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Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark wants to be president and, given that he is a man who has worn many hats during his controversial rise through the ranks, many believe this qualifies him for the top political job. But serious questions abound about his actions as commander of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Army’s III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1993.
Clark has worn the hat of first-in-his-class graduate of West Point, Rhodes scholar, decorated Vietnam combat veteran, White House fellow, four-star general and even Supreme Commander of NATO – a post from which he was relieved.
There is one hat, though, that despite lingering suspicions and accusations Clark neither has confirmed nor denied wearing – a hat that many Americans might find very disturbing for a military man seeking the top civilian post in the U.S. government without first registering with either political party or being so much as elected dog catcher.
In his recently published book, “Winning Modern Wars,” Clark proclaims that the “American way was not to rely on coercion and hard pressure but on persuasion and shared vision,” which has been taken by Democratic Party doves to explain why the retired general has been an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq. But while Clark may prefer a “kinder, gentler” persuasion in dealing with U.S. enemies abroad, critics are saying his actions at home should be reviewed before deciding whether he is qualified to be trusted with America’s civil liberties.
For example, there is the 1993 siege of David Koresh’s Mount Carmel commune in Waco, Texas, where four law-enforcement officers were killed and nearly 90 civilians – men, women and children – massacred by being shot and/or burned alive. Those seeking an investigation of his part in the Waco outrage say that Clark not only played a hidden role in the military-style assault on the Branch Davidians, but easily could have refused to participate in what was a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act that bars use of the U.S. military for civilian law-enforcement activities.
Although Clark has never publicly discussed his role in the attack on the Branch Davidians and did not respond to Insight’s requests for an interview to discuss his role at Waco, there are indisputable facts that confirm he had knowledge of the grim plans to bring the standoff to an end.
Between August 1992 and April 1994, Clark was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Army’s III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas. According to a report by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the list of military personnel and equipment used at Waco included: 15 active-duty military personnel, 13 Texas National Guard personnel, nine Bradley fighting vehicles, five combat-engineer vehicles, one tank-retrieval vehicle and two M1A1 Abrams tanks. Additionally, Fort Hood reportedly was used for much of the training for the bloody attack on the Davidians and their children.
Based on the fact that military equipment from Fort Hood was used in the siege and that training was provided there, say critics, it is clear the commanding officer of the 1st Cavalry had direct knowledge of the attack and, more likely than not, was involved in the tactical planning.
West Point graduate Joseph Mehrten Jr. tells Insight, “Clark had to have knowledge about the plan because there is no way anyone could have gotten combat vehicles off that base without his OK. The M1A1 Abrams armor is classified ‘Secret,’ and maybe even ‘Top Secret,’ and if it was deployed as muscle for something like Waco there would have been National Firearms Act weapons issues. Each of these M1A1 Abrams vehicles is armed with a 125-millimeter cannon, a 50-caliber machine gun and two 30-caliber machine guns, which are all very heavily controlled items, requiring controls much like a chain of legal custody. It is of critical importance that such vehicles could not have been moved for use at Waco without Clark’s knowledge.”
“This is something that the general staff would know in the daily situation report or manning reports. Clark would have known and, given his obsession for micromanagement, there is probably someone who can place him on the scene. He wouldn’t have been able to resist going in. At the very least there is no way he didn’t have knowledge,” Mehrten continues.
So what if the general was aware that his military equipment was being used against American civilians, and so what if he even participated in the planning? Wasn’t he just following orders from above?
“To follow that order,” explains Mehrten, “is to follow a blatantly illegal order of a kind every West Point officer knows is a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Clark’s obligation was to say, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’ Look, Clark went to the same institution I did and at West Point we had extensive instruction in military ethics and issues concerning how one avoids obeying an illegal military order. It is drilled into our heads from the earliest days as cadets that the ‘I-was-just-following-orders’ defense isn’t necessarily a good one.”
He had the juice to say no, concludes Mehrten, “and he could have and should have. But if he had done so he probably wouldn’t have gotten his next star. There is a reason critics say this man was not recommended by the military for that fourth star but got it anyway because of political clout, just as there is a reason that Chief of Staff Hugh Shelton brought him home early from Europe because of ‘character and integrity issues.’ Sure the Bradley vehicle could have been operated by a civilian, but that’s unlikely. This military equipment is very specialized and would be virtually useless in the hands of untrained operators. But just using military equipment against civilians is running way afoul of Posse Comitatus. Legally, if he were involved in it and there were active-duty units where these armored vehicles came from, then it is a clear violation of the act. Clark’s command at the time, 1st Cavalry, is an active-duty federal division and it is my understanding that these vehicles used at Waco were from Fort Hood – his command.”
Tom Fitton, president of the Washington-based Judicial Watch, believes Clark has some questions to answer.
“The question for Clark,” explains Finton, “is a fair one in terms of corruption. Many Americans still are troubled by what occurred at Waco, and we’re very interested in his role. Many people are going to ask what are his views of the force [attorney general] Janet Reno used at Waco and they’ll want to know if he, were he to become president of the United States, would authorize that kind of force again. Specifically, was Gen. Clark comfortable allowing forces and equipment under his command to participate in a police raid or, at best, a hostage situation? People are going to want to know these things.”
Michael McNulty, an investigative journalist and Oscar nominee for his documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement, tells Insight that, “From the standpoint of what went on that operation had military fingerprints all over it. The chain of command being what it is, Clark had some responsibility, but to what degree we really don’t know.”
McNulty takes a deep breath and then says, “My military sources tell me that Clark and his second in command got the communication from then-governor of Texas Ann Richards, who wanted help with Waco. At that point Clark or [Gen. Peter J.] Schoomaker should have asked themselves, ‘Religious community? Civilians, they want our tanks?’ and hung up the phone. Clark had to be involved at the tactical level, he had to know what the tactical plan was and he’d have to approve it. No one has ever asked these questions of this man. Clark wasn’t even asked to testify before the congressional committee investigating the circumstances of Waco. For me the real question is one of character and, because of the cover-up that’s gone on with Waco, it could even be a question of criminality. From the get-go, when the assignment came down from III Corps, which is the primary Army unit at Fort Hood and his division, Wesley Clark had the opportunity to say ‘Hey, wait a minute folks, we’re not gonna give tanks and personnel to the FBI to use on civilians!’”
True, explains McNulty, “Clark didn’t do this in a vacuum. Whatever he did he at least is guilty of being a good German – following orders. He was in a position to put his foot down and say no. It was his men, his equipment and his command. Everything that happened at Waco, from the beginning, the U.S. military was involved – including the strategic and tactical planning that went on from Feb. 29 to April 19. Why weren’t the guys making the decisions debriefed and questioned by the committee? I would hope that Clark would answer these questions now, the sooner the better, because it appears that Waco is about to follow him into the political arena full force.”
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Kelly Patricia O’Meara is an investigative reporter for Insight.