Does the newly-appointed National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States have powers similar to those of the President's Commission to Investigate the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (better known as the Warren Commission)?


No. The seven member Warren Commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, was a non-partisan Presidential Commission authorized one week after the assassination by Executive Order 11130. Its mandate was to supersede all other inquiries and conduct its own independent investigation into "all the facts and circumstances" it deemed relevant. The Commission not only had the power to subpoena witnesses and documents but it could compel testimony by granting immunity from prosecution. It appointed its own staff of lawyers and investigators to carry out this mandate.

The 9-11 Commission, on the other hand, was purposefully established as a partisan body by a joint resolution of both Houses of Congress. The joint resolution specified that the Commission's chairman must be selected by President Bush and its Vice Chairman must be a member of the opposite Party. Of its eight remaining members, it specified four must be selected by the Republican leadership and four by the Democratic leadership. The Commission is thus equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.

As it is currently organized, its staff is also partisan. The majority staff reports to the 5 Republicans on the Commission, the minority staff to the 5 Democrats.

The joint resolution also limits its subpoena power. It can only subpoena a witness or document if both the Republican Chairman and Democratic Vice Chairman concur in writing, or if six of the remaining eight members concur. Even if it issues a subpoena, it has no power to compel testimony by granting immunity.

Most important, unlike the Warren Commission, the 9-11 Commission cannot start with a clean slate and do an independent review of "matters relating to the intelligence community." The resolution expressly requires the 9-11 Commission to first review the report of the Joint Inquiry of Congress before pursuing any intelligence-related issue. It can then proceed if, and only if, it determines the Joint Inquiry omitted the issue or did not complete its investigation of it. So, again, either the Democrats or Republicans on the Commission can block the Commission looking into any intelligence-related issue.

So these two Commissions are organized in very different ways.

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