From the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
CRISTOL CLAIM OF 13 INVESTIGATIONS INTO
ISRAEL’S ATTACK ON USS LIBERTY A TRAVESTY
By Terence O’Keefe
Travesty: noun. A false or debased version of some-
thing; a literary or artistic work that ridicules some-
thing serious by imitating it in a gross and distorting
When A. Jay Cristol’s The Liberty Incident was released a
year ago, it was uncritically hailed as the last word in the
36-year controversy surrounding Israel’s 1967 attack on the
USS LIBERTY that took 34 American lives and wounded 172. The
book was packed with tedious minutiae arguing the case. Indeed,
if its author is to be believed, LIBERTY survivors have engaged
in a 36-year slander against the state of Israel — which was
guilty, at worst, of a grievous mistake in the heat of war.
“Thirteen investigations have all exonerated Israel,” is
Like many others, I found the author’s case initially per-
suasive. Here, after all, is a federal judge, a Navy captain,
author, scholar, former Navy lawyer and apparently a combat
fighter pilot who claims to have studied this matter for 15
years, with an open mind, and who finally was forced to conclude
that it was a tragic accident. Those who say otherwise, I
agreed, must be either mistaken or malicious.
But the survivors are persuasive, too — and Cristo dismisses
their eyewitness accounts out-of-hand. Eyewitnesses, he claims,
are not reliable, as they are too close to the event to be be-
lieved. Better to rely upon dispassionate historians such as
himself who examine the evidence later, with a cooler and more
It was with that view that I decided to examine both the
Cristol and the LIBERTY positions in a effort to find where the
truth lies. For more than a year I queried survivors and Mr.
Cristol himself, seeking facts, evidence and the truth.
To most questions, Cristol points to his account of 13 exoner-
ating investigations, so I focused closely on those. Here is the
CRISTOL’S 13 INVESTIGATIONS
1. The U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry: The senior legal adviser to
the Court of Inquiry reflected that, in his entire career, he has
never seen court of inquiry appointing letters with such limited
authority, or an investigation made in such haste. The court’s
hearings began before the LIBERTY even arrived in Malta, and the
report was completed just 10 days after the attack. The court
commented on this haste in the official record: “The Court of
Inquiry experienced no unusual difficulties incident to conduct-
ing the subject proceedings except for the necessity of investi-
gating such a major naval disaster of international significance
in an extremely abbreviated time frame.”
Due in part to the required haste and the limitations imposed
on the scope of the court’s inquiries (“It was not the responsi-
bility of the court to rule on the culpability of the attackers,
and no evidence was heard from the attacking nation”), the court
concluded that “available evidence combines to indicate… [that
the attack was] a case of mistaken identity.”
How, one might ask, could one inquire into all of the circum-
stances without hearing from the attacking nation? In fact, the
court did neither. According to Captain Ward Boston, chief legal
counsel to the Court of Inquiry, the court found that the attack
was deliberate, but reported falsely that it was not because they
were directed by the president of the United States and the sec-
retary of defense to report falsely. So the findings are fraudu-
lent. Yet these fraudulent findings were the basis for several
other reports that followed.
2. Israeli government investigations: The Ram Ron and Yerushalmi
reports of 1967 were not investigations. Both were elements of an
Israeli process to determine whether anyone in Israel should be
tried for a crime. That the attack itself was an accident was a
given. Both hearings officers determined that no one in Israel
did anything wrong, and that the USS LIBERTY was partly respon-
sible, for a number of contrived reasons, such as “failure to fly
a flag” and “trying to hide” — which the Navy Court of Inquiry
found to be untrue.
3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff Report of June 1967: This was an
inquiry into the mishandling of several messages intended for the
ship. It was not an investigation into the attack. It did not
exonerate Israel, because it did not in any way consider the
question of culpability.
4. CIA report of June 13, 1967: This interim report, completed
five days after the attack, reported “our best judgment [is] that
the attack… was a mistake.” No investigation was conducted,
and no first-hand evidence was collected. Then-CIA Director
Richard Helms concluded and later reported in his autobiography
that the attack was planned and deliberate — a fact ignored by
5. Clark Clifford report of July 18, 1967: Clark Clifford was
directed by Lyndon Johnson to review the Court of Inquiry report
and the interim CIA report and “not to make an independent in-
quiry.” His was merely a summary of other fallacious reports,
not an “investigation” as alleged by Mr. Cristol. The report
reached no conclusions and did not exonerate Israel, as Mr.
Cristol also claimed. On the contrary, Clifford wrote later
that he regarded the attack as deliberate — a fact ignored by
6. and 7. Two Senate Investigations: The Committee on Foreign
Relations meeting of 1967 and Senate Armed Services Committee
meeting of 1968 were hearings on unrelated matters which clearly
skeptical members used to castigate representatives of the admin-
istration under oath before them. Typical questions were, “Why
can’t we get the truth about this?” They were not “investiga-
tions” at all, but budget hearings, and reported no conclusions
concerning the attack. They did not exonerate Israel, as claim-
ed by Mr. Cristol.
8. House Appropriations Committee meeting of April and May 1968:
This was a budget committee meeting which explored the issue of
lost messages intended for the ship. It was not an investigation
and reported no conclusions concerning the attack, as alleged by
9. House Armed Services Committee Review of Communications, May
1971: LIBERTY communications were discussed along with other
communications failures. The committee reported no conclusions
concerning the attack, as alleged by Mr. Cristol.
10. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1979/1981: Mr.
Cristol claims that the committee investigated the attack and
exonerated Israel, yet he has been unable to provide minutes,
a report or other evidence of such an investigation. Rules of
the select committee require that any committee investigation
be followed by a report. There is no report of such an investi-
gation; ergo, there was no such investigation.
11. National Security Agency Report, 1981: Upon the publication
in 1980 of ASSAULT OF THE LIBERTY by James Ennes, the National
Security Agency completed a detailed account of the attack. The
report drew no conclusions, although its authors did note that
the deputy director dismissed the Israeli excuse (the Yerushalmi
report) as “a nice whitewash.” The report did not exonerate
Israel, as claimed by Mr. Cristol.
12. State of Israel-Israel Defense Force History Department
report of June 1982: This Israeli government report was a
reaction to a published report by Sen. Adlai Stevenson III that
he believed the attack to be deliberate and hoped to provide a
forum for survivors to tell their story. It was primarily a
summary of the Ram Ron and Yerushalmi reports. The Stevenson
forum, which was the impetus for the report, was never held.
The report supports the official Israeli position that the
attack was a tragic accident.
13. House Armed Services Committee investigation of 1991/
1992: Though cited by Mr. Cristol as an investigation which
exonerates Israel, the U.S. government reports no record of
such an investigation. Cristol claims that the investigation
resulted from a letter to Rep. Nicholas Mavroules from Joe
Meadors, then-president of the USS LIBERTY Veterans Association,
seeking Mavroules’ support. Instead of responding to LIBERTY
veterans, however, Congressman Mavroules referred the matter
to Mr. Cristol for advice. Survivors heard nothing further.
Meadors’ letter was never answered. The U.S. government
reports that there has been no such investigation.
TIME FOR A REAL INVESTIGATION
LIBERTY survivors have said for 36 years that theirs is the only
major maritime incident not investigated by Congress. Apologist
Cristol’s response is to claim that no investigation is needed
because the attack has been investigated repeatedly, and that
each such investigation has exonerated Israel. That claim is
pure fantasy. A recent request to the Congressional Research
Service for evidence of any congressional inquiry into the
attack on the USS LIBERTY brought a report that Congress has
never investigated the attack. Israeli culpability for the
attack on the USS LIBERTY has never been investigated by any
agency of the United States government. It should be.
Terence O’Keefe is a CPA working on a master’s degree in
strategic intelligence at the American Military University.
He plans to write his thesis on the LIBERTY attack.
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