Questions Surround Ceremony for Survivors of Uss Liberty

The Anti-Defamation League has questioned the motivation behind a White House ceremony belatedly honoring surviving crew members of the USS Liberty, a Naval intelligence ship bombed by Israeli aircraft during the 1967 Six-Day War. Thirty-four American seamen died in that bombing.

Israel has always insisted the episode was an accident and the United States officially accepted that explanation.

White House Chief of Staff John Sununu and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, spoke to 42 former crew members of the Liberty in the White House Rose Garden on June 8, the 24th anniversary of the incident. President Bush waved to the group as he returned from the “Desert Storm” victory parade.

That evening, an admiral awarded the crewmen a presidential unit citation signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 but never presented.

The ADL issued a statement pointing out that Sununu, while governor of New Hampshire, signed a proclamation in 1988 that declared the attack on the Liberty to have been “vicious and unprovoked” and the work of “belligerent aircraft and torpedo boats.”

“ADL hopes that the reason for the White House reception was simply to honor the Liberty crew members, not to give a stamp of approval to those seeking to malign Israel,” the ADL said.

Lt. Cmdr. James Ennes Jr., a retired Naval officer, told the Washington Post that because the attack was carried out by a major U.S. ally, “just nobody had the guts to give (the citation) to us.”

Ennes has written a book accusing Israel of deliberately launching the attack, but the U.S. Navy has produced no evidence to corroborate that charge.

STAUNCH CRITICS OF ISRAEL

Two former congressmen, Pete McCloskey Jr. (R-Calif.) and Paul Findley (R-III.), staunch critics of Israel, helped arrange the reception.

ADL expressed concern with their involvement “and the sanction given by the White House of such rhetoric.”

Retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Post that the crew had never before received recognition because “both the Israeli and U.S. governments covered it up.”

The admiral said the only plausible reason for the attack was to destroy the ship’s listening devices so the United States would not learn of a planned Israeli attack on the Golan Heights.

Moorer rejected Israel’s explanation that it thought the Liberty was really an enemy ship.

“My position is that the Israeli military is highly professional, and to suggest that they couldn’t identify the ship is ridiculous,” he continued. “Anybody who could not identify the Liberty could not tell the difference between the White House and the Washington Monument.”

The Liberty was a converted Victory-type freighter built during World War II, Although it carried surveillance equipment that altered its profile, Victory ships had certain distinctive hull features.

The Egyptian merchant marine had two Victory-type freighters at the time of the Six-Day War.

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