Congressional inquiries got nowhere
In the 40 years since the U.S. Court of Inquiry closed its books on the Liberty investigation, members of Congress have asked for information about the attack and have received stock replies, like the one provided to the late Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.).
The Navy's inquiry, the State Department told Cranston in 1980, had "made a full investigation of the attack," and "reached the conclusion that it did not have sufficient information to make a judgment about the reasons for the Israeli action against the Liberty."
Not easily put off was Sen. Adlai Stevenson III (D-Ill.), who suggested that same year that a Senate intelligence subcommittee that he chaired take a closer look at the attack. But Stevenson said in a recent interview that the only other senator who supported the move was Barry Goldwater, the crusty Arizona Republican.
"I didn't really have much support," Stevenson recalled. "But I did conduct a few of my own inquiries." Those, he said, had led him to conclude that "there can't be any question" the Israelis intended to sink the American spy ship.
Stevenson's inquiry died when he stepped down from the Senate to run a losing campaign for governor of Illinois. Meantime, the Navy seemingly has tried its best to downplay that piece of history.
The Medal of Honor, the nation's most esteemed military decoration, is customarily presented by the president in a ceremony at the White House. When the Liberty's captain, Cmdr. William McGonagle, received his medal, it was handed to him by the secretary of the Navy in a ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard.
According to McGonagle's citation, though seriously wounded by shrapnel, he displayed "conspicuous gallantry" in maintaining command of his ship for several hours following an attack "by jet fighter aircraft and motor torpedo boats which inflicted many casualties among the crew and caused extreme damage to the ship."
The citation does not say to whom the jet fighters and torpedo boats belonged.
The bodies of six of the Liberty's crew were never recovered, and a small monument at Arlington National Cemetery memorializes their deaths.
"Died in the Eastern Mediterranean, June 8, 1967," is all it says.
On June 8, 1997, the 30th anniversary of the attack, McGonagle, then a Navy captain, spoke to some of his former crew during a memorial service at Arlington.
"For many years," he said, "I have wanted to believe that the attack on the Liberty was pure error. It appears to me that it was not a pure case of mistaken identity."
"I think that it's about time," McGonagle said, "that the state of Israel and the United States government provide the crew members of the Liberty, and the rest of the American people, the facts of what happened, and why it came about that the Liberty was attacked. ..."
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