U.S. Says 1967 Attack
Act of Negligence
The Guardian - UK

WASHINGTON (AP) - Reviewing documents covering 36 years, amid a lack of consensus, a State Department official concluded Monday that Israel's attack on the U.S. spy ship Liberty during the 1967 Six Day War was an act of Israeli negligence.
The United States also was negligent, the official maintained, for failing to notify Israel that the electronic intelligence-gathering ship was cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast and for failing to withdraw the Liberty from the war zone.
A daylong conference that studied fresh documents as well as the established record failed to produce a consensus for any of three views voiced most often: Israel intentionally attacked what it knew to be a ship of the U.S. Navy, the attack was accidental, or the attack resulted from faulty judgment.
Thirty-four Americans were killed in the June 8, 1967, attack, and more than 170 were wounded.
Israel long has maintained that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, an explanation the Johnson administration did not challenge formally. Israel said its forces thought the Liberty was an Egyptian horse carrier, apologized to the United States and paid almost $13 million in compensation, some to victims or their families.
Since the United States did not intercept the order to attack the ship with cannon fire and napalm, precise facts of the attack remain elusive, the State Department official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He called the Israeli attack and the U.S. actions a classic example of Murphy's law: ``If anything can go wrong, it will.''
David Hatch, a technical director at the National Security Agency, said, ``The good news is that information long sought by researchers is now out, and the bad news is that it does not settle it.''
The occasion for the State Department conference was the release of historical documents about the 1967 war in which Israel defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and other Arab countries in six days.
Charles Smith, a professor at the University of Arizona, said in his presentation that Israel should have known the Liberty was an American ship.
``If they didn't know, they didn't try hard enough to find out,'' he said.
James Bamford, an investigative journalist who has written about the incident, demanded further investigation ``instead of people getting up here and giving their opinions.''
``There were cover-ups,'' Bamford said, citing a signed affidavit by retired Navy Capt. Ward Boston, who was a leader of a military investigation into the incident.
Boston said in the affidavit in October that then-President Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had 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, 80, who did not attend Monday's conference, said the Navy investigators were given only one week but still were able to amass ``a vast amount of evidence, including heartbreaking testimony from young survivors.''
Accusing Israel of a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and kill its crew, Boston said in a legal declaration in Coronado, Calif., that he was certain the Israel pilots knew the Liberty, which clearly displayed American flags and had markings in English instead of Arabic, was a U.S. Navy ship.
Additionally, Boston said, ``Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned three lifeboats that that had been launched in an attempt by the crew to save the most seriously wounded - a war crime.''
Jay Cristol, a U.S. bankruptcy court judge who has written about the incident, cited the finding of the Navy's inquiry as proof the attack was a mistake. ``There was no indication they had any knowledge they were attacking a U.S. ship,'' Cristol told the conference.
If the attack were deliberate, its motivation remains uncertain.
Adm. Thomas Moorer, a former chief of naval operations and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a memorandum on June 8, 1997, the 30th anniversary of the attack, that Israel deliberately attacked to hide its intentions in the war.
``I am confident that Israel knew the Liberty could intercept radio messages from all parties and potential parties to the ongoing war, then in its fourth day, and that Israel was preparing to seize the Golan Heights from Syria despite President Johnson's known opposition to such a move,'' Moorer wrote.
``I believe (then-Israeli Defense Minister) Moshe Dayan concluded that he could prevent Washington from becoming aware of what Israel was up to by destroying the primary source of acquiring that information, the USS Liberty.'' Israel took the strategic Syrian territory and still holds it 37 years later.




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