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The Attack on the USS Liberty

On June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty, a U.S. Navy intelligence ship was attacked by Israeli fighter planes and torbedo boats as it floated in intenational waters 12 miles off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula. 34 US sailors were killed in the attack and 172 were injured.

The attack proceeded in broad daylight on clear sunny day as the Liberty displayed the American flag. The attack went on for two hours, according to Admiral Thomas Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

e x c e r p t
title: USS Liberty
On that June day in 1967, the weather was beautiful... Clear and sunny, visibility unlimited... the LIBERTY, an elaborate state-of-the art intelligence gathering platform, was in international waters off the Gaza strip and was flying the Stars and Stripes. Israeli reconnaissance planes flew overhead for hours. Pilots and ship's crew waved to each other. Then, inexplicably, unmarked Israeli aircraft began attacking the ship.

The defenseless LIBERTY radioed for help. Two aircraft carriers in the Med responded by launching fighter aircraft. Unbelievably, they were recalled by the White House. RADM Geis, then commanding the carriers in the Sixth Fleet, called Washington personally to confirm the order. SecDef McNamara came on the line, then President Johnson. Johnson indicated to Geis that the aircraft were to be returned, that he would not have his allies embarrassed, and that he didn't care who was killed or what was done to the ship. Geis, like any good sailor, recalled the aircraft.

The official explanation for the attack is that it was a case of mistaken identity. That explanation is undermined by the following facts:

  • The ship was clearly identified with an American flag.
  • The three Israeli Mirage figher-bombers that attacked the ship were unmarked.
  • The Mirage jets jamed the communication frequencies used by the ship.
  • The jets strafed the ship at close range, where the details of the ship would have been cleary visible to the pilots.
  • The attack included multiple waves of air assaults.
  • The torpedo boats strafed survivors in life boats, an international war crime.
  • The two aircraft sent by the US 6th fleet to defend the Liberty were recalled.
  • The recall order was confirmed by the White House.

While one theory holds that the attack was perpetrated by Israel acting alone, another theory puts responsibility on the Johnson administration.

Israeli Pilot Claims Attack Was Intentional

Fifteen years after the attack an Israeli Pilot who was ordered to participate in the attack came forward, approaching Liberty survivors and former Congressman Paul N. McCloskey. The pilot relates that he identified the ship as American and informed his superiors, but was told to proceed with the attack. When he refused to do so, he was arrested on returning to base. 1  

Captain Ward Boston's Statement

Although there were several purported inquiries into the attack by various federal agencies, these focused on issues such as communication, and avoided the issue of culpability for the attack. The only investigation that wasn't so circumsribed was that of the U.S. Navy Court, but even it was apparently compromised. Although the court’s president, Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, predicted that it would take six months to properly conduct the investigation, the Court took only 10 days. The legal counsel to the Court, Captain Ward Boston, JAGC, prepared a signed affadavit claiming that Admiral Kidd was ordered by superiors to falsely report that the attack was a mistake. Boston's full statement follows.

e x c e r p t
title: Declaration of Ward Boston, Jr., Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)

Declaration of
Ward Boston, Jr.,Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)

Counsel to the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry's investigation into the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty

I, Ward Boston, Jr. do declare that the following statement is true and complete:

For more than 30 years, I have remained silent on the topic of USS Liberty. I am a military man and when orders come in from the Secretary of Defense and President of the United States, I follow them.

However, recent attempts to rewrite history compel me to share the truth.

In June of 1967, while serving as a Captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps, Department of the Navy, I was assigned as senior legal counsel for the Navy's Court of Inquiry into the brutal attack on USS Liberty, which had occurred on June 8th.

The late Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, president of the Court, and I were given only one week to gather evidence for the Navy's official investigation into the attack, despite the fact that we both had estimated that a proper Court of Inquiry into an attack of this magnitude would take at least six months to conduct.

Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., then Commander-in-chief, Naval Forces Europe (CINCUSNAVEUR), at his headquarters in London, had charged Admiral Kidd (in a letter dated June 10, 1967) to “inquire into all the pertinent facts and circumstances leading to and connected with the armed attack; damage resulting therefrom; and deaths of and injuries to Naval personnel.”

Despite the short amount of time we were given, we gathered a vast amount of evidence, including hours of heartbreaking testimony from the young survivors.

The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack, which killed 34 American sailors and injured 172 others, was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. Each evening, after hearing testimony all day, we often spoke our private thoughts concerning what we had seen and heard. I recall Admiral Kidd repeatedly referring to the Israeli forces responsible for the attack as “murderous bastards.” It was our shared belief, based on the documentary evidence and testimony we received first hand, that the Israeli attack was planned and deliberate, and could not possibly have been an accident.

I am certain that the Israeli pilots that undertook the attack, as well as their superiors, who had ordered the attack, were well aware that the ship was American.

I saw the flag, which had visibly identified the ship as American, riddled with bullet holes, and heard testimony that made it clear that the Israelis intended there be no survivors. 10. Not only did the Israelis attack the ship with napalm, gunfire, and missiles, Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned three lifeboats that had been launched in an attempt by the crew to save the most seriously wounded -- a war crime.

Admiral Kidd and I both felt it necessary to travel to Israel to interview the Israelis who took part in the attack. Admiral Kidd telephoned Admiral McCain to discuss making arrangements. Admiral Kidd later told me that Admiral McCain was adamant that we were not to travel to Israel or contact the Israelis concerning this matter.

Regrettably, we did not receive into evidence and the Court did not consider any of the more than sixty witness declarations from men who had been hospitalized and were unable to testify in person.

I am outraged at the efforts of the apologists for Israel in this country to claim that this attack was a case of “mistaken identity.”

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.

I know from personal conversations I had with Admiral Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of “mistaken identity” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Admiral Kidd told me, after returning from Washington, D.C. that he had been ordered to sit down with two civilians from either the White House or the Defense Department, and rewrite portions of the court's findings.

Admiral Kidd also told me that he had been ordered to “put the lid” on everything having to do with the attack on USS Liberty. We were never to speak of it and we were to caution everyone else involved that they could never speak of it again.

I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of that statement as I know that the Court of Inquiry transcript that has been released to the public is not the same one that I certified and sent off to Washington.

I know this because it was necessary, due to the exigencies of time, to hand correct and initial a substantial number of pages. I have examined the released version of the transcript and I did not see any pages that bore my hand corrections and initials. Also, the original did not have any deliberately blank pages, as the released version does. Finally, the testimony of Lt. Painter concerning the deliberate machine gunning of the life rafts by the Israeli torpedo boat crews, which I distinctly recall being given at the Court of Inquiry and included in the original transcript, is now missing and has been excised.

Following the conclusion of the Court of Inquiry, Admiral Kidd and I remained in contact. Though we never spoke of the attack in public, we did discuss it between ourselves, on occasion. Every time we discussed the attack, Admiral Kidd was adamant that it was a deliberate, planned attack on an American ship.

In 1990, I received a telephone call from Jay Cristol, who wanted to interview me concerning the functioning of the Court of Inquiry. I told him that I would not speak to him on that subject and prepared to hang up the telephone. Cristol then began asking me about my personal background and other, non-Court of Inquiry related matters. I endeavored to answer these questions and politely extricate myself from the conversation. Cristol continued to return to the subject of the Court of Inquiry, which I refused to discuss with him. Finally, I suggested that he contact Admiral Kidd and ask him about the Court of Inquiry.

At no time did I ever hear Admiral Kidd speak of Cristol other than in highly disparaging terms. I find Cristol's claims of a “close friendship” with Admiral Kidd to be utterly incredible. I also find it impossible to believe the statements he attributes to Admiral Kidd, concerning the attack on USS Liberty.

Several years later, I received a letter from Cristol that contained what he purported to be his notes of our prior conversation. These “notes” were grossly incorrect and bore no resemblance in reality to that discussion. I find it hard to believe that these “notes” were the product of a mistake, rather than an attempt to deceive. I informed Cristol that I disagreed with his recollection of our conversation and that he was wrong. Cristol made several attempts to arrange for the two of us to meet in person and talk but I always found ways to avoid doing this. I did not wish to meet with Cristol as we had nothing in common and I did not trust him.

Contrary to the misinformation presented by Cristol and others, it is important for the American people to know that it is clear that Israel is responsible for deliberately attacking an American ship and murdering American sailors, whose bereaved shipmates have lived with this egregious conclusion for many years.


Dated: January 9, 2004
at Coronado, California.
Ward Boston, Jr., Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
Senior Counsel to the USS Liberty Court of Inquiry

References

1.
The Assault on the USS Liberty Still Covered Up After 26 Years, washington-report.org, 6/93

page last modified: 2007-02-18
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USS Liberty after the attack, showing torpdo hole. From USSLiberty.org
Damage to the USS Liberty from aircraft gunfire.