After State Department officials and historians assembled in Washington, D.C. to discuss the 1967 war in the Middle East, I am compelled to speak out about one of U.S. historyís most shocking cover-ups.
On June 8, 1967, Israel attacked our proud naval shipóthe USS Libertyókilling 34 American servicemen and wounding 172. Those men were then betrayed and left to die by our own government.
U.S. military rescue aircraft were recalled, not once, but twice, through direct intervention by the Johnson administration. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamaraís cancellation of the Navyís attempt to rescue the Liberty, which I personally confirmed from the commanders of the aircraft carriers America and Saratoga, was the most disgraceful act I witnessed in my entire military career.
To add insult to injury, Congress, to this day, has failed to hold formal hearings on Israelís attack on this American ship. No official investigation of Israelís attack has ever permitted the testimony of the surviving crew members.
A 1967 investigation by the Navy, upon which all other reports are based, has now been fully discredited as a cover-up by its senior attorney. Capt. Ward Boston, in a sworn affidavit, recently revealed that the court was ordered by the White House to cover up the incident and find that Israelís attack was ìa case of mistaken identity.î
Some distinguished colleagues and I formed an independent commission to investigate the attack on the USS Liberty. After an exhaustive review of previous reports, naval and other military records, including eyewitness testimony from survivors, we recently presented our findings on Capitol Hill. They include:
> Israeli reconnaissance aircraft closely studied the Liberty during an eight-hour period prior to the attack, one flying within 200 feet of the ship. Weather reports confirm the day was clear with unlimited visibility. The Liberty was a clearly marked American ship in international waters, flying an American flag and carrying large U.S. Navy hull letters and numbers on its bow.
Despite claims by Israeli intelligence that they confused the Liberty with a small Egyptian transport, the Liberty was conspicuously different from any vessel in the Egyptian navy. It was the most sophisticated intelligence ship in the world in 1967. With its massive radio antennae, including a large satellite dish, it looked like a large lobster and was one of the most easily identifiable ships afloat.
> Israel attempted to prevent the Libertyís radio operators from sending a call for help by jamming American emergency radio channels.
> Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned lifeboats at close range that had been lowered to rescue the most seriously wounded.
As a result, our commission concluded that:
> There is compelling evidence that Israelís attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew.
> In attacking the USS Liberty, Israel committed acts of murder against U.S. servicemen and an act of war against the United States.
> The White House knowingly covered up the facts of this attack from the American people.
> The truth continues to be concealed to the present day in what can only be termed a national disgrace.
What was Israelís motive in launching this attack? Congress must address this question with full cooperation from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the military intelligence services.
The men of the USS Liberty represented the United States. They were attacked for two hours, causing 70 percent of American casualties, and the eventual loss of our best intelligence ship.
These sailors and Marines were entitled to our best defense. We gave them no defense.
Did our government put Israelís interests ahead of our own? If so, why? Does our government continue to subordinate American interests to Israeli interests? These are important questions that should be investigated by an independent, fully empowered commission of the American government.
The American people deserve to know the truth about this attack. We must finally shed some light on one of the blackest pages in American naval history. It is a duty we owe not only to the brave men of the USS Liberty, but to every man and woman who is asked to wear the uniform of the United States.