324. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

Here is the report proposed for public release of the Navy Court of Inquiry on the USS Liberty.2

It has been cleared by Sect. McNamara, Deputy Sect. Vance and Under Sect. Katzenbach.

[Page 565]

Cy proposes to release it at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.3

They have considered whether to make it available to the Israelis beforehand. The Israelis have asked for 24 hours lead time. Cy is inclined to feel that 12 hours would be sufficient; but he does recommend that we make it available beforehand since:

  • —the judgment—not flatly stated in the Report—is that the attack was an accident; and
  • —they made available to us the report of their court of inquiry.

You will note (page 15) that the report refers to a failure in our communications which delayed a JCS message to move the Liberty farther away from the coast.

As stated on page 2: “It was not the responsibility of the Court to rule on the culpability of the attackers, and no evidence was heard from the attacking nation.” Cy tells me that, in fact, the members of the court, on the evidence available to them, believe the attack resulted from a failure within the Israeli communications system and not from premeditation. But in his view, on the evidence we have, we should not so state.


O.K. for public release 4 p.m. Wednesday4
O.K. for release to Israelis 24 hours before/12 hours before5
See me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Middle East Crisis, Vol. VII. Secret. A handwritten notation on the memorandum indicates it was received at 3:30 p.m.
  2. A copy of the “Summary of Proceedings” of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, released by the Office of the Secretary of Defense on June 28, is attached. A copy is also in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 72 A 2468, Middle East 385.3. The Court of Inquiry, convened by Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., USN, Commander in Chief of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, conducted classified hearings in London and aboard the Liberty in Malta June 11–17. Rear Admiral I.C. Kidd, USN, who was attached to McCain’s headquarters, was president of the court. The Proceedings of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, with covering letters of June 18 from Kidd and McCain are in the Naval Historical Center, Operational Archives Branch, Immediate Office Files of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1969 Files. Box 110, Liberty Incident, 8 June 1967, Court of Inquiry.
  3. June 28
  4. This option is checked.
  5. The 12–hour option is checked. A note in Rostow’s handwriting states that Vance was informed on June 27 at 10:45 a.m. Katzenbach met with Harman on June 28 and gave him the report. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12 US)