Warren Report

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Warren Report


Warren Report is the abbreviated, unofficial name of the Report of the Presidents Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This commissions unofficial, commonly used name is the Warren Commission because it was chaired by Earl Warren, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. President Lyndon B. Johnson established the Warren Commission on November 29, 1963. The Warren Report was published on September 27, 1964.

Shortly after Kennedys assassination, there was widespread speculation that Kennedys assassination was the result of a conspiracy, probably involving the Communist governments of Cuba and/or the Soviet Union. President Johnson was concerned that widely held conspiracy beliefs might undermine the legitimacy of the American presidency and detrimentally affect American foreign policy. Johnson hoped that a presidential commission that carefully investigated Kennedys assassination and published a well-researched conclusion would dismiss or discourage irresponsible, groundless, alternative explanations of Kennedys assassination. He assumed that the public credibility of the Warren Commissions investigation and report depended on the objectivity, integrity, and expertise of the commissions members.

Consequently, Johnson appointed Democrats and Republicans, current or former members of all three branches of the U.S. government, and senators and representatives to the commission. With Chief Justice Warren as its chairman, the commission also included Democratic Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana, Republican Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, former World Bank president and Kennedy adviser John McCloy, former CIA director Allen W. Dulles, Democratic Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, and Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky. During its ten-month investigation, the Warren Commission received testimony from 552 witnesses, reports from the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and other federal agencies, tests on ballistics, and information from officials in Texas.

The major finding of the Warren Report was that Kennedys assassination was not the result of a conspiracy. The report found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy and wounding Governor John Connally of Texas. The report concluded that Oswald fired three bullets from the Texas School Book Depository. One bullet hit Kennedy in the back, went through his throat, and struck Connally. A second bullet fatally struck Kennedy in the head. A third bullet missed Kennedys car entirely.

The Warren Report also stated that there was no evidence to prove that there was a second gunman who shot at the motorcade from a different location. The report rejected the idea that Jack Ruby, who shot and killed Oswald shortly after Oswalds arrest, was part of a conspiracy to silence Oswald. Chapter 8 of the Warren Report detailed what the commission regarded as lax, inadequate, and outdated practices by the Secret Service in planning and protecting Kennedys trip to Dallas. In particular, the report noted the Secret Services use of its outdated security plan for Franklin D. Roosevelts 1936 visit to Dallas as the basis for Kennedys visit, its inadequate coordination with Dallas officials in planning and conducting security for Kennedys visit, and the lack of a bulletproof cover for Kennedys car in Dallas. The Secret Service also failed to thoroughly search all buildings, rooftops, and windows along the motorcade route before the motorcade began.

By the late 1960s, independent researchers and the American public increasingly doubted the findings of the Warren Report, especially its lone gunman and single bullet theories. The first two well-known books challenging the Warren Report were Edward J. Epsteins Inquest and Mark Lanes Rush to Judgment, both published in 1966. Lanes book was also made into a documentary. Epstein especially challenged the feasibility of the single bullet and lone gunman theories, and Lane asserted that Oswald did not assassinate Kennedy. In general, both books criticized the Warren Commission for intentionally ignoring or rejecting important evidence that threatened its anticonspiracy bias.

By the 1970s, with the Watergate scandals and Richard M. Nixons forced resignation from the presidency, more Americans were willing to believe that government officials and agencies, especially the military, FBI, and CIA, engaged in conspiracies, cover-ups, and abuses of power. The congressional investigation of Watergate was followed by highly publicized congressional investigations of the FBI and CIA, including allegations that the CIA was connected to assassination conspiracies directed against foreign leaders. Most significantly, the 1979 report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) rejected part of the Warren Report and concluded that a total of four shots were fired, one of which was fired by a second gunman from Dealey Plazas grassy knoll.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the number and variety of conspiracy theories rejecting the Warren Report increased. Some theorists claimed that Kennedy was killed by organized crime because gangsters were angry that Kennedy had betrayed them by allowing the Justice Department to vigorously prosecute them and by failing to overthrow Fidel Castro. Others asserted that wealthy, right-wing extremists in Texas hired assassins to kill the president. Oliver Stones 1991 film JFK, based on Louisiana attorney James Garrisons investigation of Kennedys assassination, implied that a government conspiracy that included the CIA, the military, and Johnson killed Kennedy.

Partially to refute this film, Gerald Posner researched and wrote Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (1993). Posner criticized some of the Warren Commissions efforts as too hasty and incomplete, but he generally reaffirmed the Warren Reports conclusions, especially the lone gunman and single bullet theories. Shortly after Posners book was published, Harold Weisberg countered with Case Open: The Omissions, Distortions, and Falsifications of Case Closed (1994), which rejected the Warren Report and Posners defense of it. It is unlikely that there ever will be a definitive, widely shared public acceptance of the Warren Report.

SEE ALSO Kennedy, John F.


Oglesby, Carl. 1992. Who Killed JFK? Berkeley, CA: Odonian Press.

Posner, Gerald L. 1993. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. New York: Random House.

Presidents Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 1964. The Warren Commission Report. New York: St. Martins Press.

Weisberg, Harold. 1994. Case Open: The Omissions, Distortions, and Falsifications of Case Closed. New York: Carroll and Graf.

Sean J. Savage

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