Union-Tribune editorial


April 1, 2004

The bitter debate over Israel's attack on the U.S. Navy intelligence ship Liberty on June 8, 1967, seems no closer to resolution today than it was 36 years ago. Surely it's time, a generation and a half later, for the U.S. government to release everything it knows about an attack that killed 34 American sailors and intelligence analysts, wounded 171 others and has never been satisfactorily explained.

The Liberty's survivors, the families of those killed and wounded, the American people and history deserve better than a permanently unresolved controversy of this magnitude.

Israel insists that the deadly attack, which occured in international waters off the Sinai coast while the Liberty eavesdropped on combatants' communications during the Arab-Israeli Six Day War, was a tragic case of mistaken identity. Surviving members of the Liberty's crew, which suffered 70 percent casualties, are convinced that the prolonged air and sea attack was deliberate. The U.S. government, in what many charged was a transparent cover-up, officially accepted Israel's explanation of mistaken identity.

Yet, the acrimonious controversy lived on, waxing and waning through the years as each side put forth new information and conflicting interpretations.

Over the past year, those who believe that Israel's assault on the Liberty was deliberate have collected important corroborating evidence. As noted in David Walsh's essay in Sunday's Insight section, several former U.S. intelligence officials and analysts, breaking their long silence, say that electronic intercepts of the attacking pilots' radio communications that day prove that the Israelis knew they were attacking an American ship.

Oliver Kirby, a former operations director for the super-secret National Security Agency (for which the Liberty was collecting intelligence), was assigned by NSA in 1967 to review classified information on the attack. In a recent telephone interview with Jim Ennes, a retired naval officer and Liberty survivor, Kirby's first words were, "I can tell you for an absolute certainty that they (the Israelis) knew they were attacking an American ship."

Ward Boston, a retired Navy captain who served as chief legal officer to a Navy court of inquiry on the Liberty attack, says the court's finding of "mistaken identity" was dictated by then-President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Boston cites "overwhelming evidence" to the contrary that the naval court was ordered to ignore.

These recent revelations, among others, argue persuasively for reopening the Liberty case if the truth is ever to be discovered. Clearly, the U.S. government, not to mention Israel's government, continues to conceal vital information about the Liberty attack. Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, Israel's attack on the Liberty has never been properly investigated.

Almost 37 years after the fact, it's time it was.

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Jim Ennes and Joe Meadors

USS Liberty