Court of Inquiry Testimony Reveals Initial Attack Location?
K. J. Halliwell (July 10, 2008 - Revised April 12, 2011)

Within the NCOI (Navy Court of Inquiry) record of testimony, there are two instances of pre-attack testimony (see below), by McGonagle and Painter, that provide sufficient data (highlighted) for determining the initial attack location.

McGonagle: "...LTJG Painter came onto the bridge after general quarters to assume the watch as the officer of the deck.  As he assumed the officer of the deck watch, he indicated that he was having difficulty in obtaining an accurate ship's fix.  At that time, and the time was approximately 1400, I personally sighted the Minaret at El Arish to be on a bearing of 142 from the ship and the range as I recall from the radar was approximately 25.5 miles."

Painter: "[After general quarters drill, at about 1350], I came back up to the bridge and relieved Mr. O'Connor who was the general quarters OOD, and assumed the watch.  The first thing I was concerned with was getting a fix, and I remember distinctly checking the radar, and the nearest point of land on the radar, at approximately 1355, was 17.5 miles.  And I remember distinctly asking the Captain if I could come back to our base course, which I believe was set at about 14 and a half miles.  We were about three miles outside of base course."
(An analysis of the El Arish minaret's base elevation and its overall height indicates that it would have been impossible for McGonagle to visually sight the minaret at 25.5 NM, but it would have been within range for detection by the ship's radar system.[1]  Thus, for the sake of this analysis, it is assumed that McGonagle's statement about the minaret's bearing and 25.5 NM distance was accurate, but it was purely via radar.) 

Using data from the above two testimonies, one can find a point that matches exactly both cited distances, as shown on the map below.

As you can see, the McGonagle-Painter location is not the attack location determined by the NCOI.  Instead, the McGonagle-Painter location is about 4 nautical miles (NM) north of the NCOI determined location, and about 8 NM from the last location recorded in the DRT (Dead Reckoning Trace) Log.  This different location affects results of a previous analysis based on the NCOI location.[2]

The previous analysis found the approximate location of the ship, after the torpedo attack, was about 30 NM northwest of El Arish.  This finding was based on data given in the NSA's (National Security Agency's) SIGINT (signal intelligence) transcript of IAF (Israel Air Force) helicopters flying to the ship after the air attack, and arriving after the torpedo attack.  Thus, this location is not affected by changing the ship's initial attack location; but analysis of the ship's distance and average speed from the point of initial attack to the IAF helicopters' and USS Liberty intersection point is affected.

Changing the initial attack location reduces the distance traveled between it and the approximate location after the torpedo attack, from about 9 to 5 NM.  Assuming a farily straight-line of travel, in a slightly northeastern direction,[3]  a simple calculation of 5 NM distance divided by 35 minutes (time difference between start of air attack and torpedo hit stopping the ship) equals an average speed of 8.6 knots.  Of course, as footnoted in the previous analysis, the average speed was likely less than the ship's speed when the torpedo hit.  Thus, the ship was likely traveling faster than 8.6 knots when the torpedo boats began attacking -- perhaps between 10 to 11 knots as estimated in the NSA History Report, instead of between 15 to 17 knots as estimated by the Naval Court of Inquiry.
Regardless of this reduction in average speed, the relative wind across Liberty's deck would still have been great enough to sweep away and diffused smoke from fires being extinguished on her superstructure.  This, in turn, would have made much of the ship's superstructure, and all of her central mast and forward-half visible (as shown in photographs taken during the attack).  Additionally, it would have extended the American flag hoisted high on Liberty's large and tall central mast -- a feature not present on El Quseir.

An interesting aspect of the revised initial attack location is realizing that the ship either did not stay on a 283-degree heading and 5 knots speed during the pre-attack general quarters drill (a simulated chemical attack) or the point at which the ship turned to a 283-degree heading was farther north than the ship's navigation logs indicate.  Of course, this calls into question overall navigational accuracy and movements of the ship before the attack.[4]

Additionally, the McGonagle-Painter location highlights the NCOI's apparent disregard of McGonagle's and Painter's testimony when developing its finding of the initial attack location: a 283-degree projection from the last recorded entry in the DRT log, with distance traveled based on a 5 knots speed.

It may never be known whether the McGonagle-Painter or the NCOI initial attack location finding is correct, or both are incorrect.  Nonetheless, it is clear from the NSA SIGINT transcripts, NCOI testimony and photographic evidence[3] that USS Liberty turned northward soon after the air attack began, continued on a northward heading throughout the air and sea attacks, and very likely achieved a speed of 10 knots or more before the torpedo hit.
Finally, as stated in the previous analysis, the above scenario does not support the IDF's claim that Liberty was mistaken for the much smaller and differently configured El Quseir, due to dark smoke covering her identifying features and no American flag observed flying on her central mast; i.e., no wind blowing over her decks.  And as Liberty rapidly headed north, being chased by the MTBs, it should have been clear to the MTB captains that she was not "escaping" toward Egypt, or attempting to mount an offensive action against them.