admiral Geis was shocked by what he heard next. According to information obtained for Body of Secrets, "President Lyndon Johnson came on with a comment that he didn't care if the ship sunk, he would not embarrass his allies."
Admiral Geis told Lieutenant Commander David Lewis, the head of the NSA group on the Liberty, about the comment but asked him to keep it secret until after Geis died. It was a promise that Lewis kept."
In the documentary film featuring interviews with the survivors, at 19:50, Lewis, more properly termed as the Chief Intelligence Officer for the USS Liberty, states that it was a three-tier attack. First the planes came in to take out communications, the boats followed up to sink her(remember, 4 torpedoes missed), and then helicopters were on their way to pick off any survivors still somehow afloat. He deems it "a perfectly-executed military operation."
Since the crew members were successful in getting a signal out, the helicopters turned tail, knowing that US reinforcements were on the way. It's disgusting, reprehensible behavior, but I wouldn't expect anything less from Israel, and I'm not so sure I would've expected anything more from Johnson in particular, as much of a shame as it is to say...
Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, 2002, James Bamford