Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
May 1 2009
last update 5/4
A NUMBERS GAME
Terence O’Keefe, a writer for he Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, in a December 2003 article, took aim at – and sunk – a key argument of pro-Israel obfuscation artist Jay. A Cristol. In his 2002 book The Liberty Incident, O’Keefe explains, Cristol’s “mantra” was that "thirteen investigations have all exonerated Israel" for their 1967 attack.  I’m past my “viewing limit” for the book, but O’Keefee did offer a numbered run-down of them (largely reproduced below), which I’m relying on for my critique.
To get 13, and he could have actually claimed 14, Cristol includes three self-exonerating Israeli reports. The first two reports, Ram Ron’s and Yerushalmi’s, from 1967, are actually lumped together as one entry; as O’Keefe explains and my partial examination confirms, these were not investigations at all but part of an internal Israeli process to find if anyone in particular should be charged with crimes. They concluded there was no negligence in the incident acute enough for a trial. The second was an IDF “official” history in response to renewed controversy in the United States. It may have had an investigative element, but was primarily a synthesis, with wider circulation, of the 1967 reports.  In all three, the fact that the incident was purely mistake was the first assumption, and was never questioned or examined.
Considering that Cristol’s primary target audience is American, it would make sense then to just drop the two Israeli non-investigation, and focus on the US investigations, which would seem to number eleven. He apparently did at one point, and this assemblage echoed around the infoverse - Alison Weir wrote for Counterpunch in June 2007 to analyze USA Today's first-ever news story on the Liberty. Reporter Oren Dorell talked only with analysts “with ties to Israel,” and while he did feature survivor accounts, these were pre-empted with the caveat “Israel has always insisted the attack was a case of mistaken identity, and 11 U.S. investigations over the years have reached the same conclusion."  The list Weir recounts is O’Keefe’s findings minus the two Israeli entries.
One critic noted how at a 2004 book signing, “the haughty Cristol persisted with his bogus argument, at the signing, that there has been "seven investigations" that have exonerated Israel. (In his book, he claimed thirteen! Go figure.)”  Cristol’s site currently explains “after ten official US investigations (including five congressional investigations), there was never any evidence that the attack was made with knowledge that the target was a US ship.”  There has been some semantics-playing by Liberty supporters, about the lack of Congressional = lack of governmental, but the "mantra" on that side is there have been NO Congressional investigations, let alone five. [see below for details] The Numbers game aside, there have been investigations by elements of the U.S. government regarding the incident, and all have avoided outright claims of hostile intentions towards the US. They also do little else of any relevance to the question.
NAVAL COURT OF INQUIRY; “TOTALLY INADEQUATE”
Among the U.S. investigations, the first in time, scope, power, and importance is the Naval Court of Inquiry, ordered even before the Liberty finished its slow journey to safe harbor. Admiral John McCain II was put in charge of finding what went wrong; as commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe, he had wide subpoena authority and other tools available. These he passed on to his deputy, Admiral Isaac Kidd, who would preside over the Court. His first order of business, appropriate to an investigation, was to tell the Liberty crew to keep quiet. Unlike normal, however, Kidd’s stern injunctions were taken as permanent.
All in all, it appears the Court treated the attacks as they might an inevitable act of nature – the questions were only how to keep ships away from those areas in the future, and tips on how to handle flooding, document security, medical triage, etc… Liberty survivor John Hrankowski has called the NCOI “a farce,” largely from failing to go “into the Israeli aspect. Israel was never queried about it." A site run by CAMERA (Center for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) responded to this complaint “In fact, the Court of Inquiry was primarily focused on the actions of the Liberty’s crew, and thus quite properly did not include Israeli testimony.”  The same site lists its findings as “mistaken identity,” as if this means much of anything in the context.
John Crewdson’s historic Chicago Tribune article from 2007 concurred, stating “the court’s charge was narrow: to determine whether any shortcomings on the part of the Liberty’s crew had contributed to the injuries and deaths that resulted from the attack. McCain gave Kidd’s investigators a week to complete the job.”  Actually their purview was, or became, wider than this, covering the US military beyond the Liberty’s deck as well as speculative forays into other areas. NCOI’s fifty-two total findings of fact largely concern communications errors that left Liberty crawling in harm’s way, itself an interesting issue.
The inquiry did little, and could be expected to do little to exonerate the Israelis, since "it was not the responsibility of the court to rule on the culpability of the attackers, and no evidence was heard from the attacking nation."  They do acknowledge how Tel Aviv “set forth 7 points of rationale to explain,” but they gathered nothing of their own from the Israeli end, and from these papers “there are no available indications that the attack was intended against a U.S. Ship.” Finding 48 did acknowledge “LIBERTY apparently experienced a phenomenon identified as electronic jamming of her voice radio just prior to and during air attack,” which many say indicates they knew to jam U.S. frequencies. Nonetheless, the Court’s “available evidence combines to indicate the attack on LIBERTY on 8 June was in fact a case of mistaken identity.” 
Capt. Ward Boston, who had been the chief legal counsel to the Court of Inquiry, later denounced the process (his own part included, it seems) as a fraud. Once presumably tasked with drafting legal opinions on Israel’s offered explanations, and thus setting the Inquiry’s tone, decades later confessed he was in fact “certain" the IDF "were well aware that the ship was American." As O’Keefe explained:
“[Boston and 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 secretary of defense to report falsely. So the findings are fraudulent. Yet these fraudulent findings were the basis for several other reports that followed.” 
Boston has said - in no uncertain terms - that this view was shared by his boss, the NCOI’s president, Adm. Kidd. "The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack [...] was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew."  To be fair, Kidd was dead by the time of these statements and unable to verify. Adm. McCain has never spoken up like this that I’ve heard, but, as O’Keefe found at least one more dissenter from high up in the investigation: “Rear Adm. Merlin Staring, the Navy’s former judge advocate general, was asked to assess the American inquiry’s report before it was sent to Washington. But Staring said it was taken from him when he began to question some aspects of the report. He describes it now as “a hasty, superficial, incomplete and totally inadequate inquiry.” 
This is not such a good track record for this pivotal no-confidence-voted non-exoneration. But never mind what they men involved really think, they once were persuaded to put their names on a report that put some nice exculpatory quotes at the very top of their findings, when these “facts” were never “found,” but rather “sent” by the Israelis themselves.
Aside from the NCOI, that leaves ten once-alleged US investigations (and nine current) that “absolved Israel.” Here I’ll list O’Keefe’s explanations, renumbered for effect, starting at 2 since the NCOI was #1. The first two below I haven't studied yet, but no. 4 is juicy...
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 inquiry." His was merely a summary of other fallacious reports, not an "investigation"... The report reached no conclusions and did not exonerate Israel... On the contrary, Clifford wrote later that he regarded the attack as deliberate.
In fact, Clifford's report does reach conclusions, but they are highly intelligent, restrained, and nuanced. The report is strident in its denouncement of "a flagrant act of gross negligence for which the Israeli Government should be held completely responsible, and the Israeli military personnel involved should be punished." And he mentions that there is a "theory," not yet disproved, "that the highest echelons of the Israeli Government were aware of the Liberty's true identity or of the fact that an attack on her was taking place." However, he finds that "The information thus far available does not reflect" that possibility, and that to know if any information not yet available might reflect this, "would necessitate a degree of access to Israeli personnel and information which in all likelihood can never be achieved." Another astute observation from this report, in line with my own and well-put:
"That the Liberty could have been mistaken for the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir is unbelievable. El Quseir has one-fourth the displacement of the Liberty, roughly half the beam, is 180 feet shorter, and is very differently configured. The Liberty's unusual antenna array and hull markings should have been visible to low-flying aircraft and torpedo boats. In the heat of battle the Liberty was able to identify one of the attacking torpedo boats as Israeli and to ascertain its hull number. In the same circumstances, trained Israeli naval personnel should have been able easily to see and identify the larger hull markings on the Liberty."
Interestingly, when Clifford summarizes Israel's explanations, the word "mistake" is always joined with quotation marks. He's also been quoted as saying "I do not know to this day at what level the attack on the Liberty was authorized and I think it is unlikely that the full truth will ever come out." So yeah, Clifford once put his name on a paper that said basically "well, we don't have PROOF of a conspiracy, but..." Great, keep the "exonerations" rolling in, this is stupendous amusement.
5. National Security Agency Report, 1981: Upon the publication in 1980 of "Assault on 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.This one is available though I haven't studied it. But speaking of "whitewash," just open the PDF, drag the scroll bar down and just hold it – how long til the flashing white of hundreds of redacted pages put you to sleep?
6. and 7. Two Senate meetings: 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 administration under oath before them. Typical questions were, "Why can't we get the truth about this?" They were not "investigations" at all, but budget hearings, and reported no conclusions concerning the attack. They did not exonerate Israel.That’s four of the five touted “congressional investigations.” Two were more ad-hoc discussions than anything; there were certainly no findings published. The latter two do only concern communications problems, as per the JCS report, and so solely American in scope. The last does appear more what I’d consider an investigation, one apparently planned for the purpose, but again irrelevant to Israel’s intentions.
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.
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.
10. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1979/1981: [Miami bankruptcy judge A. Jay Cristol, author of a book exonerating Israel] 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 investigation; ergo, there was no such investigation.Ouch, Congressional “investigation” no. 5 just does not exist, or at least has been brought into unanswered doubt. I confess I haven’t looked into this accusation closely – it hardly seems worthwhile given how the known investigations have panned out. Five congressional investigations is actually then informal discussions-cum-probes with no power, mandate, research or findings. Two just discuss communications on the US side and not what the attackers did or why. The fifth apparently never happened back in 1979 or 81. But what’s this, there’s more? That’s right, the 11th US investigation, and the 6th Congressional one:
11. House Armed Services Committee meeting 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.
According to this, one of his alleged exculpations was a letter about a potential investigation that he was shown – for advice – that eventually was scuttled. Thus Cristol may have killed it himself, and then claimed it “exonerated Israel!” So that’s six *congressional investigations*; and since the good judge is currently citing five, one must wonder which of the two allegedly non-existent ones he’s dropped and which he’s still reporting as true. CAMERA’s USS Liberty page is less inclusive, citing “at least six government investigations which reached relevant conclusions as to the facts of the attack.” A noble gesture, to consider whether their findings are “relevant,” but unfortunately the site lists as one of the six “House Armed Services Committee, 1991/1992 - No support for claims attack was intentional.” Until I get a copy of the book, I have CAMERA’s explanation that “after a one year investigation the matter was closed, the investigators evidently finding nothing to support conspiracy claims or any Israeli intentions to attack a US ship”. I’ll reserve further comment until I’ve examined the controversy more closely.
So that’s it, the baker's dozen of case-closings that have left this case more closed to questions than the West Bank is to Palestinian exiles. Of course there is at least one professional-level but private investigation which, outside the control of Tel Aviv and the White House, is worthless as evidence and to be utterly ignored.