WASHINGTON: A former navy lawyer who helped lead the military investigation of the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 American servicemen says former president Lyndon Johnson and his defence secretary, Robert McNamara, ordered that the inquiry conclude the incident was an accident.
In a signed affidavit released at a Capitol Hill news conference, retired captain Ward Boston said Johnson and McNamara told those heading the navy’s inquiry to “conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
Boston was senior legal counsel to the navy’s original 1967 review of the attack. He said in the sworn statement that he stayed silent for years because he’s a military man, and “when orders come, I follow them.”
He said he felt compelled to “share the truth” following the publication of a recent book, The Liberty Incident, which concluded the attack was unintentional.
The USS Liberty was an electronic intelligence-gathering ship that was cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast June 8, 1967. Israeli planes and torpedo boats opened fire on the Liberty at what became known as the outbreak of the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War.
In addition to the 34 Americans killed, more than 170 were wounded.
Israel has long maintained that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, an explanation that the Johnson administration did not formally challenge. Israel claimed its forces thought the ship was an Egyptian vessel and apologized to the United States.
After the attack, a navy court of inquiry concluded there was insufficient information to make a judgment about why Israel attacked the ship, stopping short of assigning blame or determining whether it was an accident.
It was “one of the classic all-American cover-ups,” said retired admiral Thomas Moorer, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who spent a year investigating the attack as part of an independent panel he formed with other former military officials. The panel also included a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins.
“Why would our government put Israel’s interests ahead of our own?” Moorer asked from his wheelchair at the news conference. He was chief of naval operations at the time of the attack.
Moorer, who has long held that the attack was a deliberate act, wants Congress to investigate.
David Lewis of Lemington, Vt., was on the Liberty when it was attacked. In an interview, he said Israel had to know it was targeting an American ship. He said a U.S. flag was flying that day and Israel shot it full of holes. The sailors on the ship, he said, quickly hoisted another American flag, a much bigger one, to show Israel it was a U.S. vessel.
“No trained individual could be that inept,” said Lewis of the Israeli forces.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Regev disputed any notion that Israel knowingly went after American sailors.
“I can say unequivocally that the Liberty tragedy was a terrible accident, that the Israeli pilots involved believed they were attacking an enemy ship,” Regev said. “This was in the middle of a war. This is something that we are not proud of.” Calls to the navy seeking comment were not immediately returned.
In Boston’s statement, he does not say why Johnson would have ordered a cover-up. Attempts were made to reach Boston at his home in Coronado, Calif., but he did not return calls seeking comment.
Moorer’s panel suggested several possible reasons Israel might have wanted to attack a U.S. ship. Among them: Israel intended to sink the ship and blame Egypt because it might have brought the United States into the 1967 war.
Nicholas M. Horrock – UPI 10/22/2003
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) — A private commission investigating the 1967 attack on the U.S. spy ship USS Liberty on Wednesday released the sworn testimony of one naval investigator that the Israelis knew the ship was American and intended to “murder its entire crew.”
Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967, killing 34 U.S. sailors and injuring 172 others in one of the deadliest attacks suffered by a U.S. ship that remained afloat.
The Israeli government claimed it was a case of “mistaken identity” and that their pilots were gunning for a 1937-era Egyptian freighter, but this claim set off a 36-year controversy between the two countries. Both U.S. and Israel groups have investigated the attack over the years, but the issue has never been settled.
Coming now, the evidence becomes part of a controversy over Israelis influence in Washington and whether it has tilted the Bush administration toward Jerusalem.
A private commission headed by a former chief of naval operations, retired Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, made public an affidavit by retired Capt. Ward Boston, formerly of the judge advocate general’s office and one of two senior naval officials investigating the attack.
“The evidence was clear. Both Admiral (Isaac) Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack, which killed 34 America sailors and injured 172 others, was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. I am certain that the Israeli pilots that undertook the attack as well as their superiors who had ordered the attack, were aware the ship was American.”
Though Boston had made these charges informally, this was the first time a sworn affidavit supported them. Boston said he had been a serving naval officer and followed orders keeping quiet about his knowledge for 36 years. “I am outraged at the efforts of apologists for Israel in this country to claim this attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity,'” he wrote. “In particular, the recent publication of Jay Cristol’s book, the ‘Liberty Incident,’ twists the facts and misrepresents the views of those of us who investigated the attack. It is Cristol’s insidious attempt to whitewash the facts that has pushed me to speak out.” Cristol, a retired Navy pilot and member of judge advocate’s office, published a book in 2002 that found the attack was accidental.
Boston said “I saw the flag, which visibly identified the ship as American, riddled with bullet holes, and heard testimony that made it clear the Israelis intended there be no survivors.”
With the help of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the private commission arranged a news conference in the Rayburn House Office building. Moorer said the group wants the official naval report rescinded and a new court of inquiry convened and investigations launched by appropriate Capitol Hill committees.
The first court of inquiry was ordered by Adm. John S. McCain Jr. — father of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — who was then commanding in London and over the vessels in the Mediterranean. Kidd and Boston conducted the inquiry in Malta where the Liberty had been taken for repairs and care of the wounded. Though they both agreed the attack was intentional, Kidd prepared a report that went with the Israeli version. “I know from personal conversations I had with Admiral Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense (Robert) McNamara ordered him to conclude the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity,'” Boston’s affidavit said.
There are numerous discrepancies between the Israeli version and the U.S. sailors’ report. The U.S. sailors reported they were under aerial surveillance by Israeli planes for hours before the attack and were flying the American flag. They said they were hit by aircraft, torpedoed and strafed by fast-moving surface vessels. The Israelis said only aircraft were used in the attack. The sailors said that when they tried to launch lifeboats to secure the wounded the torpedo boats strafed and sank them. They reported that the Israelis jammed the radio so they couldn’t call for help, but later when American aircraft were launched to help, they were recalled. Moorer said he has interviewed officers on the USS Saratoga, where the planes were based, who said the White House ordered them to abandon the rescue.
The Liberty was a World War II freighter converted to the role of a spy ship that the Navy said was very distinctive with massive aerials and satellite dishes. These spy vessels and spy flights later were replaced by satellite surveillance.
Why the Israelis would want to attack an American vessel has never been explained, but the incident came a few months before the 1967 Middle East war in which Egypt and Israel were adversaries.
Copyright Â© 2001-2003 United Press International
Courtesy Gritzle and Israel Shamir’s togethernet
See: USS Liberty: The Truth About America’s Ally
Rockets, Napalm, Torpedoes and Lies