Case not closed for survivors of 1967 Israeli attack on spy ship USS Liberty

Special USS Liberty (AGTR-5) At Valletta, Malta, after arriving there for repair of damages received when she was attacked by Israeli forces off the Sinai Peninsula on 8 June 1967. (PH1 J.J. Kelly, Naval History and Heritage Command)
USS Liberty (AGTR-5) At Valletta, Malta, after arriving there for repair of damages received when she was attacked by Israeli forces off the Sinai Peninsula on 8 June 1967. (PH1 J.J. Kelly, Naval History and Heritage Command)
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Updated 09 June 2022

Case not closed for survivors of 1967 Israeli attack on spy ship USS Liberty

Case not closed for survivors of 1967 Israeli attack on spy ship USS Liberty
  • Incident of June 8 amid Arab-Israeli war caused the loss of 34 American lives and injuries to 173 more
  • Vessel was sent by the Johnson administration to the Mediterranean Sea to monitor the conflict

CHICAGO: Early in the morning of the fourth day of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israeli fighter jets flew a half-dozen reconnaissance flights over the USS Liberty, an American “intelligence ship” that was monitoring the conflict 15 miles north of the Sinai Peninsula. They did it several times.

The Liberty was originally a “victory” ship that supplied cargo to the Allies during World War II. It was later converted into an auxiliary technical research ship (AGTR-5) first deployed in 1965 to provide intelligence-gathering information for the National Security Agency, the chief US electronic intelligence gatherer and codebreaker.

When Israel launched a “pre-emptive” war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan on June 5, 1967, then US President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared that America would remain “neutral.” The Liberty, which was not an assault vessel by any stretch of the imagination, was sent to the Mediterranean Sea to monitor the conflict.

Liberty Commander Capt. William L. McGonagle had asked Vice Admiral William Martin to provide an armed escort for his ship as it sailed to the coast of Egypt. But Martin said that the Liberty was, “a clearly marked American ship in international waters, not a participant in the conflict and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation. Request denied,” according to documents published in the exhaustive 1979 book “Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship” by Liberty survivor and officer James Ennes, who was on the ship’s bridge during the attack.

Flying a standard American flag, five feet tall and eight feet wide, the Liberty was clearly marked on all sides and was identifiable as an American ship to any naval force in the world.




Surviving crew members from the Liberty said they were threatened with jail if they criticized Israel in the inquiry into the attack. (Supplied)

After the attack was ordered, an Israeli fighter pilot reported that the Liberty might be an American ship, prompting the commander to repeat the order. The attack began at 1:57 p.m. on June 8.

For the Liberty’s 294 crew members, the attack was no ordinary “friendly fire” incident: It led to the tragic loss of the lives of 34 Americans and injuries to 173 more.

The tragedy was compounded, according to some, by the US government’s insistence during several inquiries on suppressing facts, defending Israel, and threatening to imprison survivors if the incident embarrassed Israel.

A US naval court of inquiry conducted a quick probe but only heard testimony from 14 crew members. Survivors say they were threatened with jail if they blamed Israel and that all testimony critical of Israel was redacted.

Several survivors said they believe Israel attacked the spy ship in an effort to sink it and kill all of its crew and then blame the sinking on Egypt to force the US to enter the war.

“The most important thing about this whole coverup is the coverup. It’s worse than what they did to us, and it has been going on for 55 years,” Phil Tourney, a Liberty attack survivor, said.

“They (the US government) owe survivors, their families, and most of all America. America was betrayed. Treason on the high seas by our own president, LBJ (Johnson), his flunkies, the Congress of the United States, and every president since LBJ to President Joe Biden hasn’t brought this up because it is something of a hot potato. If our ship goes down, they (the Israelis) are going to blame it on the Arab states.”




The damaged USS Liberty docked at Valetta, Malta, on June 14, 1967, for repairs with a torpedo hole in her hull side. (US Navy)

Israeli Mirage jets strafed the Liberty from bow to stern, killing seven Americans. The largest group died when an Israeli torpedo struck the ship, killing more than 25 sailors.

Electrician second mate, Mickey LeMay, said he saw a plane approach the Liberty just before 2 p.m.

“I looked to my right and a fighter jet was flying the same way we were. He wasn’t too high. We could have waved to each other he was so low. The plane was totally black and had no markings on it at all.

“As I turned to point to the plane that I saw, another plane, and this was the first strafing, came from bow to stern diagonally across us and strafed us. I looked down and there was blood coming out of me everywhere. I looked at (the lieutenant) and he looked just like me and he had blood coming out of everywhere,” LeMay added.

The lieutenant later died.

Don Pageler, who was helping the wounded, said the first airstrike killed more than seven shipmates and that around 25 were killed when one of several torpedoes struck the boat.

“Yes, we were flying our steaming colors, which I believe was a five-by-eight flag. And during the attack, that flag got so tattered that in the middle of the attack our signal man ran up our holiday colors, which was a seven-by-13 flag, which is a huge flag. Through all that they later said they did not see a flag,” said survivor Pageler, noting that the ship only had .50-caliber machine guns.

Pageler added that he later learned that Israel had claimed the Liberty had shelled its positions.

Another survivor, Larry Bowen, told Arab News: “The story hasn’t been told properly.

FASTFACTS

* Liberty was an auxiliary technical research ship sent to the Mediterranean to monitor the Arab-Israeli war.

* The Israeli air attack, which began at 1:57 p.m. on June 8, 1967, left 34 Americans dead and 173 injured.

“There wasn’t a full and impartial investigation by Congress; (as per) my understanding, by law they should have done that. The navy conducted a quick court of inquiry, (but) they interviewed only 14 crew members. But any one of the crew members who said anything disparaging about Israel got excised out of the final court of inquiry document. A lot of inputs got redacted.”

Bowen said the Israelis were firing at the wounded as they were being placed in lifeboats. That detail was redacted from the US Navy report.

“In our opinion, the attack was absolutely intentional. They knew well in advance that we were the USS Liberty. They actually had us on their war board in their war room early in the morning. They were overflying us in the morning. There was at least a half-dozen overflights before the attack.

“The crew would definitely say it was a deliberate attack. They knew who we were. We were flying the American flag. And when one got blown apart, the holiday colors (American flag) were raised,” Bowen added.

Israeli officials later said they did not know the Liberty was an American ship.




Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship by Liberty survivor and officer James Ennes, who was on the ship's bridge during the attack. (Supplied)

“But we actually had intercepts from the (Israeli) pilots to the ground control and one of the pilots radioed back, ‘it’s an American ship. I can see the flag.’ The person on ground control told him (the Israeli pilot), ‘hit the target,’” Bowen said.

There was no way that the Liberty could not be identified as an American ship, LeMay said.

“When you are circling the ship and shooting into the hull, you have the letters GTR 5 on the bow, port, and starboard, and on the stern port and starboard, and then, Liberty. As you are circling the ship, you have got all the identity telling you it is a US ship,” he added.

LeMay was injured during the first air attack and still has 52 pieces of shrapnel in his body.

He said: “And also, on top of that, there were only two ships in the world that looked like us, the Liberty and the Belmont, our sister ship. Other than that, no other ship in the world looked like us. And Israel is too good of a military to know if it was a US ship or an Egyptian ship. No way in the world could they think it was anything but a US ship.”

The survivors pointed out that a nearby American aircraft carrier, the USS Saratoga, had offered to send planes to help defend the Liberty, but the help was rejected by Johnson.

“The American Saratoga sent planes to our aid two times, but President Johnson called them back. And he would not let them come to defend us,” LeMay added. He said it was all about “not embarrassing Israel,” an ally.

“When you have the president of the United States ordering the admiral to call the planes (from the US Saratoga) back and not come to our aid. If the planes on the first group had come out, we would have only lost seven men. A lot of us, me included, would have been seriously injured. But that’s all we would have lost. But him calling the planes back allowed for another 25 great Americans to die.”




According to USS Liberty survivor Larry Bowen, the attack was “absolutely intentional.” (Supplied)

Israel convened an official inquiry on June 18 and reiterated the US inquiry conclusion exonerating Israel and calling the two-hour attack “an accident.”

On June 8, 2007, the 40th anniversary of the attack, the NSA acknowledged that the Liberty incident had “become the center of considerable controversy and debate.” It was not the agency’s intention, it said, “to prove or disprove any one set of conclusions, many of which can be drawn from a thorough review of this material.” 

On the same occasion, Mark Regev, the then Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, called the attack “a tragic and terrible accident, a case of mistaken identity, for which Israel has officially apologized.”

Israel also paid reparations of $6.7 million to the injured survivors and the families of those killed in the attack, and another $6 million for the loss of the Liberty itself.

The Congressional Medal of Honor, normally presented at the White House by the president to America’s military heroes, was given to McGonagle a year after the attack by the secretary of the navy during a closed ceremony at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. President Johnson did not attend.

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For more information on the USS Liberty and the survivors, visit www.USSLibertyVeterans.org.

 


Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
Updated 8 sec ago

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
  • Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein, the Lebanese man who was hailed a hero for taking hostages at gunpoint in a Beirut bank while demanding the release of his frozen funds to pay for his father’s medical treatment, has been released, according to TV news channel Al Arabiya. 

Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported on Tuesday. 

Details on charges against him have yet to be released. 

Details on charges against him have yet to be released. (AFP)

The man – who held eight employees hostage inside the Federal Bank branch in the capital city – was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 11, after a seven-hour standoff, despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free. 

The 42-year-old surrendered after authorities told his family he would be given $35,000 of his money and would only be held for questioning. The Lebanese central bank had imposed a freeze on all deposits in 2019. 

According to media reports at the time, Al-Sheikh Hussein had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which he said he would use to set himself alight. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank on Thursday to show their support and applauded the man as authorities took him into custody. 
 


Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
Updated 1 min 33 sec ago

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
  • Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention
  • Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

JERUSALEM: The lawyer for a Palestinian prisoner said Tuesday that his client will appeal his case to Israel’s Supreme Court as he continues what his family says is a 165-day hunger strike against his detention.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli military court extended the sentence for a second Palestinian prisoner by six days.
The release of both men — hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh and Bassam Al-Saadi, a West Bank Islamic Jihad leader — was among the demands of the Islamic Jihad militant group for a cease-fire to last week’s intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention. Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said her client’s health is deteriorating and that they asked that he be released. An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal.
“Justice was not done with that man,” Haddad said. “We turn to ... the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, in order maybe to get the relief requested, which is his release from administrative detention.”
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years to protest administrative detention. Israel says the policy helps keep dangerous militants off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.
Israel says Awawdeh is a militant, an allegation he has denied through his lawyer.
The Islamic Jihad militant group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as its member. Israel arrested Al-Saadi in the days leading up to the Gaza flare-up.
Haddad said her client has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition to Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state, which shows no sign of ending.


Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
Updated 5 min 1 sec ago

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
  • The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon

CONCORD, New Hampshire: A judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before he died in the US, and that the agency could not intervene in the case.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese American man, died in the US in August 2020 at age 57 from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, had first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Lebanon stricken. That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order Monday.
The Lebanese security agency had claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.
The family’s lawsuit initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a wavier of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
Bates wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.
Bates also wrote that the allegations about Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon that the security agency wishes to strike “are central to this lawsuit.”
Messages seeking comment were sent to the lawyers.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury, a restaurateur in New Hampshire, visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.


Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
Updated 51 min 56 sec ago

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
  • The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held a video conference call with the Bahamas’ Prime Minister Philip Davis on the occasion of the latter hosting a Caribbean meeting on climate change.

They discussed issues of common interest, including Egypt’s hosting of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference in November.

Shoukry discussed Egypt’s preparations for the conference, the most prominent topics on the agenda, and its desire to enhance international climate action.

Davis gave Shoukry the perspective of island nations on climate change and its consequences.

The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change.

Davis said 15 percent of his country’s gross domestic product is threatened by climate change, and 11 percent of Bahamians are threatened by rising sea levels, Reuters reported.


Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer

Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer
Updated 16 August 2022

Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer

Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer
  • Human Rights Watch: ‘Through Salah Hamouri, Israeli authorities are escalating their all-out assault on Palestinian civil society’
  • ‘Hamouri’s plight embodies the struggle of Palestinian human rights defenders challenging Israel’s apartheid and persecution’

LONDON: Human Rights Watch has called on Israel to release 37-year-old French-Palestinian human rights lawyer Salah Hamouri and reinstate his residency status in his home city of Jerusalem.

Hamouri was arrested on March 7 at his home in East Jerusalem based on secret evidence, and has had no charges brought against him since, HRW said.

His residency was revoked on Oct. 17 last year on grounds of “breach(ing) allegiance” to Israel, and for his alleged association with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was accused of “hostile, dangerous and significant activity against the state of Israel.”

HRW said under international law, occupying countries are forbidden from compelling occupied peoples to swear allegiance to them.

Hamouri worked for the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, which was banned by Israel in 2021 less than a week after his arrest, and branded “terrorist” by the authorities. He now faces possible deportation to France.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at HRW, said: “Israeli authorities have detained Salah Hamouri without trial or charges for months, outlawed the human rights group he works for, and revoked his legal status in Jerusalem.

“Hamouri’s plight embodies the struggle of Palestinian human rights defenders challenging Israel’s apartheid and persecution.”

The Israel Defense Forces initially detained Hamouri for three months from March 10 based on secret information about his alleged involvement with the PFLP, and extended the detention on June 6. It is set to expire on Sept. 5, but the detention order can be renewed.

An appeal against his imprisonment lodged by Hamouri was dismissed by an appellate military court on Aug. 4.

No evidence has ever been presented against him, and his incarceration is a violation of his right to freedom of association, HRW said.

In December last year, Hamouri had his health insurance terminated on grounds of having left the country, and because he could no longer prove his residency in East Jerusalem.

In July, Hamouri wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron about his case, which led to him being designated “high security” and transferred out of the Occupied Territories to Hadarim Prison in Israel — another breach of international law.

Addameer says he was shackled, frequently searched and placed in a holding cage while in transit in Ramleh Prison, Israel.

His parents said after his arrest, mobile phones and a laptop were confiscated from Hamouri. In November, Amnesty International confirmed reports by human rights groups that his phone, along with the phones of other Palestinian human rights campaigners, had been hacked using Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus software.

Israeli rights group HaMoked, which is representing Hamouri, said his deportation challenge will be heard in February 2023.

Israel deported his wife, French national Elsa Lefort, in 2016, banning her from returning for 10 years on security grounds.

This separated her from her husband and children, and has prevented her from visiting Hamouri in detention.

He was previously jailed between 2005 and 2011, including three years of pre-trial detention, by a military court in relation to a plot to assassinate the former chief rabbi of Israel — a case that former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said lacked evidence, and which HRW said fell short of acceptable standards of justice. Hamouri was also detained separately by Israel from August 2017 to September 2018.

The day before his arrest earlier this year, he was quoted in Jacobin magazine as saying: “These actions are directed toward one single aim: Forcing me to leave Palestine.”

In April, he filed a criminal complaint in France against NSO Group, and in May he filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court against the Israeli government.

Israel held 671 Palestinians in administrative detention at the start of August, according to HaMoked.

HRW called on Israel to end the practice — saying it far exceeds any provision for detention by occupying forces set out in international law — and to stop its campaign against Hamouri.

Shakir said: “Through Salah Hamouri, Israeli authorities are escalating their all-out assault on Palestinian civil society and seeking to set a dangerous precedent that would allow them to more expeditiously force out Palestinians. French authorities should press Israel to stop harassing Hamouri.”