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Shocking Book Details New Info On Israeli Attack on USS Liberty

By Al Hutchinson of The Tampa Tribune

This much we do know: On June 8, 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel surprisingly launched a deadly attack upon a lightly armed American spy ship cruising off the coast of Egypt, Israel’s enemy at the time. When the attack ended, 34 of the USS Liberty’s crew were dead and 171 others were injured, many of them critically.

Here’s what we don’t know, and may never know: why the Israelis decided to mount the attack. The Liberty was clearly marked, flying the American flag and behaving in a completely benign manner. Moreover, it bore almost no resemblance to the much smaller Egyptian freighter some Israelis said they thought they were attacking. Israel’s explanations ranged from lame to downright unbelievable.

Nor will we ever know, for certain, why the United States government’s response was so uneven, unless we simply credit those who believe that the pro-Israel lobby in Washington is so all-powerful that American politicians felt too vulnerable to risk its wrath.

We do know that the attack on the Liberty came when the war in Vietnam was going badly and President Lyndon B. Johnson was almost paralyzed by a fear of failure.

James Scott’s father was the damage control officer aboard the Liberty, so he had exceptional access to the inside story of the attack. But he didn’t simply rely on tales told around the family dining table. He conducted prodigious research to document every aspect of the story, a story that only briefly made headlines before fading into historic obscurity.


Unfortunately, the lessons that should have been learned from the Liberty episode didn’t prevent the United States from putting another spy ship, the USS Pueblo, at risk. Seven months after the Liberty was attacked, the Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans in international waters and held hostage, with its crew, for almost a year.

As a former newspaper reporter, Scott knows how to dig for facts, and his book resonates with the results of his relentless search for the truth. Unfortunately, it would appear that the Israeli government was either unwilling or (for reasons that defy logic) unable to conduct its own investigation in such a way that the findings would be credible.

In fairness, Israel did apologize for the attack, but its inability, or its refusal, to provide a plausible explanation for it remains an insult to the victims and their families, not to mention the United States government (which didn’t exactly cover itself with glory in its own investigation).

Anyone reading Scott’s account of the encounter that occurred 42 years ago may be infuriated by the diplomatic and military blunders (or deceit) on both sides, and yet the most compelling passages of his narrative are those that describe the horrors of the attack and the dreadful consequences for those aboard the Liberty. It is high time someone drew our attention to this tragedy, and Scott has done it in magnificent fashion.

Al Hutchison of Citrus County, Fla., is a freelance writer. His father was a skipper aboard Liberty and Victory ships in World War II. This review originally appeared in The Tampa Tribune.

The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel’s Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship by James Scott (hardcover, 384 pages, #LLB, $30; reduced to $27 for members of the AFP READERSHIP COUNCIL). Free S&H inside U.S. Call FAB toll free at 1-888-699-NEWS to charge to Visa or MasterCard. ORDER ONLINE HERE.

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(Issue # 27, July 6, 2009)

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