U.S. concludes 1967 Liberty ship attack an act of negligence

washington | Reviewing documents covering 36 years, amid a lack of consensus, a State Department official concluded Monday that Israel’s attack on the U.S. spy ship Liberty during the 1967 Six-Day War was an act of Israeli negligence.

The United States also was negligent, the official maintained, for failing to notify Israel that the electronic intelligence-gathering ship was cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast and for failing to withdraw the Liberty from the war zone.

A daylong conference that studied fresh documents as well as the established record failed to produce a consensus for any of three views voiced most often: Israel intentionally attacked what it knew to be a ship of the U.S. Navy, the attack was accidental, or the attack resulted from faulty judgment.

Thirty-four Americans were killed in the June 8, 1967, incident, and more than 170 were wounded.

Israel long has maintained that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, an explanation the Johnson administration did not challenge formally. Israel said its forces thought the Liberty was an Egyptian horse carrier, apologized to the United States and paid almost $13 million in compensation, some to victims or their families.

Since the United States did not intercept the order to attack the ship with cannon fire and napalm, precise facts of the attack remain elusive, the State Department official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He called the Israeli attack and the U.S. actions a classic example of Murphy’s law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.’

David Hatch, a technical director at the National Security Agency, said, “The good news is that information long sought by researchers is now out, and the bad news is that it does not settle it.’

The occasion for the State Department conference was the release of historical documents about the 1967 war in which Israel defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and other Arab countries in six days.

James Bamford, an investigative journalist who has written about the incident, demanded further investigation “instead of people getting up here and giving their opinions.’

“There were coverups,’ Bamford said, citing a signed affidavit by retired Navy Capt. Ward Boston, who was a leader of a military investigation into the incident.