December, 1999 / January, 2000
HEADLINE: Waco Returns
But will John Danforth use all the new evidence?
BYLINE: by James Bovard; James Bovard is the author of Freedom in Chains; The
Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen (St. Martin's Press).
When the House hearings on Waco ended in August 1995, many Americans believed
that the Justice Department, FBI, and Clinton administration had been caught
repeatedly lying about what happened to the Branch Davidians on April 19, 1993.
But indifference on the part of politicians and press alike allowed the story to
return to hibernation. Then last June 30, a federal judge shocked the Clinton
administration by allowing wrongful death lawsuits against the feds by Davidian
survivors and relatives to proceed. Private investigations, an Academy Award
nominated documentary, and damning responses from Freedom of Information Act
requests caused a growing surge of new information that eventually broke the dam
of political and media apathy in August 1999.
News leaked out that the feds knowingly suppressed information about using
pyrotechnics that might have started fires that killed scores of women and
children. A shaken Attorney General Janet Reno announced; "I am very, very
upset. I don't think it's very good for my credibility." Reno played the victim,
lashing out at the FBI for supposedly withholding key information from her. But
Reno bears responsibility for whatever she did not find out-- since she
orchestrated the initial Justice Department investigation to whitewash both
herself and the FBI. Incriminating revelations are trickling out practically
y The U.S. military was far more involved at Waco than previously admitted.
At the press conference in July 1996 releasing the House report on Waco, I asked
co-chairmen Bill Zelliff and Bill McCollum how much cooperation they had
received from federal agencies. They said the cooperation had been pretty
good--except for the Pentagon, which had refused to give them almost any
y Former CIA officer Gene Cullen told the Dallas Morning News in late August
that Delta Force commandos were "present, up front and close" in tanks in the
final day's action at Waco. Delta members bragged to him of their role when he
subsequently served with them in Europe. James B. Francis, Jr., chairman of the
Texas Department of Public Safety, confirmed there is evidence that the Delta
Force participated in the final assault against the Davidians.
y The "national security" excuse repeatedly invoked for not turning
files to congressional investigators is wearing thin. According to the Dallas
Morning News, "The military has estimated that at least 6,000 pages of its
documents are classified, and CIA, FBI, Treasury, ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms) and Justice Department officials have indicated that their agencies
have a number of secret documents relating to the standoff." In September, the
Texas Department of Public Safety blocked the release of a report listing all
the evidence it collected after the fire because the information contained
military secrets. If there's so much to hide, was the military testing new
weapons on American citizens during the standoff?
y In early October the FBI turned over thousands of key documents to
congressional investigators--information previously withheld because it had
supposedly been mislaid in boxes kept at Quantico, Virginia, home base of the
FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. Throughout the 51-day siege, FBI spokesmen bitterly
complained that none of the Branch Davidians would leave their compound. But
according to these documents, in at least seven instances FBI agents threw
flash-bang hand grenades at people who had left the residence, effectively
driving them back into the building. Flash-bangs emit a deafening explosion and
blinding flash--just the sort of weapon to strike terror into its intended
y Infrared footage from an FBI plane circling 9,000 feet above the Davidians'
home on the final day reveals that federal agents fired machine guns at or into
the back of the building--either shortly before or just after the fire had
broken out. According to former Pentagon infrared expert Edward Allard, who was
consulted by Rep. Dan Burton's House Government Reform and Oversight Committee,
and other knowledgeable individuals who have scrutinized the footage, the film
does indeed show such gunfire directed at the Davidians. Additional newly
released infrared footage made by an FBI plane, featured in the just-released
movie, Waco; A New Revelation (made by Mike McNulty, one of masterminds of the
1997 Emmy-award winning Waco; Rules of Engagement), shows two figures exiting
from the back of a tank and then spraying the back of the Davidians' residence
with automatic weapons fire. One FBI agent stated in an after-action report that
he heard gunfire from the sniper post occupied by Lon Horiuchi, the same FBI
agent who killed Vicki Weaver as she held her baby daughter in the cabin door of
her Idaho home in 1992. Clinton declaimed on the day after the fire; "I do not
think the U.S. government is responsible for the fact that a bunch of religious
fanatics decided to kill themselves." More likely, the FBI tried to keep the
Davidians inside while its tanks crushed in the walls and collapsed the
roofs--long after the air inside was nearly unbreathable because of a massive
six-hour attack with CS gas.
y The FBI deceived Congress and a federal judge by withholding information
that it had six closed-circuit television cameras monitoring the Davidians' home
throughout the siege. The resulting films may contain information to resolve the
major issues of Waco. Incredibly, the FBI claims none of the cameras contained
tape--the very same excuse made by the ATF, which had cameras both in the
helicopters and on the ground when it launched its February 28 commando-style
raid on the Davidians' home.
y Lawyers for surviving Branch Davidians were given a massively doctored
infrared FBI tape of the final day's assault. The tape has large gaps--
including a suspicious gap just before the fire started. The tape was also
spliced numerous times.
It is now clear that a massive cover-up has occurred--in either the FBI or
the Justice Department, or both. Newsweek reported that, according to a senior
FBI official, "as many as 100 FBI agents and officials may have known about"
the military-style explosive devices used by the FBI at Waco--despite Reno's and
the FBI's endless denials that such devices were used.
Growing evidence of federal deceit over Waco notwithstanding, not a single
official has been charged with perjury or obstruction of justice. Phil
Chojnacki, one of the two ATF commanders on February 28, was fired after
Treasury Department bosses concluded he lied about knowing that the "element of
surprise" was lost in the initial assault that saw four ATF agents killed. But
Treasury rehired Chojnacki to serve as an expert witness for the feds in court
The Clinton administration is racing to defuse the latest Waco crisis. Janet
Reno could have recused herself and allowed her deputy, Eric Holder, to appoint
a special investigator. Instead, she personally chose former Senator John
Danforth to head the re-investigation. It is peculiar that someone implicated in
six years of perjury could be allowed to choose the person who investigates her
and her department.
Danforth's credibility suffered further when he promptly chose federal
attorney Edward Dowd as his chief investigator. Last year Dowd used federal
funds to oppose a Missouri state referendum on concealed firearms. As Yale Law
School's John Lott, who favored the referendum, recalled, "Dowd used taxpayer
The American Spectator, December, 1999 December, 1999 / January, 2000
money to set up a 1-800 line to answer people's questions about the initiative.
He also used federal money to send out a letter to state law enforcement to try
to get them to oppose the initiative." A Justice Department inspector general
was investigating Dowd when Danforth picked him. The same day the Washington
Times broke news of the investigation, the Justice Department cleared Dowd of
all charges. When Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri asked to see the official report,
the Justice Department refused to comply, citing the Privacy Act.
Danforth then announced that he would investigate only the final day's
action--effectively giving the ATF a free pass. Yet new evidence uncovered by
investigator David Hardy through FOIA requests disintegrates the ATF's pretext
for assaulting the Davidians' home--that Koresh could not be apprehended outside
the compound. Nine days before the February 28 raid, "ATF agents went over and
asked David Koresh to go shooting. He agreed. In fact, he provided the
ammunition. And the agents handed him their guns."
Danforth also asked federal Judge Walter Smith to bar private lawyers in the
wrongful death suit from interviewing key witnesses. The judge granted a 30-day
freeze and Danforth may ask for further delays. Along with administration
requests for still more time to produce documents, Danforth's actions have
already resulted in a six-month delay of the trial. Instead of late October it
is now scheduled to begin on May 15, 2000--more than seven years after the
Davidians' mass deaths.
The delay is a godsend for the administration. Clinton appointees excel at
telling the truth slowly," in the words of former White House Press Secretary
Mike McCurry--in rationing out the truth into small enough dribbles to blunt its
impact. The Justice Department may try to run the clock out on both the Clinton
administration's tenure and on the attention span of the American public. Some
experts fear that Danforth will impanel a grand jury as he said he might--and
then announce that all the evidence must be sealed in order to protect the grand
The wrongful death lawsuits could yet be derailed by Judge Smith. At the 1994
murder trial of Branch Davidian survivors over which he presided, Smith began by
announcing that "the government is not on trial" and blocked defense attorneys
from offering any evidence that the Davidians acted in self- defense after the
ATF attacked. Smith even prohibited the attorneys from introducing into evidence
the official Treasury Department report on ATF action at Waco. Smith proclaimed
his hope that the coming trial will "help restore the public's confidence in the
The Justice Department may choose to settle the wrongful death lawsuits the
same way it settled the Weaver family's lawsuit on the eve of Senate hearings
on Ruby Ridge in 1995. It is far easier for the Justice Department to write
someone a check (it's not its money, after all) than to suffer the indignities
of a trial. The payoff would generate a few days' bad press and an uproar on the
Internet, but then it would blow over.
Some Republicans wouldn't be upset to see Waco go away. In responding to the
recent deluge of new evidence of federal bad faith, House Majority Leader Dick
Armey said on October 7 that he saw no compelling need for House hearings since
"everybody believes that Danforth is fully functioning and fully focused on the
job." (Danforth is doing the investigation part-time-- retaining his job at a
big St. Louis law firm.) Rep. Mark Souder pleaded " Waco fatigue." Among
Republicans, he said, "there's a feeling that the political risk may be higher
than the political gain of pursuing this subject at this time.'' Rep. Bob Barr
and Sen. Arlen Specter are two encouraging exceptions to Republican lethargy on
an issue that is in danger of being re- swept under the rug.