The Department of Defense has been asked to declassify thousands of secret military documents in anticipation of testimony by Attorney General Janet Reno, and possibly even President Clinton — in a lawsuit on behalf of three children killed in the 1993 Waco Branch Davidian fire.
Attorneys pursuing civil wrongful death charges on behalf of three of the 17 children killed in the fire at Mt. Carmel, Texas on April 19, 1993 are requesting the documents. The attorneys have until the end of March to take depositions from government agents and members of the military who were involved in the 51-day siege.
The classified documents in question are already in the custody of Judge Walter Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Waco Division. Last year the judge ordered all federal agencies to give him all documents related to the Waco incident. But since thousands of pages of the military documents are marked “classified,” he cannot make them available to the lawyers involved in this and other cases related to the Waco tragedy.
|William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense|
Attorney James H. Brannon sent a letter to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and asked for declassification of the documents according to Executive Order 12958, signed by President Clinton on April 17, 1995.
Brannon has not asked Smith to declassify the documents by court order because he must first ask the military to do it. He intends to ask for a court order if Cohen fails to grant his request.
“We have this executive order, and I’m afraid that if I don’t follow the procedure for declassifying it the government will come in and say, ‘Well, you didn’t even try to get it declassified from the people who are authorized to declassify it,’” Brannon said. “So I’m just following what appear to be the procedures so that I can’t be thrown out for not following them.”
The relevant portion of Executive Order 12358 is Section 3.2 (b), which states:
“It is presumed that information that continues to meet the classification requirements under this order requires continued protection. In some exceptional cases, however, the need to protect such information may be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the information, and in these cases the information should be declassified.”
“I submit that this is one of those ‘exceptional cases,’” said Brannon in his letter to Cohen.
His letter gives a week for Cohen to respond, but he told WorldNetDaily he would stretch that deadline in order to give Cohen time to view the documentary “Waco: A New Revelation.”
“I’m going to give him a chance to see the film, because the people I’m quoting in (the letter) are people in the film. So let him take a look at them and hear what they’ve said in the film,” Brannon said.
The letter was faxed directly to Cohen’s office, and Lt. Col. Warren Taylor (ret.) is personally delivering the video to him. Brannon had not received confirmation that Cohen received his letter when he spoke to WorldNetDaily on Friday.
“You just send it to that office and who knows what they do with it when it gets there. It goes to some colonel and he decides what Cohen actually reads. But as far as I’m concerned, he got it,” said Brannon.
Brannon has already taken sworn testimony from dozens of FBI agents and three Special Forces Delta Force soldiers who participated in the government raid at Waco. Brannon said they have an “epidemic of amnesia” and don’t remember anything.
Additional depositions will continue until the end of March. Reno is scheduled to testify March 28, despite the fact that Brannon wanted to question her sooner.
Brannon said his depositions and investigation of unclassified documents have thus far determined that FBI agents in charge deviated from the plan approved by Reno for the final assault on Mt. Carmel.
“We found out the leaders deviated from the plan approved by the attorney general in significant measures to the point where we think they should be held personally liable,” said Brannon.
|CS tear gas was sprayed on the 17 infants and children in Mt. Carmel, where this pyrotechnic device was found. Investigators believe excessive amounts of the gas may have ignited, causing the fire which killed the children.|
He said the FBI was supposed to use dangerous CS tear gas on the Branch Davidians for a full 48 hours before breaking through walls with army tanks. Instead, the FBI used all the gas in just a few hours, which Brannon claims was an act of torture of the children.
The gas causes immediate breathing difficulty and other physical problems, including fear and terror, according to published reports.
“They used 48 hours worth of gas in about three hours,” Brannon said. He wants to question Reno about what happened and what went wrong.
“They didn’t have any difficulty saying we’re going to try it this way for 48 hours. All of them knew they were going to be squirting it on little children for 48 hours. They had a gas expert, and he said ‘oh, it’s not going to hurt them.’ But that was on the theory that it wouldn’t give them (the children) permanent damage if they did it over 48 hours. He didn’t say anything about what would happen if a few hours after they start they shoot every bit of gas in there — 48 hours worth in three hours. As far as we know, he didn’t express any opinions that that kind of dosage would be inconsequential as far as children were concerned,” explained Brannon.
“But all that comes down to: Is it okay to torture them for three hours? Is it okay to torture them for 48 hours? I don’t think it’s okay to torture them for one minute,” said Brannon.
There were 17 children who died during the assault and fire at Mt. Carmel, Texas. Brannon represents the three children of David and Rachel Koresh. He says all the children were innocent and unprotected, and he insists the FBI knew the children were in danger and acted in disregard for their safety.
When Reno is deposed, Brannon will ask her about her role in the event, he says.
“We want to know what she was told, everything she was told to make her mind up to approve this disastrous assault on the 19th of April. The main thing is, ‘what were you told and what reasons did you have for thinking that it was okay to approve this plan that provided for the gassing of innocent and unprotected children?’”
“We’ll ask Janet Reno for all of her contacts with the White House, with the president, and what he said, and what he did, and what he signed — all that stuff. We’ll see what we get from it. What came from the White House and why is it secret? What does it have to do with the military?” explained Brannon of his plans.
When Smith asked the White House for all Waco-related documents, he was told they were covered under executive privilege. Brannon has not ruled out challenging the executive privilege claim, and may attempt to depose Clinton.
He said Reno is purposely trying to make her testimony useless to him.
“We wanted to get Janet Reno’s deposition sooner, but they said she was so busy she can’t be there until the 28th. So they think whatever comes out in her deposition comes too late to accomplish anything by the end of that month. There will only be two more days. If you wanted to take Clinton’s deposition based on what she said there won’t be time enough to do it. So, that’s the way the government’s set that up,” said Brannon.
Brannon said there are many questions about what has been classified in the documents, but he particularly wants to know about weapons used in the assault.
“So, what have they classified? Especially when we hear that the FBI has taken a clear position that they didn’t shoot any guns there. And, not only that, at least one of the weapons we think was fired there is strictly a military weapon. The FBI doesn’t have one. So if it was fired there we presume it was fired by military people,” he said.
The letter gives a number of reasons for the need to declassify the military documents, including:
- Admitted involvement of at least 10 active-duty military personnel during the 51-day siege, and three who admit to being present the day of the fire.
- Sources who have informed Brannon that military personnel were observed with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team during the assault.
- The congressional investigation discovered that military personnel admitted involvement with the armored vehicles used in the raid.
- A military source told Brannon that Delta Force soldiers were “pulling triggers.”
- A CIA employee reported that a high-level briefing with Reno detailed plans for military involvement a month before the raid.
- The Texas Rangers conducted an investigation and told Brannon there is evidence that there were more Special Forces soldiers present at Waco than the government admits to. The Texas Rangers also believe those soldiers were involved in the assault.
- Government documents indicate there were three Delta Force soldiers in forward locations at Waco. The three Delta Force soldiers who gave testimony to Brannon claimed they were in different locations, and they firmly stated they were the only Delta Force soldiers present.
Brannon also points out in his letter to Cohen that the FBI and Department of Defense have not been as specific in their answers as they should be.
When asked about shots fired at the Branch Davidians on April 19, 1993, the FBI responded: “No FBI agent shot, and nobody under FBI supervision/direction/control did either.”
The Department of Defense responded to the same question in a letter, saying, “No DoD person shot, and nobody under DoD supervision/direction/control did either, based on currently available information.”
Brannon pointed out to Cohen that both answers left the question open to other possibilities, raising the question about what information is not currently available.
Evidence exists in special infrared video taken from the air, which shows flashes of gunfire prior to and during the fire at Mt. Carmel. There has been testimony from 15 experts, some who are former government experts, claiming there is no question that the video shows gunfire from government forces.
A test will be conducted in March to determine if the videos do in fact show gunfire. Based on the experts, and the expected results of the test, Brannon asked Cohen, “Who is shooting?”
The FBI claim they did not fire any shots, and the military say their three soldiers did not shoot. If the video shows shooting, Brannon wants to know who was doing the shooting.
“The public interest demands that the public be fully informed of the military activities undertaken against United States citizens (never mind the non-citizens at Mt. Carmel) on U.S. soil. Until we examine all the documents, we are unable to know whether or not U.S. soldiers were doing the shooting; and by classifying everything they do, the government of our country is saying: we can shoot you and tell you we didn’t and you can’t find out — IT’S CLASSIFIED,” wrote Brannon in the letter to Cohen.
“The number of documents dealing with the 10 admitted military personnel amounted to no more than maybe a hundred pages. The 5,000 + pages the government has CLASSIFIED certainly don’t deal with these 10 soldiers. What other soldiers and activities are hidden behind that wall of secrecy?” he wrote.
“Since I feel certain these documents have only recently been carefully reviewed by DoD, I feel no hesitation in asking for a prompt answer from you on this matter. If I am to depose on issues coming to light out of currently classified documents, I must do so before the end of March 2000, the cutoff date imposed by the Court. In other words, I will be asking the Court to grant access to these documents if you decline this request or do not answer within a week,” said Brannon in the letter.
“Every person in the U.S. should view both Waco documentaries before the civil trial begins on 15 May 2000. The American public awaits your answer, Sir,” said Brannon in the conclusion of his letter.
Brannon’s case is Andrade et. al. v. Chojnacki et. al. filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Waco Division, and assigned to Judge Walter Smith.
WorldNetDaily is in receipt of a letter from the United States Special Operations Command in response to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking military documents regarding Waco. The letter explained why the military has classified some of those documents:
“Portions of the documents were found to contain information concerning military plans, weapons, or operations; and vulnerabilities or capabilities or systems, installations, projects, or plans relating to the national security, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.”
WorldNetDaily asked Cohen by fax whether the statement also applied to the documents Brannon is seeking to declassify. Cohen’s office has not responded.
The trial is set to begin on May 15, pending possible requests for an extension.