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Warren Commission

WARREN COMMISSION

The assassination of President john f. kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, was a shocking event that immediately raised questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of the president. Those questions increased when the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was murdered while in the custody of Dallas police on November 25 by jack ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner.

President lyndon b. johnson moved quickly to reassure the nation that a thorough inquiry would take place by creating a commission of distinguished public servants to investigate the evidence. On November 29, 1963,

Johnson appointed earl warren, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, to head the commission, which became known as the Warren Commission. Its 1964 report, which sought to put to rest many issues, proved controversial, provoking charges of a whitewash. The facts surrounding the Kennedy assassination remain the subject of debate.

Chief Justice Warren, fearing that his service disrupted the traditional separation of powers, reluctantly agreed to serve as director of the commission. The other members of the commission were Senators Richard B. Russell of Georgia and john sherman Cooper of Kentucky; two members of the House of Representatives, Hale Boggs of Louisiana and gerald r. ford of Michigan; Allen W. Dulles, former head of the central intelligence agency; John J. McCloy, former head of the world bank; and James Lee Rankin, former U.S. solicitor general, who was appointed general counsel for the commission.

The Warren Commission began its investigations on December 3, 1963. The commission used accounts and statements provided by the Dallas police force, the secret service, the federal bureau of investigation, the military, and government and congressional commissions. Over the course of ten months, the commission took testimony from 552 witnesses.

The commission published its conclusions, popularly known as the Warren Report, in September 1964. According to the commission, Oswald acted alone in the assassination. The commission characterized Oswald as a resentful, belligerent man who hated authority. The commission endorsed the "single bullet theory," which concluded that only one bullet, rather than two, struck President Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally, who was sitting directly in front of the president in the open convertible. This was important because it appeared unlikely that Oswald could have fired his rifle twice in succession quickly enough to strike the two men. It found no connection between Oswald's Communist affiliation, his time living in the Soviet Union, and the murder, nor between Oswald and his murderer, Jack Ruby. The commission also found no evidence that Ruby was part of a conspiracy. It criticized the security measures taken to protect Kennedy and recommended that more effective measures be taken in the future.

Although the conclusions of the commission were well received at first, public skepticism soon grew about the findings. In 1966 two influential books were published that challenged the methods and conclusions of the commission. Both Inquest by Edward Jay Epstein and Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane declared that the commission had not investigated deeply enough to produce conclusive results. In that same year, Jim Garrison, a New Orleans district attorney, stunned the public with his revelations of a conspiracy and his accusations against prominent businessman Clay Shaw. Shaw was tried on conspiracy charges but was acquitted in 1969.

Since the release of the Warren Commission report, thousands of articles and books have been published promoting various theories surrounding the assassination. A 1979 special committee of the House of Representatives reexamined the evidence and concluded that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."

Allegations that federal agencies withheld assassination evidence led Congress to enact the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (44 U.S.C.A. § 2107). The act created the Assassination Records Review Board, an independent federal agency that oversees the identification and release of records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. The act granted the review board the mandate and the authority to identify, secure, and make available, through the National Archives and Records Administration, records related to Kennedy's assassination. Creation of the review board has allowed the release of thousands of previously secret government documents and files.

further readings

Galanor, Stewart. 1998. Cover-Up. New York: Kestrel Books.

O'Neill, William L. 1971. Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960s. New York: Quadrangle Books.

Simon, Jonathan. 1998. "Ghosts of the Disciplinary Machine: Lee Harvey Oswald, Life-History, and the Truth of Crime." Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities 10 (winter).

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Warren Commission

WARREN COMMISSION

WARREN COMMISSION. On 29 November 1963, one week after the murder of John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order No. 11130, creating the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The executive order instructed the seven-man panel to "evaluate all the facts and circumstances surrounding [the] assassination, including the subsequent violent death of the man charged with the assassination," Lee Harvey Oswald. Johnson directed all federal agencies to cooperate with the special panel, which soon became known as the Warren Commission, after its chairman, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The panel represented a careful political balancing act by Johnson. Warren was a towering figure among liberals because of the Supreme Court decisions reached under his stewardship. To offset him, Johnson picked Georgia Democratic senator Richard B. Russell, whose reputation (among conservatives) was the equal of Warren's. Other members from Congress were Senator John Sherman Cooper, a Kentucky Republican; Representative Hale Boggs, a Democrat from Louisiana; and then-Representative Gerald R. Ford, a Michigan Republican. Because of the international repercussions and intelligence issues involved, Johnson also appointed two lawyers with broad government experience: Allen W. Dulles, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and John J. McCloy, a former assistant secretary in the War Department.

Over the next ten months, the commission reviewed and expanded upon FBI, Secret Service, and CIA investigations; weighed the testimony of 552 witnesses; visited the site of the assassination; and oversaw the writing of the 888-page final report, which was presented to President Johnson on 24 September 1964 and made public three days later. Subsequently, twenty-six additional volumes of testimony and exhibits were printed, making the full Warren Report one of the most voluminous documents about a single episode ever published by the U.S. government.

The commission unanimously concluded that Oswald, acting alone, assassinated President Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby was a self-appointed vigilante when he killed Oswald two days later. Contrary to popular belief, the commission did not conclude definitively that there was no conspiracy. Rather, the panel stated that despite its best efforts, it had been unable to find any evidence of a conspiracy. This finding reflected the commission's recognition that pertinent records in communist bloc countries were beyond its reach.

President Johnson formed the commission to provide a forum for fact-finding (in the absence of a purgative trial) and to prevent competing, televised investigations in Congress. Initially, these goals were achieved. Congress declined to investigate, and upon publication, the Warren Report persuaded most Americans that the truth was known, insofar as it was knowable. Over time, confidence in the commission's probity and the report's validity eroded. The commission, operating as it did in the midst of the Cold War, had to keep some facts secret, and some information was kept from it. None of the revelations that trickled out in the years following the assassination, however, altered the accuracy of the commission's findings. But critics, only some of whom were well-meaning, repeatedly exploited the contradiction between the need for answers and the need for secrecy to suggest that the commission was either incompetent or intentionally avoided the truth. The Warren Commission's reputation also suffered collaterally from later cynicism engendered by the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Holland, Max. "After Thirty Years: Making Sense of the Assassination." Reviews in American History 22, no. 2 (June 1994): 191–209.

Manchester, William. The Death of a President: November 20–November 25 1963. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.

Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1964.

MaxHolland

See alsoAssassinations, Presidential .

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Warren Commission

Warren Commission, popular name given to the U.S. Commission to Report upon the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, established (Nov. 29, 1963) by executive order of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The commission, which was given unrestricted investigating powers, was directed to evaluate all the evidence and present a complete report of the event to the American people. The members of the commission were Earl Warren, chief justice of the United States; U.S. Senators Richard B. Russell (Democrat from Georgia) and John Sherman Cooper (Republican from Kentucky); U.S. Representatives Hale Boggs (Democrat from Louisiana) and Gerald R. Ford (Republican from Michigan); Allen W. Dulles, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and John J. McCloy, former president of the World Bank. The commission named former U.S. Solicitor General James Lee Rankin as its general counsel and also appointed 14 assistant counsels and an additional staff of 12. The proceedings began Dec. 3, 1963, and the final report was delivered to the President on Sept. 24, 1964. During its investigation the commission weighed the testimony of 552 witnesses and the reports of 10 federal agencies, most important of which were the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Dept. of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and military intelligence. The hearings were closed to the public unless the person giving testimony requested otherwise; only two witnesses made that request. The commission, in its findings, attempted to reconstruct the exact sequence of events of the assassination. Foremost among its conclusions was refutation of speculation that the assassination was part of a conspiracy, either domestic or foreign, or that any elements of the government had a hand in the event. The report maintained that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone and without accomplices, shot and killed the President and wounded Texas Governor John Connally from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Oswald was also declared the murderer of Police Patrolman J. D. Tippit, who tried to apprehend Oswald some 45 min after the shooting. In addition, Jack Ruby, a Dallas restaurant owner who killed Oswald the day after the assassination (Nov. 24), was found innocent of conspiracy; no connection was found between Oswald and Ruby. The commission concluded its report by recommending reform in presidential security measures, and it offered specific proposals to improve the Secret Service. The commission's findings came under attack from a number of persons who felt it served as a "whitewash." In 1966 New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison began an independent inquiry based on the assumption that the assassination had resulted from a conspiracy. He brought charges against a New Orleans businessman, who, however, was acquitted in 1969. For a summary of the commission's findings, see Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1964). The commission's proceedings and conclusions are criticized in E. J. Epstein, Inquest (1966) and Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (1966).

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Warren Commission

Warren Commission (1963–64) US presidential commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was headed by Earl Warren. After taking evidence from 552 witnesses, it concluded that the act had been committed by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone. Its denial of a conspiracy was not universally accepted.

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