Thu 23 Oct 2003
Ship Attack: President ‘Ordered Accident Verdict’
A former US Navy lawyer who helped lead the military investigation of the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 servicemen says former president Lyndon Johnson and his defence secretary, Robert McNamara, ordered that the inquiry conclude that it was an accident.
In a signed affidavit released at a Capitol Hill news conference, retired Capt 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 was a military man, and “when orders come ... I follow them”.
But 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 cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast on June 8, 1967. Israeli planes and torpedo boats opened fire on the Liberty at the outbreak of the Israeli-Egyptian 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 apologised 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 US 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.
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.”
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, California, but he did not return calls.
Moorer’s panel suggested several possible reasons Israel might have wanted to attack a US ship. Among them was that Israel intended to sink the ship and blame Egypt because it might have brought the United States into the 1967 war.
Latest News: http://www.news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm