The USS Liberty and the McCain Presidential Bid

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Could the USS Liberty surface as a campaign issue?

The latest news on the Liberty, the Navy spook ship attacked by Israel on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War, is that recently released National Security Agency documents are backing up what many -- including the survivors of Liberty -- have been saying for 40 years: that Israel knew full well that it was attacking -- with aerial strafing, napalm and torpedoes -- an American vessel.

You may have read it on Military.com, one of the few news sites to run the piece in total. Other than The Chicago Tribune, which came out with the story, only The Baltimore Sun picked up the piece, according to a Google search.

It will be interesting to see is whether any presidential candidates address the latest revelations, since those from both parties frequently tout longstanding ties and mutual loyalty between the U.S. and Israel.

One candidate with a real interest in this story is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who five years ago endorsed a book, The Liberty Incident, that concluded it was a mistake. McCain's interest stems from the fact that his father, the late Adm. John S. McCain, was commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, at the time, and ordered the official court of inquiry to investigate the attack.

Based on the court's findings, Adm. McCain concluded it was a case of mistaken identity. But five years ago the legal advisor to the court broke his own silence in an interview with me, calling the final report a sham, a cover-up. It was about that same time that The Liberty Incident, by A. Jay Cristol, a former Navy pilot and retired judge, hit the bookshelves.

Sen. McCain praised the book and its findings in a blurb that appeared on the back cover.

In recent months there have been more revelations about the attack and immediate aftermath, however. In June, I reported that the Navy already was calling the attack accidental in its casualty notification telegrams to next of kin even before the court of inquiry convened for the first time.

Then came the Tribune story last week, reporting that the National Security Agency's deputy director of operations in 1967 now confirms that transcripts of U.S. intercepts of Israeli communications show the Israelis knew exactly who they were attacking.

Oliver Kirby is quoted in the Trib story as recalling the Israeli pilots several times identifying the ship as American but being told to attack anyway. While some of the original transcripts and intel have disappeared, the story reports that some of it is still in U.S. government archives.

So far, calls to McCain's senate and campaign offices have not been returned.

-- Bryant Jordan

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