November 29, 1963: What Was the Warren Commission?

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A Brief History

On November 29, 1963, in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson formed a committee under the direction of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Earl Warren to investigate the assassination and related events.  Johnson used Executive Order 11130 to form the commission and Congress had passed Senate  Joint Resolution 137 authorizing the President to form such a commission.  The name, Warren Commission, has stood for controversy and distrust of government ever since!

Digging Deeper

The idea behind the formation of an investigative commission of prominent people was to put to rest any public speculation of conspiracy pertaining to the assassination of President Kennedy and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumed assassin.  On September 24, 1964, not even 10 months later, the Commission turned in an 888 page report to President Johnson, a remarkably fast time compared to interminable investigations in recent years that seem to go on forever.

Briefly, the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report were that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only person that shot at President Kennedy, the Oswald hit the President with 2 of the 3 shots he fired, and that Oswald acted alone, without co-conspirators.  Additionally, the Commission found that Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald and that Ruby had acted alone and without outside influence to commit the murder of Oswald.  A skeptical public did not believe those conclusions then, and many do not believe those conclusions now.

The Warren Commission was made up of Chief Justice Warren as the Chairman of the Committee, 2 US Senators (Richard Russell and John Sherman), 2 US Representatives (Hale Boggs and Gerald Ford), the former Director of the CIA (Allen Dulles), and the former President of the World Bank (John McCloy).  Additional personnel assigned to the Commission included 14 lawyers and 12 staff people.

In 2017, the public was tantalized by the announcement that the final pieces of information regarding the Kennedy assassination and the Warren Report were to be made public, and President Trump assured the public that such a release would happen.  Of course, the CIA objected, and those final bits of information are being cleaned up as this article is written, so that certain information can be redacted.  Great!  The assassination and the investigation are over 50 years old and the US Government is still keeping information from a public that is supposedly the Democratic rulers of their own country!  No wonder why people distrust the government!!!  Even President Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy (among others) within the government had expressed skepticism over the Warren Report.

Those parts of the Warren Report made public have been scrutinized again and again by independent investigators and by Congress, in the 1978-1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations.  The HSCA concluded Oswald probably had co-conspirators, but did not name anyone or any organization.  The HSCA also concluded that a 4th shot had been fired from a location apart from Oswald’s perch, meaning there was a second gunman.  Other government forays into the presidential assassination included the Rockefeller Commission, the Church Commission, the Nedzi Committee and the Pike Committee (all set up to investigate the CIA, with a side mission of examining the JFK assassination and possible CIA involvement).

Without delving into all the many conspiracy theories, a few points stand out to create doubt about the conclusions of the Warren Commission.  Lee Harvey Oswald claimed he was a “patsy” and that he would be able to “talk” if he was taken to Washington, DC, as he could not be forthcoming in Dallas.  Why would Oswald not jump on the chance to take credit for the assassination if he did it?  What information would he have delivered in Washington that he could not say in Dallas?  The fact that Oswald was denied an attorney, although he repeatedly asked for one, and he repeatedly asked reporters to help him get representation is kind of suspicious, although not altogether unusual for the pre-Miranda Warning times.  The convenient way Oswald was murdered so soon after the assassination also strikes people as suspicious, and the claim that Jack Ruby acted all on his own is not widely believed.

Another conclusion of the Warren Report (and the HSCA) that President Kennedy was shot from behind by 2 bullets from Oswald’s rifle is contested.  The Zapruder Film that shows JFK’s head snapping back with parts of his skull and brains blowing onto the back of the convertible cause many observers to believe the head shot came from the front, not from the rear.

Complicating the issue of the veracity of the Warren Report is the later assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, in which the US Government claimed James Earl Ray, an escaped convict with no motive, acted completely on his own to murder the civil rights leader and then lead cops on the biggest manhunt in history for 2 months, arrested in England of all places.  It is hard to accept a motive for Ray to commit this murder without some sort of prompting from someone, and to think this goof could spend thousands of dollars avoiding the police without help and making it all the way to Europe stretches credibility.  Not even the King family believed Ray was the murderer and had acted alone.  US Government secrecy about FBI monitoring of MLK contributes to the aura of cover up.

Additional reasons to doubt the conclusions of the Warren Report include alleged withholding of information by the CIA from the Warren Commission, the same CIA it later was revealed had conspired to assassinate Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro.  Other allegations that the CIA had been in touch with Oswald prior to the assassination of JFK remain unexplained.

Did the Warren Commission deliver an accurate, honest report?  Did their methods meet standards of investigative excellence?  What did they miss?  Did they have any motives to reach certain conclusions?  Is the US Government lying to the people?  Was Oswald really just a nut that acted all by himself?  When the “final” bits of information from the Warren Report and the HSCA are released, will the information truly be complete, or will there be secrets still kept from the public?  Feel free to give us your opinions and conclusions about these extremely controversial topics.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.