DoD Offers ‘Error’ Headline for Disputed Attack
Military.com|by Bryant Jordan
WASHINGTON — A Pentagon display honoring the sacrifices of civilian employees includes a newspaper headline referring to the 1967 Israeli attack on a U.S. Navy ship as an “error,” though the U.S. never officially accepted the Israeli claim it was a mistake.
Thirty-one Sailors, two Marines and a civilian analyst died when Israeli air and naval forces strafed, napalmed and torpedoed the USS Liberty on the afternoon of June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War.
“The attack remains controversial because of the failure of U.S. forces to defend the ship and the reluctance of a succession of administrations and congresses to investigate it.”
A Pentagon spokesman says there are no plans to remove or change the reproduced New York Times headline of June 9, 1967, which reads: “Israel, in error, attacks Navy ship.” Lt. Col. Robert Ditchey II said the display, which includes 15 reproduced newspaper headlines from different eras, is intended to honor career civil servants who died in the line of duty over the last two centuries.
“There is absolutely nothing in this display that should be misconstrued as a political statement,” Ditchey said in an email. (The truth is always negotiable when it concerns Israel’s malfesance. -jd)
But Liberty survivors and their supporters argue that the “error” narrative is itself political. (Of course it is and to state other than the truth in history proves it, no one is fooled … only the disloyal Israeli First supporters placated and the truth distorted -jd)
“For public purposes, the U.S. accepted Israel’s account in the interest of maintaining relations and, more importantly for [President] Johnson, not inflaming Israel’s domestic supporters at a time,” said James Scott, son of a Liberty survivor and author of “Attack on the Liberty.”
Johnson was looking at re-election the next year and needed backing of Israel’s supporters at home at a time he was escalating the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam.
Retired Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Lockwood, the only Marine to survive, said the headline might have been appropriate once.
“But time has gone by since then, and it’s so obvious that attack was deliberate,” he said. Lockwood was awarded the Silver Star for entering into a flooding deck and saving the lives of wounded men.
The United States’ official view – represented by State Department correspondence – is that Israel “knew or should have known” from having reconnoitered the vessel by air several time before the attack that the ship was American.
“In these circumstances, the later military attack by Israeli aircraft on the U.S.S. Liberty is quite literally incomprehensible,” Secretary of State Dean Rusk told Israeli’s ambassador. “As a minimum, the attack must be condemned as an act of military irresponsibility reflecting reckless disregard for human life.”
A State Department spokesman told Military.com that the department’s history office could find no follow-up to the Rusk letter, which is dated June 10, the day after The New York Times headline displayed at the Pentagon.
“The headline, in a word, is an outrage and has always eaten at me,” retired Lt. Cmdr. James Ennis said. Ennis, whose 1979 “Assault on the Liberty” was the first book on the event, was an ensign aboard the ship at the time of the attack. “Just think, at that point they had absolutely no way to know whether it was a calculated and deliberate attack for a specific purpose, as most reasonable people believe, or an ‘accident.’ “
The accident explanation was largely based on a board of inquiry investigation conducted over a 10-day period after the attack. Though the board was not tasked to determine if the attack was deliberate, and avoided that line of questioning with witnesses, the report “concluded” that the attack was a case of mistaken identity.
The board’s conclusion was criticized early on, but finally discredited in 2002 when retired Capt. Ward Boston, who had been its legal advisor, said it was intended to let Israel off the hook.
Political leaders relied on the conclusions, but many never believed it, said Scott.
“That public response [that it was an accident] contrasts greatly with the private views of the president and his top advisers, none of whom thought the attack was an accident — and who are all on the record with those views,” he said.