August 2, 2000
Every lawyer knows that, if he can control the questions, he can
get the answers he wants. The problem with the Danforth interim report
on the Waco tragedy was not the answers but the questions.
It is clear from Special Counsel John C. Danforth's report that he
defined his mission, not to gather all the facts to explain how the
fiery disaster happened, but to restore American citizens' confidence
in our government. His biggest worry was that "61 percent of the
people" believe the government was at fault in the Waco tragedy and
that this imperils "the very basis of government."
In fact, it is the cover-up of government mistakes and bad
judgment that imperils the very basis of government. The public
correctly believes that the government has not fully acknowledged its
wrongdoing in the Waco tragedy, and the Danforth report only adds fuel
to the fire.
In a misguided attempt to dispel public opinion that the
government was at fault, Danforth deliberately restricted his
investigation to the events of April 19, 1993. Danforth boasted in his
news conference that he did not look into whether government agents
"exercised bad judgment."
But the very bad judgment of the government's attack on the Branch
Davidians is a key part of the case! Why did the Clinton
Administration attack a small and pitiful religious group, suspected of
relatively trivial offenses, with two U.S. Army tanks, U.S. Air Force
aircraft and helicopters, mine detectors, machine guns, 700 men, and
the secret, highly-trained U.S. Delta military force created for use
against dangerous terrorists?
The picture of the U.S. Army tank ramming the Branch Davidians'
buildings will go into history as a pictorial legacy of the Clinton
Administration along with the famous photograph of the grabbing of
Elian Gonzalez with a pointed machine-gun. Those powerful images
illustrate law enforcement under Bill Clinton.
Danforth declared, "with 100 percent certainty," that government
agents "did not unlawfully employ the armed forces of the United
States." Even if it is true that this large-scale military offensive
was within the letter of the law (and it appears to be a gray area),
that shouldn't end the analysis.
We want to know who gave the order to use military force against
civilians who were not terrorists or any threat to others. And if what
the government did and didn't do at Waco was all within the law, then
the law ought to be changed or, at the very least, heads should roll
for such extraordinary bad judgment.
To the question "did federal agents start the fire?", Danforth
answered no. But the FBI spent six hours pouring into the Davidians'
wooden structure the poison gas known as CS, which is banned for use in
war by the Chemical Weapons Treaty.
Even if the Davidians were to blame for the fire, that doesn't
excuse the government's actions because both sides could be at fault.
Why didn't the government have fire hoses ready to save the children?
Danforth didn't ask any questions about why the government
conducted a 51-day siege of the Branch Davidians' compound. Nor did he
ask why the government cut off the Davidians' water and electricity,
and tormented them with recordings of animal screams played at a
deafeningly high pitch.
Danforth reported that the government "did not engage in a massive
conspiracy and cover-up." The weasel word is "massive." He had to
admit that FBI agents and lawyers did conceal information about the
pyrotechnic devices the FBI fired, about the videotape proving that an
FBI agent authorized the explosive rounds, and about the evidence of
fired rounds collected at the scene.
Danforth also admitted that these FBI concealments "contributed to
the public perception of a cover-up and permitted a false impression to
persist." If there wasn't a cover-up, why did the FBI, on the day of
the final assault, keep newsmen and television cameras on the side of
the building where they couldn't see or photograph the military
The Danforth report blames the public for believing that the
government was at fault and for ignoring "the contrary evidence that
the FBI waited for 51 days without firing a shot." But he didn't ask
why the FBI didn't wait 51 weeks rather than initiating an attack that
resulted in the incineration of more than 80 people including at least
20 children, most of them younger than age 10.
So many questions were excluded from the Danforth investigation
because it was limited to events on April 19. For example, why didn't
the government arrest David Koresh on one of the many days when he went
jogging outside the compound?
The Danforth report appears to be designed to restore public
confidence in our government rather than to discover what happened and
why. Unfortunately, this report looks like government people closing
ranks to protect each other, and that does not restore our confidence.