- Writing about controversial topics or events taxes the
best of writers, and the facts of the Israeli air and naval attacks on
the USS Liberty have challenged politicians, historians, scribes, the public,
and the affected families for over four decades. As the truth emerges in
this long overdue account, it becomes clear that James Scott was prepared
to turn over any rock or even any dried cow paddy to find the answers to
his questions. He did that, searching through hundreds of official documents,
private papers, memoranda of conversation and published accounts, while
conducting interviews with hundreds of sources, including surviving members
of Liberty's crew.
- The result fully justifies the effort of this determined
journalist. He gives us the first really complete picture of what transpired
and how the consequences were addressed.
- There were two major challenges in researching this story.
First was to determine exactly what happened to the USS Liberty that sunny
eighth of June 1967 as it cruised, threatening no one, in the eastern Mediterranean.
Why was it fired upon viciously by repeated flights of Israeli military
aircraft? Why was a systematic effort then made by Israeli torpedo boats
to sink the vessel and drown its crew? What Israeli purpose, if any, was
served by that assault on a basically unarmed vessel in innocent passage
through international waters? Scott establishes that no satisfactory answers
exist for such questions.
- Scott's second task was to understand the complex political
and operational context in which the attack was then addressed by the interested
parties. Who reacted to the events and how? What policies were made, unmade,
applied or even disregarded in the process? What, indeed, were the final
judgments about the unprovoked murder of 34 American seamen and virtual
destruction of their ship?
- Scott paints a credible as well as disturbing picture
of that landscape. To get answers required a special conquest of the corridors
and habits of American governance. In truth, the sheer complexity of those
tasks would have caused most writers to drop the subject.
- Fortunately for us and for history, Scott persisted.
He starts with a story gleaned from his father, John Scott-the damage control
officer of the Liberty on duty throughout the attack. Through interviews,
letters, recollections of crew members, study of the ship's design and
layout, James Scott then builds the first complete picture of what happened
that day, virtually moment by moment throughout the tragedy. His detailed,
careful and complete picture of systematic, vicious attacks over a period
of more than an hour once and for all disposes of any claim that the attacks
were an accident.
- Scott then addresses the heavier topic of Washington
and other US actions/reactions. Public efforts to get at the truth did
not have much effect. Partly that was because few of the gory details reported
to us by James Scott actually emerged in the stories of the time. One of
those gory details was the fact that U.S. forces in the Mediterranean at
the time were pulled back from flying to the rescue. U.S. diplomatic and
intelligence reporting does not appear to have shed much light.
- One of the central questions in the dialogues among senior
officials, especially those in the White House, the State Department and
the Pentagon, and key members of Congress was: Why did the attacks occur?
By and large the weight of Washington opinion was that the attacks on the
Liberty were deliberate, but there was no agreement on why they were conducted.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk was convinced the attacks were deliberate,
and he was furious. Since the Liberty was well marked, the flag was flying,
the day was clear and sunny, and the attacks were repeated as well as vicious,
there was no other plausible explanation. The question still stands today
as to how at least four attack passes by Israeli aircraft and at least
two attacks by Israeli torpedo boats could be an accident.
- As Scott reports, facts of the case aside, the problem
was how to deal with Israel. America's ally had just won a brief land war
(rapidly named the Six Day War) against its Arab neighbors and had occupied
the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both territories captured from Jordan.
That outcome, as it were, laid much of the groundwork for today's struggle
of the Palestinian people for return of their homeland.
- The Israeli leadership claimed the attacks on the Liberty
were accidental, and they stuck with that story, even though they provided
little substance for it. They extended an official apology and agreed to
work out a settlement with the families of dead and wounded. However, Israel
refused to pay for the repairs of the Liberty, reconstruction of which
had cost more than $7 million.
- The process dragged on. By 1980, the Israeli bill had
climbed by Congressional reckoning to more than $17 million. In December
of 1980 the Israelis offered to settle for $6 million and the United States
- The political dynamics of relations with Israel in a
US presidential election year ultimately prevailed, not the facts of the
vicious attacks. That is where the matter stands. But thanks to James Scott's
work, we finally have a complete account of those tragic events.
- Scott ends his telling narrative with an ironic twist.
On a trip to Israel in 2007 with his father, Scott arranged a call on one
of the Israeli pilots who had flown in the attacks on the Liberty. By that
pilot's request, Scott brought his father to meet him, the pilot apologized,
and the two shook hands. In the end James Scott accurately and completely
describes an enormous human tragedy that he closes on a very personal note.