Ward Boston; Investigated Attack on USS Liberty

By Chelsea J. Carter
Associated Press
Friday, June 20, 2008

SAN DIEGO -- Ward Boston, 84, a former Navy attorney who helped investigate the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 crew members and said years later that President Lyndon B. Johnson had ordered that the assault be ruled an accident, has died.

The retired Navy captain died June 12 of complications from pneumonia at a San Diego area hospital, his wife, Emma Boston, said Wednesday. He lived in Coronado, Calif.

Capt. Boston was assigned as a legal adviser to a military board of inquiry investigating the attack on the Liberty, an electronic-intelligence-gathering ship that was cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast June 8, 1967. Israeli planes and torpedo boats opened fire on the Liberty in the midst of the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War.

In addition to the 34 fatalities, more than 170 were wounded.

Israel has long maintained that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, an explanation that the Johnson administration did not formally challenge. Israel said its forces thought the ship was an Egyptian vessel and apologized to the United States.

After the attack, a Navy court of inquiry concluded that there was insufficient information to make a judgment about why Israel attacked the ship, stopping short of assigning blame or determining that it was an accident.

In 2002, Capt. Boston said Johnson and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, had told those leading the Navy's inquiry to "conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity' despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary," according to a signed affidavit.

Capt. Boston said that he kept his silence because he was a military man and that "when orders come . . . I follow them." He said he felt compelled to go public after the publication of the book "The Liberty Incident," which concluded that the attack was unintentional.

Capt. Boston said in a legal declaration that he was certain the Israeli pilots knew the Liberty, which clearly displayed American flags and had markings in English, not Arabic, was a U.S. Navy ship.

Retired Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who investigated the attack as part of an independent panel he formed with other former military officials, wrote in 1997 that he thought Israel intentionally attacked the Liberty to conceal that it was preparing to seize the Golan Heights from Syria.

A. Jay Cristol, a U.S. bankruptcy court judge who wrote "The Liberty Incident," said in the book that 10 U.S. and three Israeli investigations found no evidence of any Israeli intent to attack an American ship.

Capt. Boston is survived by his wife and three children.

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