Home/Contact | News | Committee | Survivors | Prisoners | Photos | Links | Order Book
Sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee
By Carol Moore
Member, Committee for Waco Justice
Author, The Davidian Massacre
I attended both sessions of the Senate Waco hearings, October 31 and November
1, 1995. This hearing focused on federal law enforcement procedures
at Waco--specifically intelligence gathering and relations between the
FBI negotiators and Hostage Rescue Team. While the Senate hearings
were much more tame than the House hearings, with relatively little demonization
of the Branch Davidian victims, they still gave aware citizens the same
impression: despite its protestations, Congress is more interested in protecting
federal law enforcement than in protecting citizens from federal law enforcement.
During most of the hearing only three or four members of the 18 person committee actually were in attendance. Only Senate Judiciary Committee chair Orrin Hatch and the surprisingly level headed Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein sat through most of the hearing.
Hatch declared there was no "conspiracy" against the Davidians, even as the committee chose to ignore evidence of a "cover your butt" conspiracy between BATF and FBI agents--evidence that: BATF agents fired from helicopters and killed four Davidians, BATF shot first at the front door mortally wounding the unarmed Perry Jones, BATF agents assassinated Michael Schroeder as he approached Mount Carmel, FBI and BATF agents systematically destroyed evidence, and FBI agents in Waco withheld information from Janet Reno and other officials to gain approval of their fatal gassing plan.
Hatch did show and criticize a photograph of a rambo-style FBI agent astride a tank and another of a burned Davidian book opened to a page about the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. He opined that the FBI Hostage Rescue Team should be used as the last resort, not the first, in civilian law enforcement situations like at Ruby Ridge and Waco. FBI critic Senator Chuck Grassley asserted that some federal law enforcement agencies had come to resemble "Keystone Ninjas" and noted that many in the law enforcement community believe Koresh got what he deserved.
Democrat Joseph R. Biden, former head of the Committee, emphasized that federal agents' actions at Waco were merely mistakes, not in any way based on malevolence. C-span and CNN headline news chose this point to show me and another member of the Committee for Waco Justice sitting in the hearing room wearing black t-shirts reading "ATF COPTERS KILLED 4" and "FBI TANKS KILLED 76." The capitol police initially tried to keep us out but the committee staff person let us in; Biden was not too happy and glared at us.
The first day's first witness, James Fyfe, Professor of Criminal Justice at Temple University, complained there was "No FBI to investigate the FBI," as the FBI investigates local police for abuses. He called for the creation of a citizen's advisory and review panel, along the lines of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, to oversee federal law enforcement actions. This suggestion was ignored.
His co-panelist was Nancy Ammerman, the religious scholar who was one of the outside experts asked to review the Justice Department report on Waco. At the hearing she repeated her criticisms of the religious insensitivity of the FBI, their reliance on the advice of anti-cult activists, and the Hostage Rescue Team's primacy over the negotiators. And she asserted that after hearing the negotiation tapes, which had not been made available to her for that report, she was convinced Koresh would have come out after finishing his book on the Seven Seals. Ammerman warned law enforcement that just because religious or political groups consider the government to be the enemy, professional law enforcement agents should not, therefore, adopt the mentality the group is the enemy.
Fyfe and Ammerman's testimony was "balanced" by the next six witnesses, all of whom towed the government line. Geoffrey Moulton, project director of the Treasury Department review, did criticize some aspects of the investigation, the decision to conduct a "dynamic entry," the supervision of the raid, and post-raid BATF disinformation. However, he defended BATF's dubious assertions to the military that there might be a methamphetamine laboratory at Mount Carmel. And he criticized Congress for using its hearings to undermine federal law enforcement. Captain John Kolman, who assisted in the Treasury report, made a similar charge, claiming Congressmen asked the wrong people the wrong questions. (However, he didn't make the logical suggestion that Congress therefore appoint an independent counsel who would ask the right people the right questions!)
Three BATF agents described their involvement in intelligence planning and used their testimony to repeat horror stories about the fury of the Davidian "ambush" and to decry the activities of such "criminals." Gerald Petrilli emotionally described retrieving the bodies of dead agents and his doctor's conclusion he had been hit by a Davidian grenade. Jeff Brzozowski described his own heroism in protecting the family living across the street from alleged Davidian gun fire. Roger Gutherie, who has claimed he shot from the ground Davidian Peter Gent who was on the water tower, merely referred to his firing on "individuals identified as a threat." He then lied, asserting that BATF agents got in a "second gun battle with three members of the Branch Davidians" by the hay barn. However, at trial only (dubious) evidence that one Davidian fired a gun was entered.
Treasury official Ron Noble defended the Treasury Department's oversight of BATF's actions at Waco, repeating the usual assertions that the search warrant was sufficient, that Davidians were not targeted because of religious beliefs, that Davidians ambushed BATF, and that after the fire four dozen illegal weapons were found. He outlined changes in policy since Waco: new leadership, the requirement Treasury be notified of significant operations, improvements in undercover, oversight and coordination functions; he bragged about recent BATF successes. BATF Director John McGaw read off a laundry list of recent BATF arrests and convictions of obviously nasty criminals, even as he asserted "ATF is no threat to the private ownership of lawful firearms."
The second day was devoted to problems with negotiations. Frank Bolz, former chief negotiator for the New York City police force, who negotiated 285 hostage incidents without the loss of a single life, stressed that the most important issue in negotiations is always to save lives. "Life, once taken, is irreplaceable." (A concept foreign to Richard Rogers' FBI Hostage Rescue Team.)
Ken Lanning, FBI's leading expert on cults and the sexual victimization of children, revealed that he had only two brief conversations with FBI agents at Waco and was never asked to come down and lend his expertise. He mentioned that he had previously been critical of law enforcement's tendency to believe questionable information about so-called "cults," including from "disgruntled" and therefore biased former members. He considered the label "cult" to being akin to a racial slur. The inference was that FBI agents in Waco didn't want another FBI expert who might be "soft" on the Davidians. Senator Simon actually noted that it was unfortunate that there had been so much "demonization" of the Davidians.
The second panel was definitely the high point of the hearing because it included Davidian prisoner Graeme Craddock, there with one of his attorneys, Patrick Brown. (Craddock received a twenty year sentence for possession of a grenade and use of a weapon in a crime of violence--i.e., the conspiracy charge of which the jury found him *innocent.* He is serving his sentence at Oakdale, Louisiana and is appealing his case.) Two Davidian survivors who came down from Canada managed to make it just in time, walking into the hearing room just two minutes after Craddock began his testimony.
Craddock, a deliberate, even pedantic, and somewhat stern speaker (he was a school teacher and engineer) asserted that the standoff could have and should have ended peacefully. He explained that Davidians truly believed in what David Koresh told them during the standoff. His statement, "If we were deceived, we were genuinely deceived," was reportedly misused by some newspeople. He stated Davidians believed God would protect them even as he had protected Jerusalem from the Assyrians by killing 185,000 of the attackers. Davidians thought it possible God would protect them "even by similar means." (During the standoff Koresh kept warning the FBI that God might decide to destroy them.) However, they also believed that if they were not obedient to God, He would allow the FBI to destroy them.
However, Craddock also stressed that Koresh said that if the FBI was honest with Davidians they were obligated to come out--but the FBI was *not* honest. Craddock described FBI lies about milk, lies during press conferences, and lies about David acting like madman on April 18 as the FBI removed automobiles. He said Davidians heard FBI lies on that date as an attempt to dehumanize them to justify to the public what they were about to do. Davidians believed public opinion was the main thing preventing the government from slaughtering them. Craddock explained that "the beast" is the most negative aspect of human nature and Koresh had told Davidians that the U.S. Government only had the potential to be the beast.
Craddock revealed that on March 21, after 7 Davidians had just exited, Steve Schneider was giving a Bible study to about twenty Davidians who were to exit the next day. When Schneider refused to leave the study to answer the phone, the FBI punished him by beginning the all-night playing of loud music, refusing to stop it at the Davidians' request. The angry Davidians canceled their exit plans. Craddock stressed that every time Davidians did something positive, the FBI did something negative.
FBI negotiator at Waco Clint Van Zandt confirmed that fact, saying every time Davidians cooperated, the Hostage Rescue Team would punish them with destruction of property, turning off electricity, or escalated harassment. And Senator Hatch twice played the sound of rabbits being slaughtered on national TV, which was quite a consciousness raiser! Van Zandt compared FBI siege commander Jeff Jamar to General Patton saying he, like Hostage Rescue Team commander Richard Rogers, were action- oriented. FBI behavioral expert, Pete Smerick, who agreed that the Hostage Rescue Team was overly aggressive, nevertheless engaged in some furious demonization of Koresh and the Davidians.
Craddock, who kept referring to whether or not people were "sent out," explained that people couldn't just come out without Koresh or Schneider calling the FBI and arranging a surrender. If they tried to leave without doing so, the FBI would flashbang them. A strange tactic for agents allegedly trying to convince Davidians to "break free of Koresh's spell."
Craddock detailed his assertion that Davidians did not throw out the phone in the morning, as the FBI asserted, and that he did not retrieve the phone when he went outside. Rather he went out and discovered the phone line had been broken by a tank much further out in the yard.
Despite the fact that Craddock agreed to appear to discuss only negotiations, Democrats Feinstein and especially Patrick Leahy, "ambushed" him and started asking sensitive questions about child sexual abuse (he said he abhorred it, but did not believe Koresh did it); the March 2 "suicide plan" (he said all he knew was a few guys were going to carry guns during the surrender because they thought the FBI might attack them); why he carried two guns on February 28 (he insisted he didn't intend to use them, except in self-defense); why he was carrying an (allegedly) live grenade on April 19 (he didn't feel like arguing with Koresh, who gave it to him, and didn't want to leave it around where it might hurt someone); and whether the Davidians started the fire (he said he did not "see" or "know" that anyone did so, and did not believe they did. Craddock has been criticized because in his Grand Jury testimony after the fire--the main evidence used to convict him--he said he heard confused calls that he thought might be related to starting a fire.) When Leahy asked if Craddock knew about preparations to start a fire, his attorney advised him not to answer the question and complained about the sensitive line of questioning. Leahy replied by criticizing Craddock's "self-serving" testimony.
Chair Orrin Hatch did not intervene as Leahy continued tough questioning--at least until Craddock began to assert that BATF short first at the front door. He was getting ready to launch into stories other Davidians told about what happened there. Suddenly Hatch piped up, saying, "Oh, we agreed not to ask him these sensitive questions that might influence his appeal." It was obvious Hatch was not interested in hearing *too much* truth. One top congressional staffer, after hearing Craddock's testimony, opined to a spectator that the prisoner should received a presidential pardon. So should they all!
Craddock's attorney Patrick Brown strongly countered Pete Smerick's false statements that Koresh had wanted a showdown with the government by reminding the committee that Koresh had invited BATF agent Aguilera to inspect his guns through his gun dealer Henry McMahon in July, 1992. And he emphasized that Koresh had in fact given BATF a chance to conduct its search on February 28 by standing at the door unarmed and saying, "Let's talk about this." The important implications of these attempts to cooperate were not acknowledged by the senators. (Smerick's ultimate analysis of Koresh's "psychopathology" was, "Koresh was the type of man who would never be told what to do. David Koresh was a man who would control his own destiny." Can you imagine! What did Koresh think this is, a free country?!?)
FBI Director Louis Freeh could not find time to attend the hearing. The last panel featured three of his underlings, Robin Montgomery, Special Agent in Charge of the Critical Incident Response Group (and a main participant in the Weaver incident); Gary Noesner, a lead negotiator at Waco; and William Esposito, Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division. They reassured senators that the new Critical Incident Response Group would ensure that only experienced crisis managers would be in charge of such future incidents, that negotiators would be equally important as tactical units and that credible outside experts with appropriate information would be consulted. They tried to reassure senators that the FBI would not make the same "mistakes" again at Waco.
However, many Americans remain convinced that many of the FBI agents' actions were not merely mistakes, but attempts to destroy evidence of BATF criminal assault--including the killing of four Davidians by shots fired from helicopters--and punish the Davidians for defending themselves against the BATF assault. The credible suspicions that Congress and federal law enforcement are willing to let a few agents get away with mass murder rather than tarnish the image of all law enforcement continues to undermine the credibility of the whole federal establishment.
Note: The Senate Judiciary Committee released the transcripts of the 1995 hearing in 1997.
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.