The Senate voted 74 to 23 last Thursday to indefinitely postpone
hearings on federal government actions in Waco, Texas, in 1993 and in
the Ruby Ridge, Idaho (Randy Weaver) case in 1992. Sen. Arlen Specter had urged the Senate to set a specific deadline for the hearings. But Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Judiciary Committee chairman, declared that any hearings on Waco should be postponed until after the Oklahoma City bombers have been caught, tried and punished -- which could take several years. This is a grave error.
Attorney General Janet Reno declared on May 5: "There is much to be
angry about when we talk about Waco -- and the government's conduct is
not the reason. David Koresh is the reason." But public opinion polls
show that approval of the government's action at Waco is plummeting --
down from 80% just after the final assault in April 1993 to barely 40%
now. There can be no justification for the terrorist attack last month
in Oklahoma City; but likewise there is no justification for delaying
asking serious questions about government misconduct. House Speaker Newt
Gingrich announced Thursday that the House would be having thorough
hearings on both cases by August, but no specific dates have been set.
The longer hearings are postponed, the greater the danger that the FBI
will repeat the same tragic mistakes that preceded scores of deaths at
Here are some of the issues that members of Congress must examine on
-- Regarding the Feb. 28, 1993, attack on the compound by 100 Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents: Who shot first? Rolland
Ballesteros, one of the first ATF agents out of the cattle trailer that
morning, told Texas Rangers investigating the case that the first shots
came from agents shooting the dogs. (He recanted at the Davidian trial
last year, insisting instead that the Davidians shot first.) The ATF
claimed to have a video proving that the Davidians shot first, but
refused to make it public. Congress should require all ATF videotapes of the initial battle to be made public.
-- Regarding the April 19, 1993, final FBI assault on the Davidians:
When and why did the FBI decide to demolish the compound with its tanks?
Even before the fire started, roughly 20% of the compound had collapsed
as a result of tank incursions. Amazingly, despite graphic videotapes of
54-ton FBI tanks smashing through the compound's walls, Ms. Reno
declared this past April 30: "We didn't attack. We tried to exercise
every restraint possible to avoid violence."
-- Did any of the government tank incursions at Waco kill innocent
women or children? Attorney General Reno declared on May 5, "It is
unfair, it is unreasonable, it is a lie, to spread the poison that the
government was responsible at Waco for the murder of innocents."
However, Harvard Prof. Alan Stone, one of the outside experts the
Justice Department brought in, concluded: "Some of the government's
actions may have killed people before the fire started. I cannot tell
whether the tanks knocked down places where people were already. I don't
know if there were people in there crushed by the collapsing building
[as a result of FBI tanks plowing into the structure] before the fire
-- What effect did the CS gas pumped into the compound for six hours
have on the women and children? While Reno recently characterized the
gas as a mere "irritant," Technology Review noted in October 1988 that
CS gas is far more potent than another widely used tear gas. CS gas can
kill: United Nation officials estimated that the use of CS gas resulted
in 44 fatalities in the Gaza Strip in 1988, as well as more than 1,200
injuries and numerous miscarriages.
-- What did the FBI hope to accomplish by gassing the Davidians? FBI
Deputy Director Floyd Clarke told Congress nine days after the fire that
the FBI's plan was to "immediately and totally immerse the place in gas,
and throw in flash-bangs which would disorient them and cause people to
. . . think, if not rationally, at least instinctively, and perhaps give
them a way to come out." Flash-bang grenades temporarily blind people
and, according to a U.S. Army Field Manual, "Generally, persons reacting
to CS are incapable of executing organized and concerted actions and
excessive exposure to CS may make them incapable of vacating the area."
-- What role might the government have had in starting or spreading
the fires in the compound? Federal officials after the fire insisted
that the CS gas was nonflammable. But, according to U.S. Army manuals,
there is a significant risk of flammability from the CS gas
particulates. U.S. Army Field Manual FM-21-27 states: "Warning: when
using the dry agent CS-1, do not discharge indoors. Accumulating dust
may explode when exposed to spark or open flame." Retired Army Col. Rex
Applegate, one of the nation's foremost experts on riot control agents,
declared in a recent interview, "Any flash bang will start fires."
-- Congress should force the Justice Department and FBI to make
public all audio tapes from inside the compound at Waco and all
communications tapes between the tank operators and their commanders.
Ms. Reno told federal law enforcement officers on May 5 that the
Davidians' "words were recorded while they were spreading the fuels to
ignite the fire." However, controversy exists over the audio tapes from
inside the compound. At the trial last year, prosecutors presented a
transcript of tapes made from electronic listening devices inside the
compound, claiming that the tapes showed a Davidian suicide scheme. However, after challenges from defense attorneys, the government's audio expert conceded that he altered the transcripts after meeting with
Justice Department officials.
As the New York Times reported: "Defense lawyer Mike DeGeurin
demonstrated that more than 100 hours of FBI tapes from the compound had
been reduced to an hour of excerpts by the prosecution's audio expert.
'We didn't hear things today from the earlier transcripts, such as
people praying as tanks were bashing in their homes, or children calling
for their parents."'
-- Why does Janet Reno keep changing her rationale for the
government's final assault at Waco? Immediately after the fire, she
justified the assault as needed to stop David Koresh from beating
babies. (The FBI later admitted that it had no information to indicate
that such accusations against Koresh were valid.) But on May 5 of this
year Ms. Reno announced that the "first and foremost" reason for the
tank/gas assault was that "law-enforcement agents on the ground
concluded that the perimeter had become unstable and posed a risk both
to them and to the surrounding homes and farms. Individuals sympathetic
to Koresh were threatening to take matters into their own hands to end
the stalemate [and] were at various times reportedly on the way."
-- How did Janet Reno lose 16 machine guns? The major justification
for the initial ATF raid was the allegation that the Davidians illegally
possessed machine guns. At the trial last year, the Justice Department
claimed that 48 machine guns were found at the Davidian compound after
the fire. Defense experts were prohibited from examining the weapons to
see if they had been tampered with by the government, as happened in at
least one other high-profile federal court case in recent years. On May
5, Ms. Reno said that the Davidians had only 32 machine guns. At this
rate, all the alleged machine guns will vanish by 1997.
-- Why are President Clinton and Ms. Reno misrepresenting the jury
verdict as a vindication for the government? The jury verdict was
correctly characterized by the New York Times as a "stunning defeat" for
the federal government; a Los Angeles Times headline declared, "Outcome
Indicates Jurors Placed Most Blame on the Government." Bill Johnston,
the lead federal attorney at Waco, burst into tears in bitter
disappointment at the verdict. The defendants received relatively light
sentences -- until the Justice Department subsequently arm-twisted the
judge into reinstating charges that he had originally dismissed after
the jury verdict.
Mr. Clinton declared on April 23, "This is a freedom-loving democracy
because the rule of law has reigned for over 200 years now." The
foundation of the rule of law is that government officials must obey the
same laws as private citizens. The ghosts of Waco will continue to haunt
the U.S. government until the truth is told about what the government
did and why.
--- Mr. Bovard is the author of "Lost Rights: The Destruction of American