Home/Contact | News | Committee | Survivors | Prisoners | Photos | Links | Order Book
Report on July-August, 1995 House Hearings on Waco
I sat through all
but two hours of the 10 day hearings which ran from July 19 to August 2,
1995. I sat mostly in the hearing room, otherwise in the overflow
room. I also video taped 95% of it. Everyday I wore either
my Free the Branch Davidians t-shirt or a yellow star of David with a prisoner's
name--and of course my pink "Waco, Never Again" button.
Besides tourists, other nearly daily attendees were about evenly divided between the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys were Davidian supporters and civil suit representatives and several pro-religious freedom and Second Amendment activists. The "bad buys" were a BATF agent from the Davidian raid who sat through most of hearing (doubtless paid for his efforts), a "cult" deprogrammer who was finally exposed to a Davidian supporter he's been pumping for information for a year, the Cult Awareness Network's chief lobbyist (who had such good access he actually just walked right inside the representatives' seating section), and a few obviously undercover types. Below is the more formal report.
1994 Republicans took control of both the United States Senate and House
of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. In a year-end
round-up on the "MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour," reporter Jim Fisher asserted
that "Waco was a huge thing in Mid-America" and that there was a "Waco
thread through the election," in which not only gun owners but all Americans
expressed their distrust of their government by voting out incumbents.
During the 1994 elections House Judiciary Committee chair Jack Brooks, who had been caught joking about killing Davidians during a committee recess, was trounced by Steve Stockman who ran a television advertisement in which Stockman's announcer asks: "What did Jack Brooks have to say about what happened to the Davidian families?" The advertisement then twice repeats an interview in which Brooks says, "Horrible people. Despicable people. Burning to death was too good for them. They'd like a slower method." The video showed FBI tanks systematically plowing burning walls into the ruins of Mount Carmel.
Members of the new Congress, many elected by pro-Second Amendment constituents, vowed to re-open hearings into BATF and FBI actions against the Davidians. The Oklahoma City bombing, widely rumored to have been committed by individuals furious over the massacre of the Davidians, only reinforced the necessity for hearings--if only to debunk "conspiracy theories." Not surprisingly, the Clinton administration resisted hearings. On the May 14, 1995 "Face the Nation," White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta denounced those calling for hearings on Waco, saying they "wanted to take attention away from the tragedy of Oklahoma City," and calling them "despicable." Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin publicly begged Congress not to use the hearings to undermine law enforcement. He even called one Democratic member of the hearing committee, Bill Brewster of Oklahoma, requesting he not ask any questions that would "make the administration look bad."
Some Congressmen supported hearings as a way of reassuring fearful or discontent Americans that Congress was exercising its responsibility. As Representative Frederick Heineman said during the hearing, "We as a Congress are on trial here. We have to be credible to the people. Because if we are not credible about the oversight of government agencies, then who is?"
However, the ten day hearings, co- sponsored by two House subcommittees, were sabotaged by mean-spirited White House and congressional Democrats and by the agents and officials they were so desperate to protect. Both groups continued the demonization of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians to cover up crimes like conspiracy against the rights of citizens, deprivation of rights under color of law, obstruction of justice and, of course, negligent and even intentional homicide. Agents and officials, knowing that lying under oath to Congress is a far lesser offense, did so freely.
Despite their majority control of both responsible sub-committees, timid and uninformed Republicans evidently were fearful of threatening the Republicans' "tough-on-crime" image. Many of the Republican committee members were former prosecutors or law enforcement officers. They therefore failed to take the measures necessary to uncover evidence of crimes that might lead to prosecutions of lower level agents. They can't put federal agents in jail--no matter how many people they kill!! It was especially frustrating to see all the issues they never brought up or discussed--if I don't mention an issue here, there's a 90% chance it was never brought it.
Republicans complained bitterly about the executive branch's tardy and disorganized production of documents. The Justice Department gave them 48,000 documents, but failed to provide an index to Republicans, though it did include one in the minority Democrats' document boxes. However, the understaffed Republicans did not choose to delay the hearings so they could do more complete research and brief the members of the two subcommittees.
Most witnesses the Republicans called were culpable agents and officials or their apologists. Of the 94 witnesses, only eight gave first-hand accounts of the Davidians' side of the story: Davidians David Thibodeau and Clive Doyle, Davidian attorneys Tim Evans, Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmermann, gun dealer Henry McMahon, and theologians Phillip Arnold and James Tabor. However, Davidian supporters were not allowed an opportunity to counter point-by-point federal agents' and officials' innumerable and repeated exaggerations and lies. The focus of the hearings became not law enforcement abuses of citizens rights, but how to bolster the credibility of law enforcement.
The format the Republicans agreed to--five minutes of questioning by representatives of both sides--prevented systematic questioning of witnesses, while giving the Democrats an opportunity to use distracting or softball questions to demonize Davidians and allow federal agents more opportunities to tell their lies. To their credit, a few Republicans, as they learned more facts, or became uneasy with the witnesses' sometimes transparent falsehoods, began to pummel agents with sharp questions that forced a few damning admissions. Nevertheless, at the end of the hearings Republican co-chairs Bill Zeliff and Bill McCullom asserted the hearings had "put to rest conspiracy theories."
However, the co-chairs' assertions are illusionary. The 1995 House hearings brought out only a few pieces of information not already available to the public, much of it included in my book The Davidian Massacre. Many important questions and issues reviewed herein never were raised--though representatives may submit further questions to witnesses while the committee writes its report. And much of the new information revealed--as well as questionable and even incriminating statements by agents and officials--only supports the "conspiracy theory" advanced in my book: BATF agents murdered Davidians on February 28, 1993 and conspired with their FBI sympathizers who sabotaged negotiations in order to destroy evidence of the brutal and lethal BATF raid that might set free David Koresh and his friends while ensuring BATF agents would spend many years in prison. Further, federal officials, eager to end an embarrassing standoff that was undermining their authority, excused agents' actions and helped cover up evidence of agents' crimes. This is what I call a "cover your ass" conspiracy-- probably the most common and believable type of conspiracy that exists.
Of course, this is hardly "my theory"--in fact, it is the Davidians' theory. FBI negotiation tapes finally released during the hearings (and available through the world wide web from The Research Center), reveal that Davidian Steve Schneider told negotiators: "There were a lot of people that got to look out those windows and saw first hand what happened at that approach to the door. They saw. These people get the idea that those on the outside want to do us all in so there's no evidence, period, as to what happened. That they might want to burn the building down. They want to destroy the evidence. Because the evidence from the door will clearly show how many bullets and what happened. . .If this building stands, and the reporters, the press, get to see the evidences, it's going to be seen clearly what happened and what these men came to do."
The Democrats threw their biggest "stink bomb" the first day of the hearings when they presented fourteen-year-old Kiri Jewell and her father David. For the first time Kiri made public her allegation that David Koresh had sexually molested her when she was ten-years-old. Ambushed Republicans were ignorant of the facts that Kiri had refused to press charges against David Koresh, that even the Department of Justice admitted her statement was insufficient probable cause to indict Koresh, or that her father had put her on the "Donahue" show during the siege as he negotiated to sell her story to television. They immediately quickly joined the Democrat chorus screaming "pervert." (Jewell immediately exposed Kiri to more public scrutiny, doubtless for profit, on two nights of the tabloid television show "Inside Edition.")
Throughout the hearings Democrats repeatedly referred to Jewell's testimony, as if it excused all and every law enforcement action and justified the deaths of 82 Davidians. Representative Karen Thurman even read from a letter David Jewell had written to President Clinton during the siege. In it Jewell stated his daughter urged law enforcement to "assault" the Davidians to keep them from killing themselves. Democrats accused any Republican trying to understand the Davidians' actions of trying to "rehabilitate" Koresh. It looked like the Democrats' "demonize and destroy" tactics would destroy any hope that the truth would come out. However, Davidian-sympathetic witnesses later in the hearings would turn things around to some extent.
BATF and FBI agents and officials, as well as Treasury and Justice Department officials, continued this pattern of demonization to excuse their actions. They continually used fantastic worst-case scenarios to excuse their actions: Davidians might post armed guards if they knew of BATF's investigation; Davidians might assassinate anyone who attempted a peaceful service of warrant; Davidians had to be stopped before they attacked the citizens of Waco; Davidians might commit mass suicide if there was a siege; Koresh might start systematically shooting other Davidians; Davidians might break out of Mount Carmel with a gun in one hand and a child in another; Davidian supporters might blow up a damn or attack federal agents; Davidians wanted to engage in a battle and kill more law enforcement agents.
Brain-washed by anti-cult rhetoric, only once or twice did representatives challenge these absurd and paranoid law enforcement fantasies. The important influence of nefarious "cult busters" like Marc Breault, David Jewell and Rick Ross on BATF and FBI decision-making was never once mentioned during the hearings. The now-deceased FBI consultant Murray Mirons' anti-cult biases never were exposed. (Miron declared David Koresh's surrender letter was just another stalling tactic.)
The most important information regarding BATF's flawed investigation finally revealed to the public was David Koresh's July, 1995 invitation to BATF, through gun dealer Henry McMahon, to see his guns. Republicans solicited from a number of experts and law enforcement agents, including Texas Rangers, that such an invitation should always be accepted, if only as a means of gathering information for a search warrant. Two Treasury Department outside experts admitted the Treasury review team never bothered to tell them about this invitation. One representative castigated Treasury official Ron Noble for not mentioning the invitation in the official Treasury Department report. (While the accusation that a neighbor complained about machine gun fire was made, the fact that Davidians brought their hellfire devices that legally make the gun shoot faster to the local sheriff's office was not revealed.)
Republicans, suspicious that perhaps not all forty-eight alleged Davidian machine guns pulled from the ruins actually were illegally converted, as the FBI claimed. Staffers attempted to have the guns x-rayed down in Texas by Failure Analysis Associates, Inc. The Justice Department scotched that effort when it was discovered the National Rifle Association was paying the firm--even though lobbyists frequently pay for studies used by Congress. The Justice Department offered to bring the guns to Washington to do its own x-ray analysis but Republicans rejected the offer. Perhaps they suspected the administration would merely use the guns as a propaganda photo-opportunity, while conducting a less than credible investigation of the guns.
Questions about the BATF raid plan did focus constructively on the militarization of law enforcement and questions about the need for a paramilitary raid to serve a search warrant. Questioning did establish that BATF agents had misled the military by claiming that there was a methamphetamine laboratory at Mount Carmel in order to receive training from Joint Task Force 6 which they could obtain only if there was a drug nexus. However, representatives never managed to pin responsibility for this lie on any specific BATF employee. "It wasn't me," was the answer of those asked. Special Forces officers also denied either having illegally taught BATF agents room clearing or attending the raid dressed in "civvies." Meanwhile, BATF Director John McGaw explained BATF agents' abuse of legitimate gun dealers as being a mere reaction to having to deal with so many violent criminals.
Raid co-commander Chuck Sarabyn's excuse for having no written plan was the fact that the raid was moved up one day. He claimed commanders of the six different teams did not have a chance to merge their separate plans. U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston denied any role in planning--contrary to the Treasury Department report's assertion and his own statements at trial--or that he witnessed the February 28 raid.
Raid co-commander Chuck Sarabyn claimed he had the warrants--but left them in his truck where "they got all shot up." He inferred that they were never recovered, even after the FBI towed the truck away.
Issues surrounding whether raid co-commanders Phillip Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn had lied about knowing the loss of surprise, why they were re-hired despite their lies, and why the files regarding their actions were destroyed, dominated the panel on the BATF raid. Absurdly, Sarabyn and Chojnacki continued to maintain they misunderstood Robert Rodriguez' saying that Koresh had warned him he knew they were coming. This despite the testimony of sixty BATF agents who had heard the two agents announce, "We've got to hurry up, they know we're coming." (Some thought the Justice Department, looking for some bone to throw to critics of the government's actions, might prosecute Sarabyn and Chojnacki for lying to Treasury review employees--which is a felony, even if agents are not under oath! However, this has not happened.) This issue served to distract from the more important issue of the brutality of the raid.
BATF agents told their expected lies about the terrible "ambush" in which dozens of Davidians sprayed them with machine guns, .50 caliber rifles and grenades. Republicans barely countered these assertions. Although a staffer admitted they had the Waco-Tribune Herald photograph (included in my book) of agents crouched in the open in front of Mount Carmel's front door, obviously not being ambushed, they chose not to display it They only displayed photographs of agents hiding behind automobiles. No representatives were aware of the fact that the FBI did not find even one .50 caliber bullet which showed evidence of being fired. (I passed out copies of the trial transcript where the FBI weapons expert admitted that fact.)
Tearful BATF agent Jim Cavanaugh cried that Davidians had cannons and BATF had popguns--i.e., only 9-millimeter handguns. He claimed BATF was outgunned. However, earlier former BATF official Daniel Hartnett declared they were not. And earlier testimony established BATF agents carried high- powered 15 AR-15 rifles. (Trial testimony established many carried MP-5 submachine guns.) Agent Gerald Petrilli, who attended most of the hearing, was asked to take a public bow by Representative Heineman because he had received 47 entry wounds from a grenade. Of course, at trial Petrilli admitted the wounds might have been made by shotgun pellets. This didn't stop Petrilli from fooling Congress.
Davidians and their attorneys could not dispute BATF's allegations until much later, after they were entrenched in the public mind. Deceased Davidian Steve Schneider's attorney Jack Zimmermann stressed the fact that had dozens of Davidians ambushed BATF with machine guns, "they would have blown them all away." Zimmermann and Koresh's attorney Dick DeGuerin became convinced that BATF agents, not Davidians, had fired first, had shot David Koresh and Perry Jones at the front door. They also talked about BATF agents indiscriminate gunfire, including from helicopters.
The issue of whether agents had fired from helicopters was explored, without any systemic presentation of the evidence that they had, and no discussion of Davidians' assertions four died from that gunfire. (A top staffer admitted to me privately that he was convinced the agents had fired. But he knew that even if all were brought forth as witnesses, they all would lie to avoid murder charges.) Davidians David Thibodeau and Clive Doyle, who saw evidence of helicopter gunfire after the fact, did describe what they and other Davidians saw. Two Davidian women who witnessed the helicopter gunfire, Annetta Richards and Gladys Ottoman, attended the first days of the hearings, but, though they talked with congressional staffers, were never asked to testify.
One incriminating document found among the thousands turned over to Congress was a handwritten note by some unknown Treasury Department review official reading: "HCs [helicopters] as a diversion. Simultaneous gunfire. Worked in Seattle. Three to four hundred meters from boundary. Hover. Practiced at hood." (Assumedly Fort Hood, where BATF agents trained.)
BATF agent Davy Aguilera revealed that, contrary to one BATF official's assertion, eight BATF agents in the Blackhawk helicopter had had their weapons loaded. He also revealed they had been told they would be permitted to fire in self-defense. When asked if any agents had fired, he answered, "No." Raid co-commander Phillip Chojnacki responded to the same question with, "Not to my knowledge." Democrat Melvin Watt presented statements from the rest of the agents in the Blackhawk that they had not fired. (BATF agent Cavanaugh made the absurd claim that bullet holes in the roof of the highest tower, which Dick DeGuerin asserted came from the sky, actually came from agents on the ground shooting up into the tower!)
Treasury official Ron Noble asserted the Treasury Department had investigated the issue of firing from helicopters thoroughly--even though the allegation was never mentioned in the department's official report. Representative John Shadegg probably expressed the feelings of many committee members when he said he himself would have fired in self-defense if he had been in a helicopter. However, representatives never heard the evidence that fire was aggressive, indiscriminate and deadly. In the case of helicopter gunfire, as in the cases of the killing of Perry Jones and Michael Schroeder, representatives who suspected the worse might not have had the courage to press for the kind of investigation that would lead to prosecutions of agents. Protecting citizens from murderous federal agents does not seem to be as important to them as protecting the reputation of federal law enforcement.
Democrat Gene Taylor pummeled most panelists with variations on the question, "Do you see any justification for the murder of those four brave agents by those fanatical Branch Davidians?" Only Davidian Clive Doyle, the three Davidian attorneys, and an expert witness who used to be a prosecutor dared to stand up to Taylor's self-righteous assault and reply that citizens have the right to self-defense against excessive force by law enforcement agents. Representative John Mica actually passed out copies of Texas law which protects that legal right.
One important revelation--one that went practically unnoticed by the press--was of Treasury Department confidential memoranda and handwritten notes indicating a cover-up. These reveal the Department of Justice halted its post-February 28 raid shooting review because agent stories "did not add up." Officials were worried that the interviewers were generating "exculpatory" material that could help the Davidian defendants at trial. One memo expressed hope that the memories of those agents not interviewed would "dim" before trial. Davidian attorneys and several other witnesses charged that this was an unprecedented attempt to interfere with the right to a fair trial. The Justice Department then issued a misleading press release saying it was standard operating procedure for the Justice Department to ask other agencies to cease interviews that might interfere with criminal investigations.
Tim Evans, the attorney for Norman Allison, a non-Davidian visitor arrested outside Mount Carmel when Michael Schroeder was shot, revealed that prosecutors had withheld from him Texas Rangers' evidence that Allison had never shot the gun found on him. They only released a BATF agent's claim he had fired. This withholding of evidence forced Allison to spend a whole year in jail. He was acquitted at trial.
Another document discovered by staffers revealed that on the morning of February 28 an unnamed BATF agent informed BATF's Washington office that the BATF raid had been speeded up because of David Koresh's "comments" to the undercover agent. Treasury official Ron Noble tried to explain this away as an after-the-fact record, of no consequence. It also was revealed that several pages of the undercover house surveillance log were torn out; their contents were not discovered. Republican representatives were particularly incensed that Treasury officials, knowing that Texas Rangers would testify before Congress, invited them to Washington to discuss their testimony ahead of time.
Social worker Joyce Sparks, who was obviously prejudiced against Koresh and joined the demonization chorus, did reveal one incriminating piece of information. She testified that while an FBI agent had contacted her about helping women and children if there was a gas assault, it was a BATF agent who called her back later the same day and said her involvement was canceled. Representative Bill Zeliff made her repeat that it was a BATF agent who contacted her. Representatives did not follow up on this damning evidence of BATF involvement in the gassing plan.
When it came to questioning FBI agents and officials, Republicans seemed to get a bit tougher. Representative Zeliff commented that the federal government had sent more tanks to Waco than they had to Somalia in 1993 to protect U.S. troops there--a lapse which led to the deaths of several American servicemen attacked by mobs. Despite the use of the tanks to destroy Mount Carmel, there was no real challenge to their legality once military representative assured Congress that the tank artillery was not armed.
One disturbing revelation, coaxed out of Assistant Secretary of Defense Allen Holmes, was that the FBI Hostage Rescue Team frequently consults with British Special Air Service (SAS) members. SAS is often involved with British law enforcement. (Reports that SAS had consulted at Waco previously had appeared in the British press, but not in the American.) Doubtless understanding that taking advice from foreign militaries might be a clever way of avoiding posse comitatus restrictions, Representative Bill McCullom requested that Janet Reno look into the details of SAS's involvement.
The House hearing did provide abundant evidence that FBI agents sabotaged negotiations and withheld evidence that Koresh was ready to surrender from FBI and Justice Department officials. Former FBI behavior scientist Peter Smerick revealed that his superior had told him that former FBI Director William Sessions supported the more aggressive strategy. Feeling a what he called a "self-imposed" pressure to please his bosses, Smerick changed his analysis and advised using more tactical pressures. However, Sessions claimed he had always favored negotiations over tactical pressure and was not responsible for issuing such a directive.
Smerick also admitted that there were a number of incidents where the FBI destroyed Davidian property after Davidians had cooperated with them. FBI siege commander Jeff Jamar revealed that there was a Hostage Rescue Team member in the room with the negotiators at all time. This supported Davidians' contentions that tactical agents would learn what most bothered Davidians so they could use that tactic against them.
On the fifth day of the hearings that the Davidians' perspective was finally presented. Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmermann' described the brutality of the BATF raid and Koresh's commitment to surrendering. Theologians Phillip Arnold and James Tabor described the Davidians' sincere religious conviction. Their testimony actually helped to tone down the much of the vicious rhetoric against Davidians.
One new revelation was the David Koresh agreed to surrender to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers said they would accept such a surrender if attorney Dick DeGuerin arranged it with the FBI. But, as usual, the FBI rejected any such third party efforts, no matter how credible or promising.
DeGuerin and Zimmermann detailed Davidians' change in mood from fatalism to optimism as Koresh began work on his short book decoding the Seven Seals--and described the attorneys' anger that Jeff Jamar had lied to them when he told the FBI they would wait. The attorneys were convinced that only orders from above could have changed Jamar's mind.
Theologians Arnold and Tabor eloquently explained the Davidians sincere belief they were living the Book of Revelation and that God would deliver them, even from the rampaging tanks and suffocating gas. Several representatives listened to excerpted tapes of, and studied transcripts of, Koresh's repeated statements that he was working on his book and eager to exit Mount Carmel and stand trial. Davidians would have felt some small satisfaction hearing congressional representative take so seriously Koresh's attempts to decode the Seven Seals.
Representatives grilled siege commander Jeff Jamar, chief negotiator Byron Sage and HRT commander Richard Rogers about this evidence that Koresh had promised to surrender. They asked if FBI or Justice Department officials had pressured them to ignore Koresh's surrender plan. However, Jamar asserted the decision to go ahead was his. He and Sage both contended that they gave little consideration to Koresh's April 14 promise-to- surrender letter because Koresh "always" talked about the Seven Seals and coming out. (This excuse was shades of Sarabyn's assertion that he didn't believe Robert Rodriguez warning that Davidians knew a raid was imminent because Koresh "always" talked about the fact federal agents "were coming" to get him.) FBI agents asserted this was just one more lie and that Koresh had deceived his attorneys and was merely stalling for time.
Jeff Jamar's only real evidence that Davidians were stalling was his allegation that negotiation transcripts reveal Steve Schneider told negotiators that Koresh had not given him the First Seal and had no idea if he had written it. Jamar charged Judy Schneider declared it might take her a year to type the First Seal. However, some committee members, who by now were familiar with these negotiation transcripts, challenged Jamar's account, noting that Steve Schneider had seen copies of the papers Koresh was working on, said it would take him little time to edit them, and said Koresh had almost finished the Second Seal. They believed that Judy Schneider merely had made a sarcastic comment about how long it would take her to type the manuscript using a manual typewriter. They noted that on April 17 Koresh had promised to send out the First Seal to the FBI in the few days, even though the others were not finished.
Jamar countered that he doubted that Davidians really had written the document, since they had no electricity to run the computer that produced the disk; he inferred that someone else had produced it and claimed it was Koresh's. Under later questioning Jamar conceded that the computer could have been run off batteries or the Davidians' generator. His final excuse for going forwarded with the April 19 assault was that he did not have hard copy to show the "on-site commanders" who wanted proof that Koresh was writing the book. The onsite commander, of course, was HRT commander Rogers. (Rogers himself claimed the fact that Davidians didn't reconvert their illegal weapons proved they never had intended to exit.) When these excuses did not pass muster with Republicans, Sage and Jamar fell back on their paranoid fantasies--the FBI had to launch their assault because Davidians might suddenly break out of Mount Carmel shooting or commit mass suicide.
Concerning their negotiations-related communications with FBI and Justice Department officials, Byron Sage admitted that he only had sent a copy of David Koresh's April 14 surrender letter *only* to FBI analysts in Washington. They passed it on to FBI consultant Murray Miron and on his analysis was forwarded to Janet Reno. Former FBI Director William Sessions admitted he had no memory of seeing Koresh's actual letter. Attorney General Janet Reno would later admit she had not seen it either.
Jamar revealed that Webster Hubbell had initiated the April 15 call to chief negotiator Byron Sage after Justice Department officials learned, probably from a newspaper, of Koresh's promise to exit after writing the Seven Seals. Sage conceded he mentioned no agreement with Koresh and did not read Hubbell the contents of the letter. He admitted he told Hubbell the story that Steve Schneider complained no pages had been completed. Hubbell asserted Sage inferred they had abandoned all negotiations--Sage replied that Hubbell had misunderstood him.
Despite this blatant evidence that FBI agents in Waco disregarded Koresh's credible promise to exit, did their best to withhold this information from their superiors and even lied to them about Koresh's intentions, Republicans did not seem eager to label their actions anything more than "bungling." Obviously these agents were intent on going ahead with their plan, asserting their authority--and destroying Mount Carmel. They couldn't care less how many people they killed in the process.
On the last day of the hearing Republican representatives grilled Attorney General Janet Reno on her real reasons for approving the raid. Representative McCullom systematically shot down her stated reasons: that negotiations were at an impasse, children were being abused, the Hostage Rescue Team was becoming fatigued and she feared a violent breakout or suicide by Davidians. Similarly Representative Mark Souder, reviewing the dangers of the gas and tank attack to the children, asserted he could not believe she approved the plan for the good of the children.
Pushed to the wall, Reno admitted, "You are right. The reason we did it was that they were dangerous people and they weren't coming out." Nevertheless, she denied that her reasons for approving the plan had anything to do with what one FBI memorandum spotlighted--the weakening of the FBI's authority. (Larry Potts was more honest the day after the fire when he blurted to reporters, "These people had thumbed their noses at law enforcement.")
Janet Reno continued to defend FBI agents and officials, despite mounting evidence that they had withheld information from or misled her. At one point Representative Zeliff asked Reno if she didn't see a pattern of obstruction of justice--time ran out before he could force an answer from her.
Reno, whose responses about negotiations and Koresh's letter had been so vague during the April, 1993 hearings, seemed much better briefed for the 1995 hearings. This time she acted as if she knew all about David Koresh's promise- to-surrender letter--though she did not dare claim she actually had read it before approving the raid. In her eagerness to defend the agents, and her own decision, she asserted at least three times that Steve Schneider had said it might take six months or six years to finish the manuscript. Finally, Representative McCullom put a stop to her false charge by informing her that there was no such statement in the transcript. Nevertheless, Reno echoed Jamar's statement that only "seeing" the First Seal would have made a difference. (Earlier it was revealed Koresh intended to send it out on April 19.) This new FBI/Justice Department allegation obviously was a hastily created one generated by Congress' sudden comprehension of the FBI's duplicity.
Reno could provide no evidence of ongoing child abuse. She asserted, as did HRT commander Richard Rogers, that the Davidians had plenty of water--despite Davidian Clive Doyle's testimony to the contrary. However, Reno was forced to confront a variety of evidence that C.S. gas was much more dangerous than she had been led to believe. (A treaty expert revealed that C.S. gas had been outlawed by treaty only because enemies might think it was a lethal gas and escalate to using their own lethal gas, not because of C.S. gas' danger or lethality.)
During an earlier panel on C.S. gas, British C.S. gas experts presented anecdotal information about the gas's relative safety, even as an Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist and chemistry professor asserted that in sufficient quantities in enclosed places the gas can suffocate children. The professor, George Uhlig, held that C.S. gas could render a poorly ventilated room "similar to one of the gas chambers used by the Nazis at Auschwitz." Representative Bob Barr pulled out the autopsy photo of a six-year-old girl who died in the concrete room of the kind of inflammation of the throat and lungs caused by over-exposure to C.S. gas. (He showed an even more gruesome photo of a ferret round found in the midst of the burned remains of a one-year-old child; Jeff Jamar quickly asserted that this was not proof the ferret round killed the child.)
Both sets of experts admitted that no extensive studies had been done on the affects of C.S. gas on children. However, Representative Mica pulled out the April 12, 1993 briefing book given to Janet Reno which claims that the use of the C.S. gas on children had been studied extensively. He also forced the embarrassed Reno to admit that she did not know that the children did not have gas masks. In his only question of the hearing Representative Sonny Bono chided Reno because her aides had not found a 1989 medical journal article about the dangers of C.S. gas to children which his aides found in just one day of research. In other testimony former FBI Deputy Director Larry Potts was grilled about the fact that FBI documents revealed that agents had considered using C.S. gas against the Weaver family and had rejected the plan because it would present "a high degree of risk to small children."
Representative McCullom chided Reno for asserting that a potential armed breakout or mass suicide were any excuse for going in. (What I call the "we had to kill them before they killed themselves" argument.) He cited the lack of any credible evidence, except for one Davidian's mentioning brief discussions of suicide on March 2. And he noted that HRT commander Richard Rogers admitted the Hostage Rescue Team would not have had to "stand down" for retraining for at least two more weeks--by which time Davidian attorneys said Davidians would exit.
Throughout the hearing Reno repeatedly claimed that only the FBI HRT could protect the perimeter against the extremist militia groups which were threatening to attack Mount Carmel, to either support or destroy Davidians. (This was a reference to Linda Thompson's tiny April 3, 1993 "unorganized militia" demonstration.) Representative Steven Schiff questioned Reno's "marching militia" assertion. The Justice Department report and 1993 Waco congressional hearings reveal this was but a minor issue in 1993 when Reno approved the gas attack decision. However, in light of the growth of the militia movement in response to Waco, Reno tried to make political hay by blaming the militia for her decision.
There were a number of indications that FBI agents in Waco, while assuring FBI and Justice Department officials, including Janet Reno, that the plan would be implemented gradually, had every intention of making April 19 "D-Day." Early on in his testimony, siege commander Jeff Jamar announced that he believed there was a 99 percent possibility Davidians would fire on tanks and that the FBI would speed up the gas and tank attack. He said he had not shared this concern with his superiors during the planning stage because the FBI would be using only one tank at a time. (In a contrary and false statement, Jamar said David Koresh never had complained about the tanks' activities until they removed his favorite automobile.) Former FBI and Justice officials Larry Potts, Floyd Clarke and Webster Hubbell acknowledged that while they all knew Davidian gunfire was a possibility, they had no idea Jamar considered it a near certainty.
In one particularly dramatic moment, Floyd Clark, under aggressive questioning by Representative John Shadegg, finally conceded that the FBI's destruction of the gymnasium was part of the speeded up plan to demolish the building. Potts angrily declared that Janet Reno's April 12 briefing book outlined that plan and FBI agents had full authority to implement it. Because the briefing book was thrown in with other un-indexed documents, angry Republicans had to scramble to find it.
Representative McCullom closely questioned Attorney General Reno on whether she knew Jamar believed there was a 99 percent chance the Davidians would fire. Reno hesitated, then fumbled into admitting her ignorance: "We expected them to fire, perhaps, in certain instances, or we wouldn't have put the people in the armored vehicles." She never responded to his repeated questions as to whether she thought the plan would be accelerated if they fired.
Reno did make a point of reading part of the April 12 briefing book which said that demolition of the building was part of the plan. This attempt to prove she knew about the plan back in 1993 smacked of protesting too much. When asked if she had told President Clinton about acceleration plan, Reno vaguely replied, "I told him the full plan." (Of course, on April 20, 1993 Clinton twice claimed the FBI rules of engagement did not even include firing guns, casting doubt on Reno's claim.) At one point, defending the FBI's use of military tanks, Reno callously compared the tanks to "a good rent-a-car." This comment has been too much even for some of the liberal press!
Only a little more new information was learned about decision-making on April 19. Chief negotiator Byron Sage admitted that the FBI thought the Davidians were "not into suicide per se, but sacrifice." (On the negotiation tapes Steve Schneider claims, just a few days before the raid, that Davidians will not be forced to leave the building even if the government runs 10 tanks through it.) In effect, Sage admitted FBI agents knew the Davidians would not be driven out of the building, no matter how fierce the government's gas and tanks attacks. This only supports the contention FBI agents engaged in premeditated murder.
Representatives could not find in their 48,000 pages of documents a copy of any April 19 operation plan, though Larry Potts claimed there was one. At trial, agent R.J. Craig said he had seen no such plan.
Jamar and Rogers declared that once the Davidians began to fire, the safety of FBI agents inside the tanks was their main concern. Representative Howard Coble angrily revealed that although the committee had asked the military for records showing gunfire damage to the tanks a full month before, no such evidence had been forthcoming. If there is no evidence the big tanks were struck by Davidian gunfire, it would destroy the FBI's contention Davidians fired on April 19. (Congress did see the damage reports but had not released them as of May, 1996.)
Siege commander Jeff Jamar and HRT commander Richard Rogers both denied Larry Potts' assertion the FBI began demolition of the building with the collapse of the gymnasium roof. They contended the collapse of the gymnasium was an accident caused when the tank was trying to go through the gymnasium towards the concrete room. No one asked them why the tank ripped out the southeast corner of the building in a final assault just before the fire.
Representatives did not thoroughly question Janet Reno about decision-making on April 19. They seemed confused about what time she left the FBI Operations Center and did not press her to reveal who she talked to there in her absence. Despite their attempts to link Bill Clinton to the operation, Representatives never asked her about her 11:00 a.m. eastern time phone call to him, which she mentioned during the April 28, 1993 House hearing. She talked to him just before she left the Operations Center.
Representative Shadegg challenged Reno, questioning her about whether she knew about the Davidians' phone being broken and their inability to negotiate. She admitted she knew that phone contact had been lost, but never explained why she did not press for negotiations--something she claimed was so important during the 1993 House Judiciary Committee hearing. (No one asked her about FBI spokesperson Bob Ricks' statement to the press, soon after she left the Operations Center, "We're not negotiating. We're saying come out. Come out with your hands up. This matter is over.") She also made a half-hearted and not-very-credible claim she knew the gymnasium was being demolished.
Representatives did force Reno to admit that she was reluctant to call off the attack. "I don't know what the FBI would have done if I'd done so when their lives were at risk." And she let the FBI talk her into leaving the Operations Center. They argued it would "attract attention" if she canceled the speech. Overall, Reno gave the distinct impression she had been bullied into giving up all control of the operation.
While many representatives seemed convinced that the FBI had proceeded to demolition of the building, most still accepted unquestioningly the FBI and Justice Department assertion that Davidians started the fire. They barely challenged the government-created April 19 surveillance transcripts or prejudiced FBI agents and pro-government fire investigators.
Federal agents lied freely to support their accusations that Davidians started the fires. When Representative Shadegg said that anything FBI agents said about the April 19 deaths was speculation, Jeff Jamar falsely claimed that "survivors say there was a suicide pact." Byron Sage and Edward S. G. Dennis, chief reviewer of the Justice Department's official report, similarly claimed that the testimony of "Davidians" proved they started the fire. (Only Davidian Graeme Craddock stated he heard some confused calls that might refer to the lighting of a fire. Other Davidians stated the calls were references to the fact a fire had started.) FBI agent John Morrison claimed to America that he had seen a Davidian start a fire--despite his testimony under cross-examination at trial that "I don't know what he was doing."
Fire investigators Paul Gray and James Quintiere presented the selectively edited infrared and television video and fire report "evidence" that the Davidians started the fire. While they admitted the fire started on the second floor just ninety seconds after the tank ripped out the corner below it, they claimed that fire did not start accidently because the infrared video would have picked up any accidental fire from the moment of its inception. However, they never mentioned that the infrared video picked up the early inception of the fires they alleged Davidians started!
Former army and BATF fire investigator Rick Sherrow, who has been consulting in Davidian civil suits, was on the panel with Gray and Quintiere. He criticized the government for destruction of and withholding of evidence of how the fire started. (He reveals that the government did not send him even one of the incriminating photographs of that tank ripping out the corner of the building.) Sherrow criticized Gray and Quintiere for their ignorance of the flammability and toxic nature of C.S. gas and methylene chloride, their denying the possibility of accidental fire from the breaching operation, and their assuming that flammable fluids on Davidian survivors clothing was defacto evidence Davidians had started the fires.
Davidian Clive Doyle denied that Davidians started the fire--though he did admit that early in the siege a few Davidians had discussed making molotov cocktails to defend themselves against the tanks. And he put to rest theologians' theories that Davidians thought they could set Mount Carmel on fire and, through faith in God, survive the fire. Doyle replied that only God could create such a salvational "ring of fire."
Release of further April 19 surveillance transcripts still failed to prove that Davidians discussed pouring fuel to start a fire. In fact, they only bolstered supporters' contentions Davidians were moving fuel away from the tanks or pouring fuel to light their lanterns in rooms darkened as they pushed hay and mattresses against the windows to protect themselves against ferret rounds or gunfire. Despite the dubious and largely unchallenged evidence Davidians started the fire, Representative McCullom declared they had done so!
At least four skeptical representatives repeatedly questioned FBI siege commander Jeff Jamar, Larry Potts and Janet Reno, on why the three FBI monitors listening to the surveillance device inside Mount Carmel could not hear these allegedly suspicious-sounding Davidian conversations about spreading and pouring fuel. Early in the hearing prosecutor Ray Jahn said he could hear such conversations the first time he heard the tape. The three variously replied that there was too much background noise, that the conversations only could be heard when they were enhanced, that Davidians might have manipulated what they spoke into the devices, and that no notations of such conversations appeared in the FBI monitors' logs. (Davidian defense attorney Tim Evans had earlier revealed that defense attorneys never did get those monitor logs. Did Congress ask for them?) Jeff Jamar, Richard Rogers and Janet Reno all argued that agents would have called off the attack and pulled back the tanks immediately if they had had any idea that Davidians were planning to burn down Mount Carmel.
However, in his first day of testimony, Byron Sage made the ambiguous statement that in the first minutes of the gas attack, "The microphones indicate two things -- they immediately donned gas masks and they immediately began to spread fuel." (In his press conference two few hours after the fire FBI spokesperson Bob Ricks also claimed that Davidians had been "spreading" fuel throughout Mount Carmel.) Later in the hearing, Jeff Jamar said tanks were trying to gas further inside the building because "there was information that they apparently were able to go places where they didn't need masks. We either heard that on the over hears, it was reported." ("Over hear," of course, would be the surveillance device, heard by monitors and then reported to Jamar.) All this evidence suggests FBI monitors could in fact hear suspicious conversations and told Jamar--but he continued the tank attack anyway. If the government continues to charge that the Davidians started the fires, it must look to the prosecution of Jeff Jamar, Byron Sage and others for negligent, if not intentional, homicide for going forward with the attack despite what they heard. (Of course, even if those conversations were innocent and the fire was started by a tank knocking over a lantern, as I believe, Jamar, Rogers, Reno, Sessions, Potts, etc. should be prosecuted for concocting, approving and implementing such a murderous plan.)
FBI agents and officials attempted once again to assert that the evil David Koresh refused to send the children to the safety of the bus. However, Representative Barr pulled out R.J. Craig's testimony at trial that he had gassed the bus early in the morning. (He evidently did not have access to photographs which would suggest the tank also pushed part of the front wall down on top of the trap door leading to the bus.) When Craig later appeared, he refused to admit the tank's early morning action might have blocked the trap door, confusing representatives by describing his attempts during the fire to clear debris away from the entrance to the bus.
Republicans seemed fearful of pinning any crimes on culpable BATF or FBI agents--it might "undermine law enforcement." However, they tried mightily to find evidence that President Bill Clinton had some improper influence on the fatal decision to gas Mount Carmel. They questioned Attorney General Janet Reno on Clinton's instructions to Republican holdover Stuart Gerson that Clinton be informed of any move against the Davidians. Reno explained that while the President is not "commander in chief" of law enforcement, he may have had a legitimate concern since Gerson was a Republican and an unknown entity.
Republicans never explored the issue of former Treasury Deputy Robert Altman's secretive March, 1993 visit to Little Rock BATF chief Bill Buford who was injured in the February 28 raid. But they did question friend-of-Bill Webster Hubbell closely on whether he and Clinton had discussed the Waco situation informally, and illegally. Exhibit number one was an Associated Press article claiming Hubbell had revealed he was giving Clinton updates on Waco. Hubbell claimed the article was in error and that he only informed the White House of developments through the White House counsel. When Representative Zeliff demanded to know why numerous Hubbell phone call logs were redacted during the April 16 to 19 period, Hubbell promised to provide them--plus any Waco files that might remain in his basement--immediately.
Some new information was learned about the involvement of Vince Foster. (It was recently revealed that in 1993 Foster's wife admitted to FBI agents that he felt responsible for the deaths in Waco.) Texas Rangers disclosed that when they were in dispute with the FBI about the destruction of evidence, someone in the Texas Governor's office had given them a White House number to contact--Vince Foster's number. Representative Charles Schumer revealed that only one document had been found in the "Waco file" in Foster's office--a memorandum that Foster was forwarding the "Waco, the Big Lie" video to Treasury Department officials. When Janet Reno was questioned about whether Foster's statement about the FBI lying to the Attorney General on his "suicide note" referred to Waco, she explained it related to "Travelgate." Republicans never did find their smoking gun of Clinton's undue influence on the FBI's actions--the question is, will they ignore the ample evidence they uncovered of negligent and even intentional homicide by FBI agents in Waco?
In a heartfelt and eloquent statement Texas Ranger Maurice Cook, who had complained about the FBI's mistreatment of Texas Rangers, expressed his concern about the federalization and militarization of American law enforcement and expressed fear of the creation of a "national police force." He asserted that to be accountable law enforcement must be controlled at lowest level. He charged that if Texas law enforcement agents had acted as irresponsibly they would have been fired and prosecuted. Jack Zimmermann noted that while a Navy secretary resigned over the "Tailhook" scandal, there had been no real accountability for the dozens of deaths near Waco.
A newly released negotiation tape quote from Steve Schneider expresses a similar sentiment: "The press are so far back that you guy could come and blow us away and give any kind of a story you want to. . .I saw that Gun Owners of America video that talks about your agency and how you are lawbreakers and what you did to those two policemen who were good cops all their lives. . .What you guys have already showed me, what you did with the Weaver case. That already bothered me. And now here I'm involved in something like this."
At one point early in the hearings I went up to Representative Schumer and solemnly told him, "Some of us have learned the lessons of the Holocaust." The acerbic Schumer shot back, "Not the Republicans on the committee." I wondered if later, perhaps, he caught the import of my words--Davidians had been demonized, persecuted, gassed and burned. "First, they came for the Davidians. . ."
Davidian attorney Jack Zimmermann made a similar point. He told the story of a phone call from the sobbing mother of Davidian and Israeli citizen Pablo Cohen who died in the April 19 fire. Zimmermann recalled, "Then she described for me, an Israeli Jew talking to an American Jewish lawyer, watching that gas be inserted into that building, watching an American tank knock down an American house and then it burst into flames. Can you imagine the images in an Israeli's mind with the Holocaust survivors in Israel?. . .I could not explain to her how that happened. And her comment was, 'I thought he would be safe in America.'"
Millions of Americans remain suspicious of a government that can let BATF agents attack and kill six civilians and then allow FBI agents to come in and sabotage negotiations so they can have an excuse to destroy a building that contains evidence of those murders. They cannot trust a government whose officials are so concerned with the appearance that they are losing authority and control that they will cover up for federal agents' mass murder of civilians.
If in these hearings Congress was on trial, as Representative Heineman suggested, it only can be said that millions of Americans have judged Congress to be guilty of conspiring to help cover up these murders. Tens of thousands of activists will not rest until these agents and officials are fired and prosecuted and federal law enforcement is brought back under the control of Congress and the people.
Copyright 1998 by Carol Moore. Permission
to reprint freely granted, provided the article is reprinted in full and
that any reprint is accompanied by this copyright statement.