Warren Commission

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

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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