Forty-six years after the attack on the USS Liberty, survivors are again demanding a congressional investigation into the incident, but this time drawing parallels to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
In both instances, Americans under fire called for help that never came, the survivors said. But while Benghazi is the focus of several ongoing investigations, the Israeli attack that killed 34 and wounded 174 Americans has never been investigated by Congress.
"We have long been struck by the similarities between Benghazi and USS Liberty," retired Lt. Cmdr. James Ennes, a Liberty survivor, said in an email to Military.com. "Two unprovoked attacks, both resulting in deaths of Americans, but Congress quickly dismissed the Liberty attack as unworthy of their attention while dissecting the Benghazi issue for months."
The Liberty, a spy ship, was attacked in international waters on the afternoon of June 8, 1967 by Israeli air and naval forces using machine-gun fire, napalm, and torpedoes. The ship's distress call was immediately received by the Sixth Fleet and twice fighters were deployed to defend the ship, only to be recalled.
Israel, engaged in its Six-Day War with several Arab countries, claimed it mistook the Liberty for an Egyptian ship. The U.S. accepted Israel's apology but not the explanation. Congress did not investigate and lawmakers since then have rejected repeated calls by Liberty survivors to hold hearings.
The only official investigation into the Liberty attack was a weeklong Court of Inquiry that interviewed a handful of crewmen and recorded no testimony that would have indicated the attack was deliberate.
Ennes and Liberty Veterans Association President Joseph Meadors are particularly upset that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who they say has been the most hostile to having hearings on the Liberty attack, is now the one of the loudest voices calling for investigations into Benghazi. Ennes said McCain's "performance [on Benghazi] is totally stunning."
"We have repeatedly asked McCain why our rescue aircraft were recalled and why the attack or the failure to defend us was not investigated," Ennes said. Meadors said that most lawmakers are respectful even in their rejection of a call for an investigation into Liberty, but that has not always been the case for McCain.
"Normally, a member of Congress will give us a boilerplate 'we honor your service, the attack has already been investigated' and 'if the issue is ever raised on the floor I will keep your position in mind' response," he said. "McCain is the only member of Congress who told us not to bother -- to forget about any investigation and to get a life." They believe McCain opposes hearings for personal as well as professional reasons, since it was his father, Adm. John McCain Jr., who commanded U.S. Navy forces in Europe and the Middle East in 1967. Adm. McCain convened the official Court of Inquiry to investigate the attack.
A few survivors believe the senator fears that any congressional findings that discredited the Court's work 46 years ago would tarnish his father's legacy. McCain did not respond to Military.com's requests for comment.
Ennes said all the arguments for further investigation into Benghazi "would seem to apply equally, or more, to the Liberty."
"Yet, in our case they took testimony from only a very few survivors, and then refused to accept further comments or testimony that we sent later reporting errors, contradictions and omissions in the original reports and testimony," Ennes said.
In other parallels, say Ennes and Meadors, calls for help immediately went out and were received, but no military aid arrived.
And in both cases there are claims of conspiracy and cover-up.
GOP lawmakers and a former State Department official who was assigned to Tripoli have suggested the State Department and the White House withheld information about the Benghazi attack to avoid political fallout in the weeks leading up to the U.S. presidential election in November. Some have criticized the U.S. military for not being better prepared to respond to such an attack, given that Libya was still unstable following the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime. Pentagon leaders have said the quickest it could get a security team in the air from Tripoli to Benghazi was at 12:30 am, more than two hours after the attack began and after the Americans had been killed.
During the attack on the Liberty, U.S. fighter jets launched from the USS Saratoga and the USS America to defend the ship but were recalled. Liberty survivors and two former Navy JAGs who played a role in the 1967 Court of Inquiry have said facts about the Liberty attack were covered up under political pressure and subsequently ignored for political reasons.
They maintain that a succession of administrations and congresses have avoided investigating the attack for fear of drawing the ire of the powerful Israel lobby.
Meadors believes it is high time for Congress to act, especially since some members are so determined to get to the bottom of why Americans under fire in Benghazi did not get help when they called for it.
"USS Liberty survivors are anxious to testify under oath about the attack [on our ship]," Meadors said. "And hope that members of Congress as well as the Department of Defense will testify to explain their participation in the cover-up of the war crimes that were committed during the attack on our ship."