The Liberty Incident

Salans Memorandum

In the winter 1985-86 issue of American-Arab Affairs, there was an item listed in the table of contents under the heading "Documentation" titled The USS "Liberty": Discrepancies between Israeli Inquiry and U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, September 21, 1967. It was written by James Ennes.

The preparer of the document, Carl F. Salans, was incorrectly described as "the legal adviser of the State Department." The legal adviser of the State Department at that time was Leonard Meeker. Salans was one of about fifty young attorneys who worked for Meeker. The article states that the memorandum was prepared for Under Secretary of State Eugene V. Rostow. In an interview with this author, Rostow stated that he never saw the document and pointed out that the memorandum was addressed to code "U," which was the code for the number-two person in the State Department, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, not Rostow.

In the article, Ennes described the memorandum as "devastating" to the Israeli position but concedes that "The Salans report does not contain an overall conclusion as to whether the attack was deliberate."

This author corresponded with and interviewed Carl F. Salans in 1993. At that time Salans was practicing law in Paris with the firm of Salans, Hertzfeld, & Heilbronn, an international law firm with offices in London, Paris, Moscow, and New York. In a letter to this author dated March 17, 1993, Salans confirmed that he had "very little memory of my memorandum or its preparation." He did recall that he did not speak to Clark Clifford but believed that he had seen the "Clifford Report."

The Salans memorandum does nothing more than compare without comments the differences in the reports of Clark Clifford, the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, and the Israeli Examining Judge. All three reports concluded that the attack was a case of mistaken identity. To the question put by this author to Salans during an interview on March 29, 1993, "Some people argue that your memo proves the attack was deliberate. Is that you interpretation?" Salans replied: "The Under Secretary asked me for an analysis, not an effort to draw any conclusion or place any blame."

After reading the Salans memorandum, the readers may reach their own conclusion on whether the memorandum is "devastating" to the Israeli position or merely an analysis of discrepancies between three reports which all concluded the incident was tragic mistake.

This document is a scanned image of the formerly top secret State Department document. As the document is difficult to read, a retyped version follows for the convenience of the reader.

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Page 1:

                                        September 21, 1967

TO     :  U - The Under Secretary


FROM   :  L - Carl F. Salans

SUBJECT:  "The Liberty" - Discrepancies Between Israeli
          Inquiry and U.S. Navy Inquiry -

     As you requested, we have compared the decision of
the Israeli Judge, dated July 21, 1967, with the findings
of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, and the Clifford Report,
concerning the Liberty incident.

     The following discrepancies are noteworthy:

I.   Speed and Direction of the "Liberty"

     - The Israeli report indicates that the torpedo boat
Division Commander reported and reconfirmed the target's
(Liberty's) speed at 28 to 30 knots and that it had changed
its navigational direction shortly after 1341 hours.

     - The U.S. Navy Inquiry established that the Liberty
had been on a steady course at 5 knots from 1132 hours until
the attack.

II.  Aircraft Surveillance

     - The Israeli report indicates that a ship was reported
in the area by reconnaissance aircraft at 0600 and that
another report was received of a contact between an Israeli
aircraft and a surface vessel about 0900.

     - The Navy Court finding of facts, plus testimony of
various members of the crew indicate reconnaissance over-
flight of the Liberty at 0515, 0850, 1030, 1056, 1126, 1145,
1220, and 1245.

III. Identification by Israeli Aircraft

     - The Israeli report indicates that the fighter air-
craft carried out a run over the ship in an effort to
identify it.

Page 2:

     - The Navy Inquiry reports no such identification run.
Commander McGonagle testified that he observed one air-
craft of similar characteristics to those on earlier
reconnaissance flights approximately five to six miles
from the ship at an altitude of 7,000 feet.  He did not
see it approach the ship.  Within a couple of minutes, a
loud explosion was heard from the port side of the ship,
apparently resulting from a rocket launched by a second

IV.  Identification by Torpedo Boats

     - The Israeli report indicates that the torpedo boats
approached the Liberty in order to establish visual contact
and to identify it, and that in addition, the Commander
of the torpedo boats signaled the Liberty requesting its
identification.  The Liberty reportedly answered, "Identify
yourself first," and opened fire on the torpedo boats.

     - Commander McGonagle's testimony indicated that the
only signals from the torpedo boats were those made during
the high-speed approach from a distance of approximately
2,000 yards and that it was not possible for the Liberty
to read the signals because of the intermittant blocking
of view by smoke and flames.  No reply signal was sent.
Immediately after the Liberty was struck by a torpedo, the
torpedo boats stopped at a range of approximately 500 to
800 yards and one signaled by flashing light in English
"Do you require assistance?"  Commander McGonagle testified
that he had no means to communicate with the boat by light
but hoisted "CODE LIMA INDIA".  ("I am not under command,"
i.e., not able to control movements of ship.)

V.   Flag and Identification Markings

     - The Israeli Report indicates that the fighter air
craft which reportedly made an initial pass over the Liberty
was looking for a flag but found none; likewise no other
identification mark was observed.  "...throughout the
contact no American or any other flag appeared on the ship...."
(Elsewhere the report had indicated that at 1055 the ship
had been identified as the Liberty "whose marking was

Page 3:

     - The Navy Inquiry confirms by testimony of five
members of the crew that they had personally observed the
Ensign flying during the entire morning and up until the
air attack.  The Ensign was subsequently shot away during
the air attack.  Before the torpedo attack, a second Ensign
was hoisted.  The Navy report also found that "hull
markings were clear and freshly painted."

     - The Clifford report noted that "the Liberty's U.S.
Navy distinguishing letters and number were painted clearly
on her bow.  The Liberty's name was clearly painted in
English on her stern.  The ship's configuration and her
standard markings were clearly sufficient for reconnaissance
aircraft and waterborne vessels to identify her correctly..."
The report noted that at all times prior to the air attack
the Liberty was flying her normal size American flag
(5 ft. by 8 ft.) at the masthead.  Five minutes prior to the
attack by the torpedo boats, the Liberty put up a flag
measuring 7 ft. by 13 ft. to replace the flag which had been
shot down in the air attack.

VI.  Identification of Ship as "El-Kasir"

     - The Israeli report indicates that shortly before the
torpedo boat attack the torpedo boat Division Commander
reported the certain identification of the vessel as an
Egyptian transport ship named "El Kasir."  Identification
of the target was made both by the Division Commander and
the commander of another torpedo boat.  The Israeli Judge
indicated in his decision that "on examining photographs
of the two ships, I am satisfied that a likeness exits
between them, and that an error of identification is
possible, especially having regard to the fact, that
identification was made while the ship was clouded in smoke."

     - The Clifford report noted, "That the Liberty could
have been mistaken for the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir
is unbelievable.  El Quseir has one-fourth the displacement
of the Liberty, roughly one-half the beam, is 180 feet
shorter, and is very differently configured.  The Liberty's
unusual antenna array and hull markings should have been
visible to low-flying aircraft and torpedo boats. ...Trained
Israeli naval personnel should have been able easily to see
and identify the larger hull markings on the Liberty."

Page 4:

          Additional Observations Regarding Israeli Report

I.   Speed of "Liberty" and "El Kasir" as Identification

     - The Israeli report states that the initial speed of
the target reported by the torpedo boat commander at 1341
hours as 30 knots was verified within minutes and confirmed
as a speed of 28 knots.  The report notes that it was the
speed of the target which led to the final conclusions that
there was no reason for surmising that the target could
possibly be Liberty.

     - The reported speed would have ruled our the "El Kasir"
as the target, as well as the Liberty since the top speed
of the "Kasir", published in Janes Fighting Ships, is in the
range of 14 knots.  The Liberty's top speed is 18 knots.

II.  Failure to Relate "Liberty" to Bombardment Capability

     - The Israeli report emphasizes that the attack originated
with reports that the El Arish area was being shelled from the
sea.  The implication of such reports was obviously that a ship
capable of such shelling was present in the immediate offshore
area, i.e., within gun range of the shore.

     - It would be clear to any trained observer that the
armament aboard the Liberty was incapable of the bombardment.
It appears nevertheless that neither the aircraft, torpedo
boats, nor the command headquarters to which they presumably
report evaluated the ship's capability for shore bombardment.

III. Time Sequence of Attacks

     - The Israeli report indicates that it had been agreed
that as soon as the torpedo boats located the target, aircraft
would be dispatched.  At 1341 hours the torpedo boat located
the target.  "A few minutes later," the dispatch of aircraft
was requested.  The first air attack occurred at approximately
1400 hours.

     - Assuming "a few minutes later" would mean four or five
minutes, the request for aircraft must have occurred about 1345.
One may infer from the fact that within a period of approximately
15 minutes, the request was transmitted, received, a command
decision made, aircraft dispatched, and the attack launched,
that no significant time was expended in an effort to identify
the ship from the air before the attack was launched.

IV. Attack by Torpedo Boat After "Do Not Attack" Order

     - The Israeli report confirms that during the final attack

Page 5:

by aircraft the marking "CPR-5" was noted on the hull and
an order was transmitted to the torpedo boat division not
to attack.  The order was recorded in the log book of the
flag boat at approximately 1420 hours.  The torpedo boats
nevertheless began their attack run at approximately 1428.
The Division Commander later "claimed that no such message
ever reached him."  The Deputy Commander testified that
"He received the message and passed it on to the Division