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Direct versus circumstantial evidence

Reader comment on item: The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Spy Ship
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Submitted by Mike Sciales (United States), Feb 16, 2006 at 15:21

As a retired military lawyer, used to putting together cases for prosecution and defense, I have to note that there are two kinds of evidence used for determining criminal matters. Direct and circumstantial.

Direct evidence is that which you can see with your own eyes. It is the best evidence (although you can get a conviction based upon circumstantial evidence and although there is plenty in this case, I won't address that at this time). The testimony of the crew is that surveillance by IDF aircraft was conducted of the Liberty. The ensign would have to be flown and visible as required by USN regulations during all operations. It is in the self-interest of the crew to identify their vessel as American and neutral, after all, this was a war-zone. In this case the bullet-riddled flag is direct evidence that the ensign was shot. Thus, despite protests to the contrary, the evidence is clear on that point.

Next is the contention that the Liberty was mistaken for an Egyptian horse carrier. Looking at the photographs even a non-technician can immediately discern the differences. For the top rated pilots of the IDF that could never be a misidentification. This is not some rag-tag third world air force, these aviators are the self-proclaimed "best." All Air Forces require pilots to make positive identification of targets before attacking. The Liberty was not in any danger of departing the area. Surely a pilot on an attack run would have noticed the Red White and Blue colors of the flag displayed (given the winds and speed of the Liberty reported by the crew). From this one piece of evidence there is enough reason to doubt the veracity of the Israeli response. If the Israelis lied about that, then they lied about all of it. The issue becomes "Why the attack?" and that is the more interesting question. The Israelis are the only ones with a reason to lie. As time passes and materials are released it becomes pretty clear the President Johnson's view that "we will not embarrass an ally" sets the tone for the USN's efforts to be corrupted. It is a sad business when good Americans die and their sacrifices are minimized to prevent the embarrassment of some other nation.
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