A Naval Court of Inquiry
The historical perspective
Its Duties and the Extent of Its Authority
Excerpts from the Gemantown (Penn.) Telegraph Published on March 14, 1898
Just weeks after the sinking of  USS Maine and just before the start of the Spanish American War.
Copyright The New York Times Archives

A court of inquiry is, under the naval regulations, merely an investigating committee - a sort of Grand Jury - to decide whether the conduct of an officer shall render a court-martial necessary - to see if a prima facie case has been made out against him. It is a purely naval court, having no jurisdiction over civil affairs or over civilians, and only authorized to ascertain facts and report them for the information of the Executive.
  If any accident happens to a ship a court of inquiry is ordered to ascertain who was responsible, and its proceedings can be used as evidence in a court-martial.


The Naval Court of Inquiry goes back at least until 1822 and the investigation into the conduct of Capt. Isaac Hull commander of the Boston (Charlestown) Navy Yard.  The conduct by Capt. Isaac Hull in regard to said matter was found to be in accordance with regulations and fully proper. Niles' Register November 23, 1822 - Court of Inquiry.

More recent examples of a Naval Court of Inquiry include:

The sinking of the USS Maine ACR-1 February 15, 1898
The attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941
What is called "Halsey's Typhoon"  December 1944
The sinking of USS Indianapolis CA-35 July 30, 1945
The Israeli attack on the USS Liberty AGTR-5 June 8, 1967
The Court of Inquiry into the seizing of the USS PUEBLO AGER-2

Commander Bucher's Testimony
Copyright 2012 USS PUEBLO Veteran's Association. All rights reserved.
New York Daily News Feb 2, 1969
(HST is Harry S. Truman)
(provided by Harry B. Johnson)