U.S. National - AP
Navy Crew Remembers 1967 Israeli Attack
Date: Sun, May 23, 2004
By JEAN ORTIZ, Associated Press Writer
NEBRASKA CITY, Neb. - For nearly 20 surviving crew members of the USS Liberty, a gathering after 37 years was as much about the future as it was about the past.
The Liberty, an intelligence-gathering vessel, was attacked by Israel in June 1967 while cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast during the Six Day War. Israel was the war's victor, defeating the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan.
The attack was ruled accidental by U.S. officials. Emerging reports, including disclosures in the last year from some military officials, state the attack appeared to be deliberate — something that the crew members have suspected all along.
"We all believe we're finally getting to the point where the truth may be told and the world is ready to listen," said Cmdr. David Lewis, who oversaw intelligence on the ship and remembers most of the attack that left him with superficial burns and destroyed his eardrums.
Nearly 50 people honored the 34 sailors killed with a brief memorial service Friday, the second day of the three-day reunion in this southeast Nebraska city.
Crew member Moe Shafer, 57, said the attack was one of the largest cover-ups in history. He said Israel targeted the ship, hoping the United States would conclude the Arabs were responsible. The Americans then would have retaliated and ensured Israel's victory, he said.
Some military and government officials, along with the crew members, have said the attack was not only deliberate, but a cover-up by the American government.
"It was covered up at the highest level," Lewis said.
After reviewing documents earlier this year, a State Department official said the attack was due to negligence on the part of Israel, which has maintained it was a case of mistaken identity. The official said the United States was negligent for failing to withdraw the Liberty from the war zone.
Navy spokesman Lt. Chris Servello said a thorough investigation has been conducted.
"We are not aware of any new evidence that indicates the findings of the initial investigation are in error," he said.
Steve Forslund, 60, and Ron Gotcher, 57, were enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and worked as intelligence analysts for the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the attack occurred.
Gotcher, who was stationed in Vietnam, and Forslund, who was at Offutt Air Force Base outside Omaha, both saw transcripts of Israeli air-to-air and air-to-ground communication during or after the attack. Both said Israel knew the ship was American and was out to sink it.
Forslund speculated the cover-up was politically motivated, adding he didn't know why. Neither he nor Gotcher could speculate on what prompted the attack.
Forslund released a sworn statement this month. Gotcher said he began speaking out soon after the attack because he thought the orders to keep quiet were illegal.
Retired Navy Capt. Ward Boston, the former counsel for the Navy's Court of Inquiry, released a signed affidavit in October, stating he was ordered by President Lyndon Johnson and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, to conclude the attack was unintentional, despite evidence to the contrary.
Boston, of Coronado, Calif., said Thursday the 600-page report prepared shortly after the attack was missing information he had included.
Oliver Kirby, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency who took part in the investigation, said he needs more proof before he can say that the attack was deliberate. The 83-year-old from Greenville, Texas, said that he never understood the attack's intent.
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.
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