Key Figure in USS Liberty Inquiry Dies
Retired Navy Capt. Ward Boston, who in 2002 broke 35 years of silence to say the US Navy Board of Inquiry long cited to clear Israel of wrongdoing in attacking a US Navy ship during the Six Day War was a sham, died June 12 in California. He was 84.
Emma Boston, his wife of 60 years, told Military.com that Boston had been sick for about six weeks before his death and had been hospitalized. She said he ultimately died of pneumonia, which he contracted in the hospital.
"He was sharp as a tack right up until they put him under sedation" because of his difficulty breathing, she said.
In 1967, Boston was a Navy lawyer and assigned as the legal adviser to the board, which was convened within days of the June 8 attack by Israeli air and naval forces on the USS Liberty, an American surveillance ship floating in international waters in the Mediterranean.
Israel claimed the attack was a case of mistaken identity, and that it believed the Navy ship was an Egyptian vessel. The report ultimately turned over by the board made no conclusions on culpability, though survivors have long maintained that the Israelis knew full well they were attacking an American ship.
In the years since, the three members of the board died, leaving only Boston as an inside witness to their work. In 2002 he at last began to talk about the investigation, saying the board's work was intended as a cover-up. Subsequently Boston drafted and signed a full statement, in which he said the final report was not the one he signed off on as the legal counsel. Handwritten corrections and his initials were absent from the board transcript released publicly, he said.
He also stated that the board president, Rear Adm. Isaac Kidd, told him that he had been ordered to re-write portions of the report when he brought it to Washington.
Boston's comments were welcomed by stunned Liberty survivors, who believed they would finally get the congressional hearings they sought for more than three decades.
Other credible sources had called the incident a deliberate attack on an American ship -- among them former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, former CIA Directors Richard Helms and Bobbie Inman, former National Security Agency Director Marshall Carter, and Rear Adm. Merlin Staring, who was legal counsel to board's appointing authority, Adm. John McCain.
But Ennes said Boston's first-hand knowledge of the board's work lent greater weight to his words.
"We ... felt the lid had finally been lifted in 2002 when Captain Boston came forward to report the inner workings of the cover-up,” Jim Ennis, a Liberty survivor and author of the 1980 book Assault on the Liberty, told Military.com. "Finally, we thought, Congress would give us the investigation we have sought since 1967.”
But a statement from a witness to the board's work, said Ennes, "could not move a single member of Congress to look seriously at what survivors agree was a cover-up of the deliberate attack by Israel.” Thirty-four men were killed in the attack and more than 170 wounded. The board, told it had just one week to wrap up its work, interviewed about 15 survivors, and took no testimony from the more than 60 men hospitalized, Boston said.
Supporters of Israel argue that Israel would have no motivation to attack an American ship. Among explanations offered by those who believe the attack was deliberate is that Israel feared the U.S. spy ship would pick up radio signals indicating Israeli soldiers were executing captured and unarmed Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, or because they feared the U.S. would react negatively if it knew that Israel launched its attack on the Golan Heights without having been attacked by Syria.
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