The Warren Commission has been the subject of many discussions throughout the years: Thorough investigation or shady coverup? All-encompassing results or power-hungry yes men? Accusations still fly about the legitimacy of the work done by the Warren Commission, but instead we'll focus on the facts: what all went down, who all went up, and who exactly did kill John F. Kennedy?

Formation

President Lyndon Johnson ordered the formation of the Warren Commission on November 29, 1963. The primary reason for the formation was the death of Lee Harvey Oswald, the only known gunman and only suspect in the shooting of the President. Without Oswald's testimony, there could be no direct evidence linking anyone to the brutal crime.

Obviously Chief Justice Earl Warren was to head the Commission. In a sign of governmental solidarity (and inclusion to avoid in-house fighting), Johnson also appointed two Senators (Richard Russell, Georgia, and John Sherman Cooper, Kentucky) and two Representatives (future president Gerald Ford, Michigan, and Hale Boggs, Lousiana) to the committee. He also appointed two former G-men to give the commission some independence from the government - Allen Dulles, the former director of the CIA, and John J. McCloy, former president of the World Bank.

So what powers did the Warren Commission have? In fact, it was the first committee of its kind. It was not a court, because it was not prosecuting or deliberating on anything. When Oswald's mother asked for Mark Lane to be present during the proceedings as her son's counsel, the Commission succinctly replied, "The Commission is not here to prosecute your dead son." It was, however, given virtually unlimited powers in regards to access to information, witnesses, and all evidence of the crime. The Commission was also allowed to conduct all of its hearings in private (the first sure sign of conspiracy, according to some.)

Here would be a good time to digress from the timeline of facts and speak on the other purposes of the formation of the Warren Commission. At the time, it was not a federal crime to murder the President of the United States. Although Texas, the site of the murder, had the right to investigate fully, the Warren Commission was seemingly out of bounds legally. Also, the Warren Commission's goal was not clear: were they merely to satisfy public curiosity over the event? Although the death of the President was a tragedy, the events leading up to it are, from a government point of view, irrelevant. This is another conspiracy point of view: the government created this paper tiger merely to strengthen its bogus assertion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

The Hearings

From December 3, 1963 until the final report was released 9 months later, 552 witnesses' testimonies were examined, including over 180 witnesses who appeared before the Commission in person. It also viewed the reports of 10 federal agencies, including the Secret Service, State Department, FBI, CIA, and the United States military intelligence bureau.

Most important to the Commission was the eyewitness testimony of the assassination itself. They attempted to accurately place the order, direction, and end result of each of the bullets fired that day. They also were concerned primarily with refuting that there was a conspiracy involved in the assassination. Proving this negative conclusion required tons of research. For this, the Commission's General Counsel Lee J. Rankin hired 14 assistant counsels from across the country.

By March, all of the evidence collected thusly suggested Oswald was the lone gunman in the attack. The Zapruder film's evidence was intriguing, and talks of the gunman on the grassy knoll were speculative, but the Warren Commission was not interested in maybes. They were here to seek out an indelible truth, the history that schoolbooks would use for the ages.

The Report

On September 24, 1964, the Warren Commission released its final report to the President and the American public. In it, they declared Oswald had acted alone, and also had murdered J. D. Tippit, the Dallas policeman who had tried to apprehend Oswald after the assassination. The Commission exonerated Jack Ruby from any conspiracy in his murder of Oswald on November 24.

The Commission's report is believed to be the most widely read governmental document in American history. Many people thought it was a "whitewash," oversimplified and unquestioning; still others thought it neatly accounted for all of the available facts and accepted it at face value.

No other committee or commission enacted by the United States government since has been held entirely in private.

Sources

  • http://karws.gso.uri.edu/JFK/history/wc_period/Formation_operation_of_WC/Form_operat_of_WC.html - a great site of essays and articles written in the years following the Commission's existence

Coming Soon .. the text of the Warren Commission Report For now, visit http://www.archives.gov/research_room/jfk/warren_commission/warren_commission_report.html

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