Source: David Irving's
Action Report Online | Posted Saturday, July 24, 1999
From They Dare to Speak Out (Chapter 6) by Paul Findley
Lawrence Hill & Company, Westport, Connecticut, 1985, pp. 165-179
The Assault on "Assault"
Introduction: The fifteen or so pages of text that make up Chapter 6 of Paul Findley's 1985 book on the Jewish lobby in the United States -- They Dare to Speak Out -- contain for students of pressure politics an important case study of cover-up and of intimidation. The chapter 6 the evidently deliberate Israeli attack on the American Navy ship the USS Liberty in June of 1967, and its extraordinary aftermath. -- David Irving
ALTHOUGH Israel's lobby seems able at will to penetrate our nation's strongest defenses in order to gain the secret information it wishes, when the lobby's objective is keeping such information secret, our defenses suddenly become impenetrable.
After seventeen years, James M. Ennes Jr., a retired officer of the U.S. Navy, is still having difficulty prying loose documents which shed light on the worst peacetime disaster in the history of our Navy. In this quest, he has encountered resistance by the Department of Defense, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the book publishing industry, the news media, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The resistance, seemingly coordinated on an international scale, is especially perplexing because Ennes' goal is public awareness of an episode of heroism and tragedy at sea which is without precedent in American history.
As the result of a program of concealment supported by successive governments in both Israel and the United States, hardly anyone remembers the miraculous survival of the USS Liberty after a devastating assault by Israeli forces on June 8, 1967, left 34 sailors dead, 171 injured, and the damaged ship adrift with no power, rudder or means of communication.
The sustained courage of Captain William L. McGonagle and his crew in these desperate circumstances earned the Liberty a place of honor in the annals of the U.S. Navy. [Obituary of McGonagle] But, despite energetic endeavors, including those of Ennes, McGonagle's officer of the deck that day, the entries remain dim and obscure. Ennes's stirring book-length account of the attack, Assault on the Liberty, itself continues to be under heavy assault five years after publication.
The episode and its aftermath were so incredible that Admiral Thomas L. Moorer, who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a month after the attack, observes, "If it was written as fiction, nobody would believe it."
Certain facts are clear. The attack was no accident. The Liberty was assaulted in broad daylight by Israeli forces who knew the ship's identity. The Liberty, an intelligence-gathering ship, had no combat capability and carried only light machine guns for defense. A steady breeze made its U.S. flag easily visible. The assault occurred over a period of nearly two hours-first by air, then torpedo boat. The ferocity of the attacks left no doubt: the Israeli forces wanted the ship and its crew destroyed.
The public, however, was kept in the dark. Even before the American public learned of the attack, U.S. government officials began to promote an account satisfactory to Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee worked through Congressmen to keep the story under control. The President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, ordered and led a cover-up so thorough that sixteen years after he left office, the episode was still largely unknown to the public -- and the men who suffered and died have gone largely unhonored.
The day of the attack began in routine fashion, with the ship first proceeding slowly in an easterly direction in the eastern Mediterranean, later following the contour of the coastline westerly about fifteen miles off the Sinai Peninsula. On the mainland, Israeli forces were winning smashing victories in the third Arab-Israeli war in nineteen years. Israeli Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, announcing that the Israelis had taken the entire Sinai and broken the blockade on the Strait of Tiran, declared: "The Egyptians are defeated." On the eastern front the Israelis had overcome Jordanian forces and captured most of the West Bank.
At 6 a.m. an airplane, identified by the Liberty crew as an Israeli Noratlas, circled the ship slowly and departed. This procedure was repeated periodically over an eight-hour period. At 9 a.m. a jet appeared at a distance, then left. At 10 a.m., two rocket-armed jets circled the ship three times. They were close enough for their pilots to be observed through binoculars. The planes were unmarked. An hour later the Israeli Noraltas returned, flying not more than 200 feet directly above the Liberty and clearly marked with the Star of David. The ship's crew members and the pilot waved at each other. This plane returned every few minutes until 1 p.m. By then, the ship had changed course and was proceeding almost due west.
At 2:00 p.m. all hell broke loose. Three Mirage fighter planes headed straight for the Liberty, their rockets taking out the forward machine guns and wrecking the ship's antennae. The Mirages were joined by Mystère fighters, which dropped napalm on the bridge and deck and repeatedly strafed the ship. The attack continued for over 20 minutes. In all, the ship sustained 821 holes in her sides and decks. Of these, more than 100 were rocket size.
As the aircraft departed, three torpedo boats took over the attack, firing five torpedoes, one of which tore a 40-foot hole in the hull, killing 25 sailors. The ship was in flames, dead in the water, listing precariously, and taking water. The crew was ordered to prepare to abandon ship. As iife-rafts were lowered into the water, the torpedo boats moved closer and shot them to pieces. One boat concentrated machine-gun fire on rafts still on deck as crew members there tried to extinguish the napalm fires. Petty Officer Charles Rowley declares, "They didn't want anyone to live."
At 3:15 p.m. the last shot was fired, leaving the vessel a combination morgue and hospital. The ship had no engines, no power, no rudder. Fearing further attack, Captain McGonagle, despite severe leg injuries, stayed at the bridge. An Israeli helicopter, its open bay door showing troops in battle gear and a machine gun mounted in an open doorway, passed close to the deck, then left. Other aircraft came and went during the next hour.
Although U.S. air support never arrived, within fifteen minutes of the first attack and more than an hour before the assault ended, fighter planes from the USS Saratoga were in the air ready for a rescue mission under orders "to destroy or drive off any attackers." The carrier was only 30 minutes away, and, with a squadron of fighter planes on deck ready for a routine operation, it was prepared to respond almost instantly.
But the rescue never occurred. Without approval by Washington, the planes could not take aggressive action, even to rescue a U.S. ship confirmed to be under attack. Admiral Donald Fagen, then captain of the America, the second U.S. carrier in the vicinity, later explained: "President Johnson had very strict control. Even though we knew the Liberty was under attack, I couldn't just go and order a rescue." The planes were hardly in the air when the voice of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara was heard over Sixth Fleet radios: "Tell the Sixth Fleet to get those aircraft back immediately." They were to have no part in destroying or driving off the attackers.
Shortly after 3 p.m., nearly an hour after the Liberty 's plea was first heard, the White House gave momentary approval to a rescue mission and planes from both carriers were launched. At almost precisely the same instant, the Israeli government informed the U.S. naval attaché, in Tel Aviv that its forces had "erroneously attacked a U.S. ship" after mistaking it for an Egyptian vessel, and offered "abject apologies." With apology in hand, Johnson once again ordered U.S. aircraft back to their carriers. When the second launch occurred, there were no Israeli forces to "destroy or drive away." Ahead for the Liberty and its ravaged crew were 15 hours of lonely struggle to keep the wounded alive and the vessel afloat. Not until dawn of the next day would the Liberty see a U.S. plane or ship. The only friendly visit was from a small Soviet warship. Its offer of help was declined, but the Soviets said they would stand by in case need should arise.
The next morning two U.S. destroyers arrived with medical and repair assistance. Soon the wounded were transferred to the carrier hospital by helicopter. The battered ship then proceeded to Malta, where a Navy court of inquiry was to be held. The inquiry itself was destined to be a part of an elaborate program to keep the public from knowing what really had happened.
In fact, the cover-up began almost at the precise moment that the Israeli assault ended. The apology from Israeli officials reached the White House moments after the last gun fired at the Liberty . President Johnson accepted and publicized the condolences of Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, even though information readily available showed the Israeli account to be false. The CIA had learned a day before the attack that the Israelis planned to sink the ship. Congressional comments largely echoed the president's interpretation of the assault, and the nation was caught up in euphoria over Israel's stunning victories over the Arabs. The casualties on the Liberty got scant attention. Smith Hempstone, foreign correspondent for the Washington Star, wrote from Tel Aviv, "In a week since the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty not one single Israeli of the type which this correspondent encounters many times daily-cab drivers, censors, bartenders, soldiers -- has bothered to express sorrow for the deaths of these Americans."
The Pentagon staved off reporters' inquiries with the promise of a "comprehensive statement" once the official inquiry, conducted by Admiral Isaac Kidd, was finished. Kidd gave explicit orders to the crew: "Answer no questions. If somehow you are backed into a corner, then you may say that it was an accident and that Israel has apologized. You may say nothing else." Crew members were assured they could talk freely to reporters once the summary of the court of inquiry was made public. This was later modified; they were then ordered not to provide information beyond the precise words of the published summary.
The court was still taking testimony when a charge that the attack had been deliberate appeared in the U.S. press. An Associated Press story filed from Malta reported that "senior crewmen" on the ship were convinced the Israelis knew the ship was American before they attacked. "We were flying the Stars and Stripes and it's absolutely impossible that they shouldn't know who we were," a crew member said. The Navy disputed the story, saying the U.S. "thoroughly accepted the Israeli apology."
Testimony completed, Admiral Kidd handcuffed himself to a huge box of records and flew to Washington to be examined by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral McDonald, as well as by Congressional leaders before the long-awaited summary statement was issued. When finally released, it was far from comprehensive. It made no attempt to fix blame, focusing almost entirely on the actions of the crew.
The censored summary did not reveal that the ship had been under close aerial surveillance by Israel for hours before the attack and that during the preceding 24 hours Israel had repeatedly warned U.S. autborities to move the Liberty. It contained nothing to dispute the notion of mistaken identity. The Navy reported erroneously that the attack lasted only 6 minutes instead of 70 minutes and asserted falsely that all firing stopped when the torpedo boats came close enough to identify the U.S. flag. The Navy made no mention of napalm or of life-rafts being shot up. It even suppressed records of the strong breeze which made the ship's U.S. flag plainly visible.
The report did make one painful revelation: Before the attack the Joint Chiefs of Staff had ordered the Liberty to move further from the coast, but the message "was misrouted, delayed and not received until after the attack."
Several newspapers criticized the Pentagon's summary. The New York Times said it "leaves a good many questions unanswered." The Washington Star used the word "cover-up," called the summary an "affront" and demanded a deeper and wider probe. Senator J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, after a closed briefing by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, called the episode "very embarrassing." The Star concluded: "Whatever the meaning of this, embarrassment is no excuse for disingenuousness."
In early July, the Associated Press quoted Micha Limor, identified as an Israeli reservist who had served on one of the torpedo boats, as saying that Israeli sailors noticed three numbers as they circled the Liberty but insisted the numbers meant nothing to them.
Lieutenant James M. Ennes, Jr., a cypher officer recovering in a hospital from shrapnel wounds, was incredulous when he read the Limor story. He had been officer of the deck. He knew the ship's name appeared in large letters on the stern and the hull number on the bow. He knew also that a breeze made the Stars and Stripes easily visible during the day. He had ordered a new 5-by-8 foot flag displayed early on the day of the attack. By the time the torpedo boats arrived, the original flag had been shot down but an even larger 7-by-13 foot flag was mounted in plain view from a yardarm. He knew that the attackers, whether by air or surface, could not avoid knowing it was a U.S. ship. Above all else, he knew that Liberty's intercept operators had heard the Israeli reconnaissance pilots correctly reporting to Israeli headquarters that the ship was American.
Disturbed by the Limor story and the exchange of public messages concerning the assault, Ennes determined to unravel the story. During the four months he was bedridden at Portsmouth, United Kingdom, he collected information from his shipmates. Later, while stationed in Germany, he recorded the recollections of other crew members. Transferred to Washington, D.C., he secured government reports under the Freedom of Information Act and also obtained the full Court of Inquiry report, which was finally, after nine years, declassified in 1976 from being top secret.
The result was Ennes's book, Assault on the Liberty, published in 1980, two years after he retired from the Navy. Ennes discovered "shallowness" in the court's questioning, its failure to "follow up on evidence that the attack was planned in advance" -- including evidence that radio interceptions from two stations heard an Israeli pilot identify the ship as American. He said the court, ignoring the ship's log, which recorded a steady breeze blowing and confirming testimony from crewmen, concluded erroneously that attackers may not have been able to identify the flag's nationality, because the flag, according to the court, "hung limp at the mast on a windless day."
Concerning Israeli motives for the attack, Ennes wrote that Israeli officials may have decided to destroy the ship because they feared its sensitive listening devices would detect Israeli plans to invade Syria's Golan Heights. (Israel invaded Syria the day after the Liberty attack, despite Israel's earlier acceptance of a ceasefire with its Arab foes.)
Ennes learned that crewmen sensed a cover-up even while the court was taking testimony at Malta. He identified George Golden, the Liberty's engineering officer and acting commanding officer, as the source of the Associated Press story charging that the attack was deliberate. Golden, who is Jewish, was so outraged at the prohibition against talking with reporters that he ignored it -- risking his future career in the Navy to rescue a vestige of his country's honor.
The American embassy at Tel Aviv relayed to Washington the only fully detailed Israeli account of the attack-the Israeli court of inquiry report known as "Israeli Preliminary Inquiry 1/67." The embassy message also contained the recommendation that, at the request of the Israeli government, it not be released to the American people. Ennes believes this is probably because both governments knew the mistaken identity excuse was too transparent to believe.
Another request for secrecy was delivered by hand to Eugene Rostow, undersecretary of state for political affairs. It paralleled the message from the embassy at Tel Aviv imploring the Department of State to keep the Israeli court of inquiry secret because "the circumstances of the attack [if the version outlined in the file is to be believed] strip the Israeli Navy naked." Although Ennes saw that message in an official file in 1977, by 1984 it had vanished from all known official files. Ennes believes Israeli officials decided to make the Israeli Navy the scapegoat in the controversy. With the blame piled on its Navy, the orphan service that has the least clout in Israel's military hierarchy, Israel then asked the U.S. to keep the humiliation quiet. United States officials agreed not to release the text of the Israeli report.
Legal Adviser's Report Becomes Top Secret
DURING this same period--the weeks immediately following the assault on the Liberty, an assessment of the "lsraeli Preliminary Inquiry 1/67" was prepared by Carl F. Salans, legal adviser to the secretary of state. It was prepared for the consideration of Eugene Rostow. The report, kept top secret until 1983 and apparently given only cursory examination by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, examines the credibility of the Israeli study and reveals as has no other single document the real attitude of the U.S. government toward the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty. It was a document too explosive to release.
Item by item, Salans demonstrated that the Israeli excuse could not be believed. Preparing the report immediately after the attack, he relied mainly on the limited information in Admiral Isaac Kidd's court of inquiry file. He never heard Ennes, Golden, nor any of the principal witnesses. He found enough there to discredit the Israeli document thoroughly. The items Salans examined were the speed and direction of the Liberty, aircraft surveillance, identification by Israeli aircraft, identification by torpedo boats, flag and identification markings, and time sequence of attacks. In each instance, eyewitness testimony or known facts disputed the Israeli claims of innocent error.
For example, the Israeli report contended that the Liberty was traveling at a speed of 28 to 30 knots, hence behaving suspiciously. Its actual speed was five knots. Israeli reconnaissance aircraft claimed to have carried out only two overflight missions, at 6:00 and 9:00 A.M. Aircraft actually overflew the Liberty eight times, the first at 5:15A.M. and the last at 12:45 P.M.
The Israeli report charged that the Liberty, after refusing to identify itself, opened fire. Captain McGonagle testified that the only Signals by the torpedo boats came from a distance of 2,000 yards when the attack run was already launched and torpedoes on their way. The blinker signals could not be read because of intermittent smoke and flames. Not seeing them, the Liberty could not reply. Immediately thereafter it was hit by a torpedo and 25 sailors died instantly.
The Israeli report contended that the Liberty did not display a flag or identifying marks. Five crewmen testified that they saw the naval ensign flying the entire morning and until the attack. When the flag was shot away during the air attack, another larger flag was hoisted before the torpedo onslaught began. Hull markings were clear and freshly painted. The Israelis tried to shift responsibility by asserting that the attack originated through reports that the coastal area was being shelled from the sea. Salans said it should be clear to any trained observer that the small guns aboard the Liberty were incapable of shore bombardment.
The Salans report was forwarded September 21, 1967, to Under Secretary of State Rostow. This means that high officials of the administration knew the falsity of Israeli claims about the Liberty soon after the assault itself.
With a document in hand so thoroughly refuting the Israeli claims, the next logical step obviously would be its presentation to the Israeli government for comment, followed by publication of the findings.
Instead, it was stamped "top secret" and hidden from public view, as well as the attention of other officials of our government and its military services, along with the still-hidden Israeli report. Dean Rusk, secretary of state at the time, says that he has "no current recollection" of seeing the Salans report. He adds, however, that he was never satisfied with the Israeli purported explanation of the USS Liberty affair."
The cover-up of the Salans report and other aspects of the episode soon had agonizing implications for United States security.
If the Navy had been candid about the Liberty episode even within its own ranks, the nation might have been spared the subsequent humiliation of an ordeal that began five months later when North Korean forces killed a U.S. sailor and captured the USS Pueblo and its entire crew. The agony ended when the crew was released after experiencing a year of captivity under brutal conditions.
Pueblo commander Lloyd M. Bucher later concluded that if he had been armed with facts of the disaster in the Mediterranean, he might have prevented the Pueblo episode.
In the late summer of 1967, still ashore but preparing to take command of the ill-fated ship. Bucher learned of the Liberty' s misfortune. Headed for hostile waters near North Korea, he believed his mission would profit from the experience and asked for details. Bucher recalls how his request was brushed aside: "I asked my superiors about the disaster and was told it was all just a big mistake, that there was nothing we could learn from it." When he later read the Ennes book, Bucher discovered that the Liberty crew had encountered many of the same problems his ship faced just before its capture. Both ships had inadequate means for destroying secret documents and equipment, and, in a crisis, even the ship itself. Both had serious shortcomings in control procedures. Bucher blames "incompetency at the top" and "lack of response to desperate calls for assistance during the attack." He speaks bitterly of the Pueblo' s ordeal:
We had a man killed and 14 wounded. Then a year of pretty damned severe brutality which could have been prevented had I been told what happened to the Liberty . It's only because that damned incident was covered up as thoroughly as it was.
The cover-up of the attack on the Liberty had other, more personal consequences. On recommendation of the Navy Department, William L. McGonagle, captain of the Liberty, was approved by President Johnson for the nation's highest award, the Congressional Medal of Honor. According to Ennes, the captain "defied bullets, shrapnel and napalming" during the attack and, despite injuries, stayed on the bridge throughout the night. Under his leadership, the 82 crewmen who had survived death and injury had kept the ship afloat despite a 40-foot hole in the side and managed to bring the crippled vessel to safe harbor.
McGonagle was an authentic hero, but he was not to get the award with the customary style, honer, ceremony and publicity. It would not be presented personally by the president, nor would the event be at the White House. The Navy Department got instructions to arrange the ceremony elsewhere. The president would not take part. It was up to the Navy to find a suitable place. Admiral Thomas L. Moorer, who had become chief of naval operations shortly before the order arrived, was upset. It was the only Congressional Medal in his experience not presented at the White House. He protested to the Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, but the order stood. From the two houses of the legislature for which the medal is named came not a voice of protest.
The admiral would have been even more upset had he known at the time that the White House delayed approving the medal until it was cleared by Israel. Ennes quoted a naval officer as saying: "The govemment is pretty jumpy about Israel. The State Department even asked the Israeli ambassador if his government had any objection to McGonagle getting the medal. 'Certainly not,' Israel said." The text of the accompanying citation gave no offense: it did not mention Israel.
The secretary of the Navy presented the medal in a small, quiet ceremony at the Navy Yard in Washington. Admiral Moorer said later he was not surprised at the extraordinary arrangements. "They had been trying to hush it up all the way through." Moorer added, "The way they did things I'm surprised they didn't just hand it to him under the 14th Street Bridge."
Even tombstone inscriptions at the Arlington National Cemetery perpetuated the cover-up. As with McGonagle's citation, Israel was not mentioned. For fifteen years the marker over the graves of six Liberty crewmen read simply,"died in the Eastern Mediterranean." No mention of the ship, the circumstances, or Israel. Visitors might conclude they died of natural causes. Finally, survivors of the ship banded together into the USS Liberty Veterans Association and launched a protest that produced a modest improvement. The cover-up was lifted ever so slightly in 1982 when the cemetery marker was changed to read, "Killed USS Liberty ." The dedication event at gravesite was as quiet as the McGonagle ceremony years before. The only civilian official of the U.S. government attending, Senator Larry Pressler, promised further investigation of the Liberty episode but two years later had done nothing.
The national cover-up even dictated the phrasing of letters of condolence to the survivors of those killed in the assault. In such circumstances, next of kin normally receive a letter from the president setting forth the facts of the tragedy and expressing profound feelings over the hardship, sacrifice and bravery involved in the death. In fact, letters by the hundreds were then being sent to next of kin as the toll in Vietnam mounted.
To senior White House officials, however, death by Israeli fire was different from death at the hands of the Vietcong. A few days after the assault on the Liberty, the senior official in charge of President Johnson's liaison with the Jewish community, Harry McPherson, received this message from White House aide James Cross:
Thirty-one [sic] Navy personnel were killed aboard the USS Liberty as the result of the accidental [sic] attack by Israeli forces, The attached condolence letters, which have been prepared using basic formats approved for Vietnam war casualties, strike me as inappropriate in this case.
Due to the very sensitive nature of the whole Arab-Israeli situation and the circumstances under which these people died, I would ask that you review these drafts and provide me with nine or ten different responses which will adequately deal with this special situation.
The "special situation" led McPherson to agree that many of the usual paragraphs of condolence were "inappropriate." He suggested phrases that de-emphasized combat, ignored the Israeli role and even the sacrifice involved.
Responding to the "very sensitive nature" of relations with Israel, the president's staff set aside time-honored traditions in recognizing those killed in combat. McPherson suggested that the letters express the president's gratitude for the "contribution to the cause of peace" made by the victims and state that Johnson had tried to avert the Israeli-Arab war.
While Washington engaged in this strange program of coverup, Liberty crewmen could remember with satisfaction a moment of personal pride, however brief. On the afternoon of June 10, 1967, as the battered ship and its crew prepared to part company with the USS America for their journey to Malta and the court of inquiry, carrier Captain Donald Engen ordered a memorial service for those who had died during the assault. Held on the deck of the America where more than 2,000 sailors were gathered, the service was an emotional moment. Afterwards, as the ships parted, Engen called for three cheers for the Liberty crew. Petty Officer Jeffery Carpenter, weakened from loss of blood, occupied a stretcher on the Liberty's main deck. Crewman Stan White lifted one end of the stretcher so Carpenter could see as well as hear the tribute being paid by the carrier. "Such cheers!" Engen told me. "Boy, you could hear the cheers echo back and forth across the water. It was a very moving thing."
It was the only "moving thing" that would be officially bestowed in tribute to the heroic crew.
"This Is Pure Murder"
Books have perpetuated myths about the Liberty . Yitzhak Rabin, military commander of Israeli forces at the time, declared in his memoirs published in 1979 that the Liberty was mistaken for an Egyptian ship: "I must admit I had mixed feelings about the news [that it was actually a U.S. ship]--profound regret at having attacked our friends and a tremendous sense of relief [that the ship was not Soviet]." He wrote that Israel, while compensating victims of the assault, refused to pay for the damage to the ship "since we did not consider ourselves responsible for the train of errors."
Lyndon Johnson's own memoirs, Vantage Point, continued the fiction that the ship had been "attacked in error." Although his signature had appeared on letters of condolence to 34 next of kin, his memoirs reported the death toll at only ten. He cited 100 wounded; theactual count was 171. He added, "This heartbreaking episode grieved the Israelis deeply, as it did us."
Johnson wrote of the message he had sent on the hotline to Moscow in which he assured the Soviets that carrier aircraft were on their way to the scene and that "investigation was the sole purpose of these flights." He did not pretend that protection and rescue of the ship and its crew were among his objectives, nor did he record that the carrier aircraft were never permitted to proceed to the Liberty even for "investigation." The commander-in-chief devoted only sixteen lines to one of the worst peacetime naval disasters in history.
Moshe Dayan, identified in a CIA report as the officer who personally ordered the attack, made no mention of the Liberty in his lengthy autobiography. According to the CIA document, Dayan had issued the order over the protests of another Israeli general who said, "This is pure murder."
The cover-up also dogged Ennes in the marketing of his book. Despite high praise in reviews, book orders routinely got "lost," wholesale listings disappeared mysteriously, and the Israeli lobby launched a far-flung campaign to discredit the text. The naval base in San Diego returned a supply of books when a chaplain filed a complaint. Military writer George Wilson told Ennes that when the Washington Post printed a review, "lt seemed that every phone in the building had someone calling to complain about our mention of the book."
The Atlanta Journal called Ennes's Assault on the Liberty a "disquieting story of Navy bungling, government cover-up and Israeli duplicity that is well worth reading." The Columbus Dispatch called it "an inquest of cover-up in the area of international political intrigue." Journalist Seymour Hersh praised it as "an insider's book by an honest participant," and the prestigious Naval Institute at Annapolis called it "probably the most important naval book of the year."
Israel took swift measures to warn U.S. readers to ignore the reviews. The Israeli Foreign Office charged, "Ennes allows his very evident rancor and subjectivity to override objective analysis," and that his conclusions fly in the face of logic and military facts." These charges, Ennes later said, were "adopted by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith for distribution to Israeli supporters throughout the United States." A caller to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was told that the book was "a put-up job, all lies and financed by the National Association of Arab Americans." Ennes said the "emotional rhetoric" caused "serious damage to sales and a marked reluctance of media executives to allow discussion of this story."
As the result of radio talk shows and lecture platforms on which Ennes appeared, he heard from people "all over the country" who had been frustrated in efforts to buy his book. Several retail book stores, seeking to order the book from the publisher, Random House, were given false information -- they were told the book did not exist, or that it had not been published, or that it was out of print, or that it was withdrawn to avoid a law suit.
Talk show host Ray Taliaferro caused a stir one Sunday night in 1980 when he announced over San Francisco radio station KGO that he would interview Ennes the following Sunday. Over 500 protest letters poured into the station, but the program went on as scheduled. Public response was overwhelming, as listener calls continued to stream in for a full hour after the two-hour show with Ennes had ended. Two phone calls arrived threatening Taliaferro's life -- one on a supposedly private line.
At the invitation of Paul Backus, editor of the Journal of Electronic Defense, Ennes wrote a guest editorial in 1981 on the implications of the Liberty incident, stating that friendly nations sometimes feel compelled to take hostile actions. In the case of the Liberty, he added,
Because the friendly nation is the nation of Israel, and because the nation of Israel is widely, passionately and expensively supported in the United States, and perhaps also because a proper inquiry would reveal a humiliating failure of command, control and communications, an adequate investigation ... has yet to be politically palatable.
Backus was stunned when the owners of the magazine, an organization of military and defense-related executives known as the Association of Old Crows, ordered him not to publish the Ennes editorial. Association spokesman Gus Slayton wrote to Backus that the article was "excellent" but said "it would not be appropriate to publish it now in view of the heightened tension in the Middle East." Backus, a retired Navy officer, resigned: "I want nothing more to do with organizations which would further suppress the information." The Ennes piece was later given prominent play in a rival magazine, Defense Electronics which later found it a popular reprint at $3 a copy.
As Ennes lectured at universities in the midwest and west in 1981 and 1982, he encountered protests in different form. Although most reaction was highly favorable, hecklers called him a liar and an anti-Semite and protested to administrators against his appearance on campus. Posters announcing his lectures were routinely ripped down. Wording identical with that used by the Israeli Foreign Office and B'nai B'rith in attacks on the book appeared in flyers distributed by local "Jewish Student Unions" as Ennes spoke to college audiences.
Criticism of the Ennes book seemed to be coordinated on a national -- even intemational -- scale. After National Public Radio read the full text of the book over its book-reading network, alert local Anti-Defamation League spokesmen demanded and received the opportunity for a 10-minute rebuttal at the end of the series. The rebuttal in Seattle was almost identical with a document attacking the book issued by the Israeli Foreign office in Jerusalem. Both rebuttals matched verbatim a letter criticizing Ennes that had appeared in the Jacksonville (Florida) Times-Union.
Ennes's misfortunes took an ironic turn in June 1982 when ABC's Nightline cancelled the broadcast of a segment it had prepared on the 15-year reunion of the Liberty crew. The show was pre-empted by crisis coverage of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, which had begun the day before. In early 1983, Nightline rescheduled the segment, but once again Israel intruded; this time an interview with its new U.S. ambassador, Moshe Arens, took the allotted time. Meanwhile, the edited tape and 15 reels of unedited film had disappeared from the studio library. (Ennes's book may have cost the former captain of the ill-fated Pueblo an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" television show in 1980. Bucher had been invited to New York for a post-captivity interview. Suddenly the interview was withdrawn. A studio official told Bucher only that he had heard there were problems "upstairs," but then he asked Bucher, "Did you have a book review published recently in the Washington Post ?" He had indeed, a review which heaped praise on the Ennes book).
Later in 1983, the Jewish War Veterans organization protested when the Veterans of Foreign Wars quoted Ennes to support its call for "proper honors" for those killed on the Liberty and again when James R. Currieo, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, referred to the "murderous Israeli attack." Currieo excited Jewish wrath even more when he published in the VFW magazine a letter to President Reagan inviting the White House to send a representative to the cemetery to help honor the men who died. There was no reply.
Four years after publication of Assault on the Liberty, Ennes is still receiving a steady flow of mail and telephone calls about the episode. Elected by his shipmates as their official historian, he became editor of The USS Liberty Newsletter . Meanwhile, not wishing to be fettered to an endless struggle of conscience, he is writing another book on an unrelated subject and trying to leave the Liberty matter behind. He finds it cannot be left behind. The book continues to generate a swirl of controversy that will not go away.
Another retired officer, Admiral Thomas L. Moorer, applauds Ennes's activities and still wants an investigation. He scoffs at the mistaken identity theory, and says he hopes Congress will investigate and if it does not, he favors reopening the Navy's court of inquiry. He adds, "I would like to see it done, but I doubt seriously that it will be allowed."
Asked why the Johnson administration ordered the cover-up, Moorer is blunt: "The clampdown was not actually for security reasons but for domestic political reasons. I don't think there is any question about it. What other reasons could there have been? President Johnson was worried about the reaction of Jewish voters."
Moorer says the attack was "absolutely deliberate" and adds, "The American people would be goddam mad if they knew what goes on."