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Judge Cristol tells Post how he set record straight on USS Liberty
Much propaganda has been thrown against Israel in the "information war" but no subject is highlighted more than a tragic friendly-fire incident which occurred between Israel and the US almost 40 years ago.
US Florida Judge Jay Cristol was responsible for having successfully petitioned the NSA to release US data confirming the accident. Cristol believes that Israel's enemies have tried to use this incident for decades to create a wedge between Washington and Jerusalem.
Judge Cristol, in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post explains what happened to the USS Liberty and discusses the relevance of the new information released by the US National Security Agency.
Judge Cristol: "On the fourth day of the Six Day War, June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty, a U.S. Navy intelligence gatherer, failed to receive orders to stay clear of the combat zone and sailed into the middle of the Six Day War."
Cristol continues: "On the previous day, Israeli forces in the Sinai, near El Arish, had reported being shelled from the sea by a ship. Explosions around El Arish led the army to think it was happening again. They saw a grey warship near the horizon and reported it to headquarters (the Karya). The Israeli Navy sent motor torpedo boats to investigate. Through a series of additional errors, they determined that they could not overtake the ship which was steering toward Port Said. They called for air and the Israeli Air Force was sent to locate and attack a hostile warship off El Arish."
"Twelve or fourteen minutes into the air attack the flight leader of Royal Flight (2 Super Mystere) noticed the ship's hull markings were not in Arabic script. The Air Force stopped the attack. Soon thereafter the motor torpedo boats arrived. They stopped and began to signal the ship which was now smoking as a result of the air attack. The ship, the Liberty, began firing at the torpedo boats which convinced them she was hostile and commenced a torpedo attack. The ship was identified as hostile, Egyptian, Soviet, Egyptian again and ultimately American. The identification as American took place between 3:07 and 3:12 p.m. about 40 minutes after the attacks were over. The second Israeli helicopter pilot observed and confirmed an American flag," said Cristol.
"For years conspiracy theorists have claimed that audio tapes existed of the Israeli pilots identifying the ship as American before they attacked. There are other conspiracy claims that the Liberty radio compartment made such interceptions and that the U.S. submarine Amberjack had gathered damning evidence during the attack by means of its periscope."
"On July 2, 2003, as a result of my lawsuit using the Freedom of Information Act, the National Security Agency made two significant admissions. First, that there had been no radio intercepts made by the USS Liberty. Second, that there had been no radio intercepts made by the US submarine Amberjack. And finally, the National Security Agency released copies of the recordings it made from an EC-121 aircraft in the vicinity of the attacks during the time periods 2:30 p.m. Sinai time to 3:27 p.m. Sinai time. These tapes contain nothing to support the prior conspiracy claims and show that the helicopters were first dispatched to rescue Egyptians, and then demonstrate the confusion as to the identification of the target ship."
Cristol adds: "The tapes confirm that the helicopter pilot observed the flag at 3:12 p.m. This perfectly dove-tails with the audio tapes which the Israel Air Force released to Judge Cristol of the radio transmissions before, during and after the attack. The English translations of those tapes are published in Appendix 2, of Judge Cristol's book "The Liberty Incident". The NSA tapes are the last significant piece of evidence which remained classified until now. They clearly corroborates the Israeli Air Force tapes and support the decisions of ten official U.S. investigations and 3 or more official Israeli investigations, all of which concluded that the tragic event was a case of mistaken identity."
"As Admiral "Bud" Edney, former NATO supreme allied commander, Atlantic; and commander in chief, U.S. Atlantic command, stated, "Only those with an ulterior motive can still cling to the conspiracy theories after Judge Jay Cristol's excellent coverage documents each detail that led to the tragic mistaken attack."
The Jerusalem Post: Judge, what motivated you to get involved in this research project?
AJC: When I was appointed a federal judge I began taking courses in international affairs at the Graduate School of International Affairs at the University of Miami. My initial interest was in terrorism. One day Dr. Haim Shaked suggested that with my background as a naval aviator, navy lawyer, lecturer for the Department of Defense on law of naval warfare, civilian lawyer and federal judge, I was qualified to research and write on the Liberty incident. At first I resisted, arguing "that was more than 20 years ago". But I was soon shown how active the conspiracy theorists and hate mongers were about keeping the story alive. I started a one year project as a masters degree which developed into 10 years and a Ph.D. My doctoral dissertation is on file in the Library of Congress. I then spent 3 more years writing my book "The Liberty Incident". I now have 16 years on the project and the largest collection in the world of research materials on this subject. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University has requested my research material for their archives. I have gifted it to them and am in the process of sending it to them.
The Jerusalem Post: Why has this matter remained alive for 36 years?
AJC: The victims of the tragedy are typical of victims of friendly fire. They find it difficult to believe that they were wounded or their buddies were killed by mistake. In this case the victims have been imposed upon, used and abused by groups with their own agendas. First, are those who are on the Arab side of the Arab/Israeli conflict and who try to use the tragedy to drive a wedge into the otherwise excellent relationship between the United States and Israel. Next are those persons who are anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. And finally there are the conspiracy buffs. For the reasons indicated these three groups have continued to probe the wounds of the victims for their own purposes and are not concerned with healing or closure.
The Jerusalem Post: How important is the release of the audio tapes by the National Security Agency?
AJC: The release of the NSA tapes is extremely important because it provides additional evidence that has been solely in the hands of the United States and therefore cannot be challenged as having been modified or altered by Israeli intelligence services. In addition, it corroborates the Israeli Air Force tapes as the material dove-tails with the information on those tapes.
The Jerusalem Post: Why do many of the conspiracy theorists continue to demand a United States Congressional investigation and is such an investigation appropriate?
AJC: The goal is simply to provide a platform for propaganda. There have been ten official U.S. investigations. Five of them were Congressional. They all reached the same conclusion that the incident was a tragic mistake. Eight United States Presidents: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (41), Clinton, and Bush (43) have supported and adopted these conclusions. In fact, the current President of the United States, George W. Bush, through White House staff, issued a letter in October 2002 indicating his position that no further investigation of this incident was needed.
The Jerusalem Post: Would you comment on the claims of author James Bamford that the Liberty was attacked to prevent the United States from learning of massacres of Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai?
AJC: Mr. Bamford provides as his source of this claim two Israeli journalists, both of whom have denied statements attributed to them by Bamford. First, it is literally impossible for an electronic intelligence gatherer to overhear murders taking place in a desert more than a dozen miles away. The Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1973. Egypt has made no claim that such murders took place. No mass graves have been located and no Egyptian soldiers from the '67 war are missing or unaccounted for. Mr. Bamford writings are much closer to fiction than to history.
The Jerusalem Post: Are all the former crew-members of the USS Liberty unanimous in their belief in conspiracy theories?
AJC: Absolutely not. The spectrum of opinions is quite varied from those who are rabid conspiracy theory supporters to others who accept the fact that the tragedy was the result of both Israeli and U.S. mistakes. I have been asked for the names of crew-members who accept the mistake theory but have declined to name anyone as I have no intention of creating animosity among shipmates.
The Jerusalem Post: The Liberty Veteran's Association appears to be very active in support of conspiracy theories. How is the association organized and are all former Liberty crew-members members of the Association?
AJC: There are many crew-members that have never joined the Association. The Association was founded with the assistance of two former United States Congressman, Paul Findley of Illinois, the first U.S. Congressman to espouse the PLO, and Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, who is well known for his anti-Israel sentiments. McCloskey drafted the incorporation papers for the Association and also served as legal advisor to the Association. He has spoken at Holocaust denial organization conferences. He and Findley, together with three other former congresspersons, established the Council for the National Interest, CNI, an organization whose avowed purposes (according to their own press release) was to be an anti-Israel lobby.
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