The Day Israel Attacked America


EDITOR’ NOTE: This EXCLUSIVE Al Jazeera documentary throws new light on exactly what happened that fateful day of Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty and the cover up that followed.

“Truth and America’s honor were ignominiously sacrificed to provide cover for Israel’s transparent lies and despicable act of perfidy.” -Phillip F. Tourney, President USS LIBERTY Veterans Association, June 8, 2007, Marriott Courtyard, VA.

The Day Israel attacked America can be seen from Thursday, October 30, at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1200; Wednesday: 0100; Thursday: 0600. (check your local cable channel listings or visit Al Jazeera America, for repeats, Called “The Day Israel Attacked America”)



Al Jazeera America

In 1967, at the height of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force launched an unprovoked attack on the USS Liberty, a US Navy spy ship that was monitoring the conflict from the safety of international waters in the Mediterranean.

Israeli jet fighters hit the vessel with rockets, cannon fire and napalm, before three Israeli torpedo boats moved in to launch a second more devastating attack. Though she did not sink, the Liberty was badly damaged. Thirty-four US servicemen and civilian analysts were killed, another 171 were wounded.

Later Israel apologized for what it claimed to be a tragic case of mistaken identity. It said that it had believed the ship to be hostile Egyptian naval vessel. US President Lyndon Johnson was privately furious but publicly the White House chose not to challenge the word of its closest Middle East ally and accepted that the attack had been a catastrophic accident.



Filmmaker’s view

By Richard Belfield

Remembering America's Heroes

I was first told about the attack on the USS Liberty in 1980 over dinner with a former analyst from the National Security Agency (NSA) in Washington DC.

Back in 1980, I promised my friend that if I ever got the chance I would make a film about it. Over the years, I pitched the idea to numerous broadcasters and always got the same response: eyes rolled upwards, usually followed by the statement, “Are you completely mad?”

Fast forward to 2009 and I was a guest speaker at the NSA’s biennial conference on historical cryptography, talking about an unsolved code on an 18th century monument in an English stately home.

While there, I went to two other sessions – both about attacks on American signal intelligence naval vessels.

The first was the capture of the US spy ship, the Pueblo (boarded by North Korean forces in 1968 – and never returned). The survivors of that incident were treated like heroes and feted on stage.

The next day there was a session about the USS Liberty. James Scott, who has written easily the best book on the Liberty attack, was on stage and limited to his allotted 20 minutes. Ranged against him were three Israeli apologists, all of whom were allowed to overrun their time. Survivors from the Liberty affair were allowed to sit in the audience, but they were denied any say in proceedings.

As an Englishman, I was brought up with a strong sense of fair play and I thought this was a disgrace. It was gruesome to watch. First, the crew had been attacked in broad daylight by a close ally, then they were betrayed by their government and now they were being humiliated by the same agency many had worked for back in 1967.

Earlier this year, I acquired a copy of the audiotape of the attack as it had unfolded, the real time conversations between Isreali Air Force pilots and their controllers back at base. It had never been broadcast before. I went to talk to Al Jazeera and after careful consideration, the network commissioned the film.

James Scott AttackOnTheLibertySB-1On location, it all started with James Scott (who gets a co-producer credit on this project). When writing his book, he had already interviewed the survivors as well as many of the key people in the Washington political and intelligence machine from that time. The introductions he made would prove invaluable as we began filming interviews.

The veterans were extraordinary. One after another, they were generous with their time, uniformly eloquent and passionate and above all, honest in their recollections.

They all felt betrayed by the American government but were keen to exonerate ordinary Jewish people both in Israel and without, for any responsibility for the incident. Their beef was simply with the senior Israeli officers in the control room and their superiors higher up the command chain who had ordered the attack.

After a few days filming, I rang Elaine Morris, my producer back in London. She asked how things were going. All I could say was that the quality of the interviews was the best I had ever experienced in many decades in this business.

In Texas we interviewed Bobby Ray Inman, an intelligence officer with a glittering track record at the CIA, Naval Intelligence and as a former director of the NSA. My contacts in the UK intelligence world had always told me “he is one of the good guys” and I quickly discovered why. He was frank and clear.

The top Israeli commanders, he explained, had known exactly what they were doing when they attacked the Liberty and when it came to holding them to account, the US government rolled over for them.

We filmed an annual memorial ceremony in Washington, D.C. It was emotional, visceral and tense, with survivors, family and friends gathered in the morning sun. Listening to a sole bugler playing the US Navy’s lament, ‘Taps’ is a memory that will never fade.

Years earlier, I had visited the US military graves in Arlington Cemetery but now, following the ceremony, I got to go there again with Dave Lucas, one of the survivors of the attack and a truly wonderful man.

We filmed as he walked up the hill carrying a wreath from the ceremony. Alongside him was a crew member, a Portuguese language specialist, who had left the Liberty in Spain just a few days before it sailed off up the Mediterranean to take up position off the Egyptian coast. He had been temporarily replaced for the mission by an Arab linguist. He wept openly for the comrades he had said goodbye to, never to see again. As we filmed the pair laying the flowers, an interview with one of the other survivors, Jim Kavanagh came suddenly to mind. “I went through hell,” he had said about his shipmates. “But they left this earth.”

Finally, we filmed on a sister ship to the Liberty, now moored in San Francisco. The crew hauled an outsized US flag up a mast for us. The flag – known as the “holiday colours” – was identical to that which was flown from the Liberty on June 8, 1967. It was huge, clearly visible for miles, and I knew immediately that no one could ever have been in any doubt about the nationality of the ship beneath it.

Watching the Stars and Stripes unfurl into the wind, I realized that I had got to keep the promise I first made to my friend in a Washington restaurant 34 years ago.

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FaceBook Comments


  1. The Editor
    Al Jazeera, America


    Too often,the people of America, often starved for news that is truthful and relevant to their lives, take for granted the fact that your network delivers such truth daily against the distorted and frequently factually irrelevant offerings from the ABC, CBS, MSN NBC, CNN and particularly FOX.

    This week you excelled again through your detailed disclosure of the USS Liberty, a perfidious act that occurred in1967. The blackest mark in America’s history. Yes, even more so than the JFK assassination and 9/11, both incidents that will one day be proven to be crimes with a US government involvement, in some way..

    Perhaps the greatest act of treachery against the people of the USA by a criminal President, one of many since that date who have failed to reign in the psychotic state of Israel and who have supported them with the use of 69 vetoes in the Security Council. As a result, we have seen the continuation of Israel as an occupier of stolen lands for sixty six years. But he also failed to do his duty as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forced of his country and to come to the aid of his country’s servicemen under attack from Israel. Scores of lives were lost, almost 200 injured while they all waited for a President, their elected President, to do his duty.

    As we all know now, that did not happen.

    As an Australian, I can say that in my lifetime this single incident has had the greatest impact on removing any remaining respect for the management of the USA and its successive governments. To me, no positive act since then has been able to remove that stain so I have supported the effort you have made to make people aware of this disgrace, albeit 40 years too late. The fact that Johnson was able to continue in that Presidential role after that disgrace is just further proof of the beginning of the end for the decency that was once America, the values that were enshrined in The Constitution, the country having become a vassal state of a small, self-obsessed middle eastern state, proven year after year to be inhumane and arrogant in its approach to the people of Palestine. A latter day Nazi Germany in every way.

    So more strength to you Al Jazeera. Without your efforts the USA would be a darker place. America’s actions, in 2014, always directed by vested interests together with its blind subservience to Israel, is driving it down the road to losing the respect of the whole world. It may have already reached that point.

    A shadow of the past.

    Rex Williams
    Australians for Justice
    Canberra Australia

  2. We keep seeing how much subterfuge goes back to the Johnson Administration, time and again. Not the administration before or after, nor the one after that. Today the works of that administration seem beyond reproach because of the Civil Rights narrative- which is now the holy of holies . It’s not out of reach on Vietnam though. The ramifications- or the legacy, do constitute a con job on order of the Gulf on Tonkin. Colossal military deception- nothing less. LBJ was rotten to the core.

  3. On June 8, 1967, Lieutenant Richard F. Kiepfer, was the lone medical doctor on board the spy ship, the USS LIBERTY, who “with complete disregard for his own personal safety, exposed himself to overwhelmingly accurate rocket and machine gun fire…administered first aid…treated [171 wounded] men for pain, shock…[and] conducted a major surgical operation” [Silver Star Medal Commendation].

    Six weeks after boarding the LIBERTY, fifteen minutes into the attack and while operating on a sailor to control his bleeding, Dr. Kiepfer received eleven shrapnel wounds into his abdomen, a gun shot to his leg, burns and a broken knee cap. He remained on his feet and caring for the crew for the next twenty-eight hours and their spirits ever since…

    I had many questions for Dr. Kiepfer, and utmost was what was left out of the Court of Inquiry: such as how could the deck log which documents the hours during the attack be so neatly written and list all the dead and wounded in alphabetical order within the hours of noon to four PM but make no mention of the many Israeli over flights that occurred during the morning before the attack.

    Dr. Kiepfer explained, “The deck log was not written during the attack. Captain McGonagle signed off on the Log and that makes it legal, but not authentic. McGonagle was concerned that he would be blamed for the LIBERTY being in troubled waters. I told him, ‘Over my dead fucking body!’

    “Israel did identify the ship six hours before the attack. Israel did know that the ship was American and admitted to our government that they knew the ship was American; Israel claims only that the attacking forces failed to get the word.

    “Modern diplomacy simply does not permit one to embarrass a ‘friendly’ nation, even when that nation is caught red-handed with its torpedo in one’s ship!

    “McGonagle was tormented by the idea that he was somehow responsible for the agony his ship and crew suffered. One top level theory holds that someone in the Israeli armed forces ordered the LIBERTY sunk because he suspected that it had taken down messages showing that Israel started the fighting during the Six Day War.

    “Typical of Israel’s casual attitude toward the episode, an attitude which suggested from the beginning that it was really our fault for being there-in international waters-in the first place.

    “Messages from Israel directly charged that a share of the blame was McGonagle’s. The Shreveport Times suggested that our government was involved in a cover-up and that the attack itself may have been conducted to prevent the ship and the United States from detecting the pending invasion of Syria” which had been scheduled for June 8th but implemented on June 9th.

    “McGonagle may have misremembered or may have not reported the over a dozen Israeli over flights that morning because he may have thought he should have abandoned our mission-which was to listen in on all communications. My opinion as a civilian is that the Court of Inquiry-which was to determine if the Navy were at fault- should have inquired why he didn’t get the LIBERTY out of the area since we could see the smoke from Al Arish, in Gaza.

    “I was the only Medical Corp officer to be appointed Officer of the Deck-that means I was in charge of everything on the ship when the Captain was off duty. I stood mid watch from midnight to 4 AM the night before the attack of June 8, 1967 and all was quiet. I always slept until 7:29 because breakfast ended at 7:30. Beginning at sunrise to 8 AM, the bridge reported a couple of propeller driven aircraft overhead and by noon several more.

    “At lunch people were talking about all the Israeli over flights, but nobody was worried; they were our friends. Afterwards, as usual I went to the wardroom for coffee while the Corpsmen began the start of sick call and off duty officers pursued the national sport of sunbathing on the quarterdeck.

    “Lieutenant George Golden and I were together when the attack began and we thought a steam line had ruptured when we heard the first explosion. We both headed off to our general quarters stations as the announcement sounded that we were under attack. I assumed it was perpetrated by the Arabs or Russians. Understand that nobody could identify Mirage fighter-bombers that travel at MACH One. IMAGINE as I say these words to you that the jets are a mile away, now they are overhead and now they are a mile away from us. That is how fast they travel.

    “Fifteen minutes into the attack, while I was operating on a sailor and trying to control his bleeding, I was hit with eleven pieces of shrapnel into my abdomen. A rocket struck above the ceiling of sick bay and the light over my head and the operating table protected me; both acted as a life saver for me, otherwise I would have gotten hit in my shoulders, side and back. I was knocked against a wall and waves of red and white pain throbbed through me.

    “I knew I had to finish with the guy on the table-if I walked away, I wouldn’t have returned. All I could think about was keeping limbs attached to sailors. From the moment the attack began, I felt a greater presence within me that was physically holding me up. I thought it was the spirit of all the navy docs who had gone before me. I felt physically held up by my invisible assistants and with all that adrenalin coursing through me and some carefully titrated morphine that I self injected, I was able to do what I did.

    “It was not until I finished that operation did I even examine myself. The fragments that penetrated me were so hot they cauterized my wounds. The pain was intense, but after applying surgical dressings to my wounds and putting on a life vest to control the bleeding I gave myself a shot of morphine and remained on my feet and working for the next twenty-eight hours.

    “Just before the torpedo struck, I was summoned to the bridge and went through the mess decks from sickbay, where a number of wounded sailors were. Captain McGonagle was the only man still functioning there, the lookouts were dead, the helmsman-the guy at the steering wheel was dead and I saw the blown apart remains of our Navigator, Mr. Toth, two decks below me. All I could do was administer morphine to the still living and get them onto stretchers to evacuate them. I had two Corpsmen working with me and knew I needed more surrogates, for the wounded were shoulder to shoulder the full circumference of the passageway.

    “While I was on the deck, I got hit by a fifty caliber machine gun bullet to my leg that came from the torpedo boats. I was bleeding into my shoes and not until the next day when I was able to lie down did the bleeding slow down. You know the story of the Incredible Hulk and mother’s who lift cars off of their kids? When you are angry and hurt you can do amazing things.

    “If you got one hundred people into my skin that day, probably all of them would have thrown up from the hell that erupted on the LIBERTY. Men were groaning and crying for their mothers, but it was just background noise for me. I was slip sliding as I crossed the bloody deck to get to the Captain who had been hit. McGonagle was leaning back in the Captain’s chair, bleeding from many orifices; some natural and some new ones. I applied battle dressings, started an IV, gave him some morphine and sent an enlisted man to find as many officers as possible to come up to the Bridge and assist him and to watch him for shock. The Captain said, ‘If I sit up, I pass out, but as long as I stay in this position, I am OK.’

    “People I had eaten lunch with were dismembered all around me, burned, dead. To this day, every time I have a phone conversation with Phil Tourney, who held the light while I was operating on Blanchard, he tells me he can still see the look in my eyes.

    “Everyone in the Navy hierarchy knew we were scapegoats and the Navy would have done anything to exact retribution, but the Navy never got the chance. 

    “In LBJ’s mind we were just an average day’s losses in Vietnam. I doubt Israel would have attacked without the knowledge or complicity of our State Departments willingness to sacrifice a few hundred sailors to have a ‘stabilized’ Middle East and all that oil. Our State Department’s morality and ethics are just slightly below those of a Madame in a house of ill repute or a large-scale drug dealer.

    “June 8, 1967 was like July 4th in hell without the ice cream. And yes, I agree that it was God that kept us afloat.” – EXCERPTED from “IMAGINE: Vanunu’s WAIT for LIBERTY, Remembering the USS LIBERTY and My Life as a Candidate of Conscience for US HOUSE 2012″ by Eileen Fleming

  4. The sentiments from the writer above are mine as well.

    I just could not believe in 1967 that a President turned back aid for a US military vessel under attack.
    How is it that one man, as corrupt as Johnson appears to have been and with a past which is seriously questionable to say the least, can give preference in a decision against his own military personnel to support a foreign state.

    This has troubled me since that day of shame, so long ago. And when one sees what the Israeli criminals have done since that day with the population of a once-proud country now dancing to a foreign puppet master, it is sickening.


  5. To a non-American, this act was the greatest example of perfidy in my lifetime. Nothing comes close for me and seen as the beginning of the end for the respect I had felt for the leaders of that country and by default, the country itself.

    From that date in time, it has been a downhill slide

    Yes, it even exceeds the assassination of John Kennedy as well and the disaster that was 9/11, both with so many loose ends as to have been criminal acts certainly with US government connivance, somewhere. Be assured of that.

    But the USS Liberty and the criminality of Johnson, his dalliances with Israeli spies and his subservience to that psychotic country, Israel, with almost all Presidents since then as well, which has now gone from that time to create more disruption in the middle east, still to this day, all under the patronage of the USA. And all for an arrogant and self-obsessed state.

    So for me, it was not just the act itself, but it is also the fact that this once great country sold its soul on that day and it has never, nor will it ever redeem itself in my eyes.

    Love the people but the country as represented today by the likes of McCain. Nuland, the Kagans and neocons all, Adelson, Graham, Ros-Lehtinen, and 60% of the elected representatives, the tolerance of the Israel fifth column, AIPAC. the acceptance as normal of PAC’s and SuperPac’s as democratic, the control over major areas of life such as media (90% Zionist owned), banking, key security industries, all functions that have developed through various forms of graft and corruption in a country so welcoming for a quick dollar and who couldn’t see the insidious new settlers for who and what they were, and accepted them by the thousands after World War II. A careful contrived scheme that has paid off by making the US a vassal state in 2014.

    Sadly, too late now.

    But if I ever think of perfidy, it is the USS Liberty that I remember. I really wish I could forget it and I am not an American.

    My sympathy and respect to all the crew and families. They did not deserve to be treated with disdain.

    Shame also on all those US Presidents who compounded the felony by ignoring the truth, even today.

    • The most shameful event in the entire film was awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Captain William McGonagle “…in a secret ceremony at the Navy yard.”

      Apparently “the only time in history the Congressional Medal of Honor was not awarded personally by the President at the White House”

      “Johnson was just four miles away at the time”