The Waco hearings, which ended yesterday with testimony by Attorney General
Janet Reno, were
marked by administration obfuscation, Democratic pettifogging and far too much feeble, half-
hearted questioning from Republicans. But enough new information has come out to make
mincemeat of the Clinton administration's Waco story.
Within 36 hours after the Feb. 28, 1993, initial assault on the Branch Davidian
federal government abandoned routine law enforcement to avoid gathering evidence that might
embarrass the government. A Sept. 17, 1993, Treasury Department confidential memo to
Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble stated that on March 1, the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms initiated a shooting review and "immediately determined that these stories
[of agents involved] did not add up." Justice Department attorney Bill Johnston "at this point
advised [ATF supervisor Dan] Hartnett to stop the ATF shooting review because ATF was
creating" exculpatory material that might undermine the government prosecution of the Davidians.
The coverup continued on April 14, 1993. That day, the Treasury Department
counsel, Robert McNamara, sent a memo to several top-ranking Treasury officials stating that the
Justice Department "does not want Treasury to conduct any interviews or have discussions with
any of the participants who may be potential witnesses" because of fear of creating exculpatory
material. The memo noted, "While we may be able to wait for some of [the witnesses] to have
testified in the criminal trial, the passage of time will dim memories."
The Justice Department also warned the Treasury Department not to contact outside
analyze the original raid: "DOJ does not want us to generate gratuitous 'expert witness' materials;
the prosecutors are concerned that these people won't have all the facts upon which to base a
thoughtful opinion and could play into defense hands."
Regarding the FBI's April 19, 1993, gassing of the Davidians, the Justice Department
report on Waco stressed that the FBI intended to gas the compound incrementally over a 48-hour
period. A few minutes after the FBI gas attack began, the Davidians fired upon the tank that was
injecting gas into the compound. The FBI, following its official plan, greatly accelerated its
gassing -- effectively injecting all the gas it planned to use over two days over a three-hour period.
While the official report portrayed the speed-up of the assault as a regrettable reaction to the
Davidians' gun shots, FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar told the House committee that he believed
before the final assault that the chances of the Davidians firing on the tanks was 99% -- thus
making the speedup of the gassing and subsequent demolition a virtual certainty.
Congressional Democrats, [[[use ellipsis here to - strove'
]who spent the first days of the hearings denouncing David Koresh for
child abuse, strove mightily to claim that the CS gas the FBI used on the 21 children and 60-plus
adults at Waco was as innocuous as a Flintstone vitamin. But Bill Marcus, a senior science
advisor at the Environmental Protection Agency, pointed out that the CS would effect children
between eight and 20 times as harshly as it affected adults. Mr. Marcus observed: "The FBI failed
to read and follow the label directions" on the CS gas and the methylene chloride that agents
mixed it with.
Regarding the methylene chloride that the FBI inserted into the compound, former
expert Rick Sherrow testified, "The Dow Chemical Corporation Materials Safety Data Sheet
specifically states that this chemical forms flammable vapor air mixtures [and] '[i]n confined or
poorly ventilated areas, vapors can readily accumulate and cause unconsciousness and death."'
Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.) observed that even if the children didn't die directly from the CS gas,
"we sure as hell tortured them for six hours before they died."
The briefing book the FBI gave Attorney General Reno on April 12, 1993, contained
information on the effects of the CS gas. The document stated, "Experience with the effects of CS
on children including infants has been extensively investigated. Available reports indicate that,
even in high concentrations or enclosed areas, long term complications from CS exposures is
extremely rare." However, Defense Department toxicologist Harry Shaw testified that only two
studies were available on the effects on children. One study showed that an infant exposed to CS
for a few hours had to be hospitalized for 28 days; the FBI intended to gas the children in the
Waco compound for 48 hours.
Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.) made a painfully short presentation on July 28
showing the massive
portions of the Davidian compound destroyed by FBI tanks before the fire began. Under vigorous
questioning, the FBI's Floyd Clarke admitted, "The destruction of the building was part of the ultimate plan which was included" in the briefing book given to Attorney General Reno on April
12. Yet, though FBI officials admitted that they were far along in the process of destroying the
building before the fire started, the official FBI statement to the hearing still bragged, "The FBI
agents demonstrated remarkable restraint and did not fire a single shot during the entire standoff."
And, while Mr. Clarke stated that the assault was intended to destroy the compound,
commander Jamar insisted: "The intent was to hopefully get their attention to where they would
engage in serious negotiations." Destroying their home was an excellent means of getting the
Davidians' attention but was not the kind of good-faith gesture that could have advanced negotiations.
[my piece summarized some of the high points - -lots of stunning revelatoins - but almost all lost in the fog of spinning and partisan war rooming etc.
The highlight of Attorney General Reno's testimony yesterday was her assertion
that the 54-ton tank that smashed through the Davidian compound should not be
considered a military vehicle --
instead it was just "like a good rent-a-car." Such an observation does not inspire confidence in the
Justice Department's moderation in its future operation.
The evidence of a coverup and gross federal misconduct is far stronger in the
Waco hearings than
in the Whitewater investigation. The Republican leadership in Congress should seize upon the
recent revelations to demand a special counsel to be appointed to investigate possible federal
crimes and coverups regarding Waco.
Mr. Bovard writes often on public policy.