The Liberty Incident

Gag Orders Debunked

There have been many stories about gag orders imposed upon the crew of the USS Liberty, ranging from an admonition to "pipe down" to the claim of Egyptian Ambassador Mahmoud Kassem that the U.S. government prohibited the bereaved families of the Liberty crew from conducting funeral services in memory of their lost ones. It is claimed by some conspiracy theory supporters that a total news blackout was imposed and crew members were threatened with court martial and jail time if they ever breathed a word of the episode to anyone--including family members and even fellow crew members. Crew member Larry Weaver was quoted, "If you ever repeat this to anyone else you will be put in prison and forgotten about."

Apparently Liberty crew member Seaman Kenneth Ecker didn't get the word. See below copy of the interview he gave on June 11, 1967 aboard the USS America, published unclassified on page 4 of the ship's newsletter, American Spirit. Neither did crew member Richard Wainwright of Vancouver, Washington, who gave an interview to the newspaper The Oregonian, published July 11, 1967 on page 6M.

In spite of claims that crew members were threatened with court martial, prison and disciplinary action if they ever spoke about the incident there is no reported case of anyone being court martialed, sent to prison, or disciplined for speaking publicly or giving press interviews about the incident.

On September 5, 1967 James Kilpatrick published an article in the National Review, page 958. The first sentence of the first paragraph is relative to the claim of a gag order:

During the past month, press service interviews with survivors of the attack (emphasis added) have turned up a uniform conviction that the attack was deliberate. Sailors point to the morning-long aerial surveillance; the presence of the flag; the known configuration of the Liberty; her name in English on the stern (Egyptian naval ships carry their names in the cursive Arabic script); her slow progression in international waters. All of these factors support the crew's conclusion that the assault was no accident.
Opposed to this argument is the line of reasoning which holds that the Israeli government was heavily dependent upon the goodwill of the United States; that it would have been utterly irrational for the Israeli navy knowingly to have launched an attack on a U.S. ship; and that the only reasonable explanation is that the incident was a mistake arising from the natural tensions and fallible judgments of a hot war.

The documents below are a collection of messages and public statements issued or made on or after May 30, 1967. This includes the Naval Security Group File on U.S.S. Liberty Annex I which catalogued news media coverage of the Liberty incident. This material further debunks the "total news blackout" myth. The reader should decide if there was a "total news blackout" as alleged.

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30 May 67 Message 302008Z from Secretary of Defense emphasizing delicacy of Middle East crisis and directing all comments on U.S. military activity be with full coordination of DoD public affairs.
31 May 67 Message 311259Z from United States Commander in Chief Europe provided public affairs guidance on U.S. military activity in the Middle East.
8 Jun 67 Message 081517Z from Commander in Chief Naval Forces, Europe advising that Assistant Secretary of Defense Vance ordered all news releases about the "Liberty affair" to be made at the Washington level.
8 Jun 67 Message 082205Z Jun 67 from USS America sending news story about the attack for Detroit news.
8 Jun 67 Message 082207Z Jun 67 from Chief of Naval Information reporting "AP and UPI carried stories about attack on USS Liberty".
9 Jun 67 Message 090547Z from Commander Sixth Fleet authorizing interviews with "Liberty evacuees."
9 Jun 67 Message 090704Z from Commander Sixth Fleet - no limitation on external moving pictures and TV coverage of Liberty.
11 Jun 67 Message 111607Z from Chief of Naval Information advising New York Times carried article giving survivors' accounts of attack.
11 Jun 67 Message 112005Z from USS America advising of interview of Liberty crew member (Kenneth Ecker).
11 Jun 67 USS America newsletter American Spirit on page 4 carried interview with Liberty crew member, Kenneth Ecker.
11 July 67 The Oregonian page 6M carried interview with Liberty crew member Richard Wainwright.
12 Jun 67 SECRET Message 120905Z from Commander in Chief Naval Forces Europe. The final portion of message was unclassified and answered press questions that commanding officer and crew would not be available for interview until after the Court of Inquiry completes its work.
29 Jun 67 Message 291156Z from Chief of Naval Operations authorized Liberty crew members to give interviews.
30 Jun 67 Message 301401Z from Commander in Chief Naval Forces Europe authorizing commanding officer and crew of Liberty to give press interviews.
30 Jun 67 Message 301853Z from Naval support facility Naples advised that Irving R. Levine of NBC News conducted a one hour interview of Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the president of the Liberty Court of Inquiry.
See also the "Davis Familygram 4-67" dated 29 Jun 67 sent from the destroyer Davis to the families of the Davis crew.