They got to their feet one at at time, taking their turn at the microphone and unburdening themselves of their stories. They then sat down to rapturous applause. Confession is never easy. When you are confessing to strangers that you believe you have witnessed UFOs, it is even more difficult.
Yesterday 20 witnesses from the American military, intelligence services, and scientific establishments gave their testimony to start a campaign which they hope will force the government to investigate the UFO phenomenon. They want Congress to hold open hearings and to halt the development of space-based weapons "to prohibit acts of war against extraterrestrial civilisations".
Former naval commander Graham Bethune was typical of many giving evidence at a press launch in Washington. He said he was piloting a plane between Iceland and Newfoundland on 10 February, 1951, when he witnessed a series of unexplained lights which rapidly turned into a halo-shaped vessel that flew alongside him.
"The instruments in the cock-pit... we had four or five failures. We had 31 people on board and a psychiatrist we all witnessed it," he said, before adding to raucous applause: "I will testify under oath before Congress that everything I have said is true."
The Disclosure Project, which was set up in 1993 and is coordinating the campaign, said the witnesses were people in senior positions with top secret clearance and who had nothing to gain from inventing stories. The group also wants Congress to hold hearings about technology the UFOs might be using, as a way of dealing with the US's energy crisis.
"A number of members of Congress have told us privately that this is the way it has to happen for people to take the initiative," said a spokeswoman. "These [witnesses] are highly credible. They used to be trusted with nuclear weapons. Why would they not be trusted to believe what the saw with their own eyes."
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.