by The Associated Press –
(January 7, 2004) — The State Department will cast a spotlight next week on the 1967 Israeli attack on the US spy ship Liberty where 34 American servicemen were killed. Israeli, Arab, British and Canadian diplomats have been invited to attend a conference Monday and Tuesday at the department’s Henderson auditorium.
A. Jay Cristol, a former US bankruptcy court judge who has written about the incident, will be a featured speaker. The two-day conference involves the release of historical research on the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. David Saterfield, a deputy assistant secretary of state, will deliver the keynote address.
Critics of Israel have cited the attack on the Liberty in questioning strong US support of Israel and Israel’s allegiance to the United States.
Last October, a former US Navy attorney who helped lead a military investigation into the incident said in a signed affidavit that then-President Lyndon Johnson and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, ordered that the inquiry conclude the incident was an accident.
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 said he felt compelled to “share the truth” following the publication of Cristol’s book, The Liberty Incident, which said 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 in the midst of what became known as the Israeli-Arab 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 apologized 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.