On Monday, June 19, 2000, a civil trial began to determine the
government’s culpability for the Waco massacre in 1993.
At least, that’s how the media are portraying this wrongful death
lawsuit against the government brought by survivors of the Branch
Davidians who died in the 1993 raid on the Waco compound. But the truth
is that we don’t need a trial to establish the government’s culpability.
It has already been established through the investigations conducted
following the event.
In seeking to escape liability, the government will no doubt try to
portray the incident and the resulting 80 deaths as entirely the fault
of cult leader David Koresh. And without question Koresh is partly to
blame. But a significant degree of fault also lies with the government,
which could have averted this tragedy and spared the lives of these
mostly innocent people, including 19 children. Even a jury verdict in
favor of the government will not alter that fact.
The Clinton administration has employed the same PR strategy with
Waco as it has with other instances involving its malfeasance. It has
sought to deflect criticism of its own conduct by demonizing its
accusers. Law professor Jonathan Turley — absolutely my favorite
liberal on the planet — puts the lie to this Clinton propaganda effort.
“Waco horrified a great number of people in the mainstream. The Justice
Department, however, tends to portray the Waco incident as largely a
concern for fringe and extremist groups.”
There have been some seemingly outrageous claims regarding the Waco
incident. But the problem is that with this administration you just
never know, because deceit is the taproot of so many of its activities.
One glaring example is that Janet Reno defiantly denied for six years
that the FBI used incendiary devices at the siege. Only Waco wackos
would conjure up such a fanciful idea. Right? Wrong. Last year Reno was
humiliated with belated FBI admissions that they had in fact used
pyrotechnic containers during the siege. So what else did they lie
about? As it turns out, plenty.
Within the remaining space I just want to relate a few of the 1996
findings of two congressional subcommittees investigating the affair.
These were not the rantings of paramilitary groups, but the conclusions
of congressional committees after conducting 10 days of hearings,
entertaining more than 100 witnesses and reviewing thousands of
Concerning the initial raid (Feb. 28, 1993):
- While the ATF had probable cause to obtain the arrest and
search warrants, the affidavit filed in support of the warrants
contained numerous false statements.
- Koresh could have been arrested outside the compound (he often
went jogging off premises); but
- The ATF was predisposed to a military-style raid as much as two
months before their undercover operations began.
- The ATF knew that Koresh had been tipped off about the initial
raid and that he was likely to resist forcefully, but it deliberately
proceeded with the raid anyway, instead of delaying it in accordance
with its policy.
- ATF raid commanders lied about the fact that they knew before the
raid that Koresh had been tipped off and would likely be lying in wait
The subcommittees also concluded that:
- Instead of cooperating with the committees, the
administration engaged in damage control from the beginning. The
president himself characterized the hearings as an attack on law
- The ATF’s investigation of the Branch Davidians was grossly
- Despite all of these findings and many more, the Justice and
Treasury Departments issued detailed written reports exonerating all
Who should we believe? The Clinton administration or the
The subcommittees did not present a one-sided picture. In fact, they
concluded that “the ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the
Davidians and law enforcement agents lies with Koresh.” But they also
said that the ATF’s reckless decision to proceed with the raid “more
than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed
on February 28.” And they found that “although physical and sexual abuse
of children occurred, the final assault (on April 19) put the children
at the greatest risk.”
That’s the understatement of the last century. A government does not
protect children by engaging in activities that ultimately led to their
deaths. We can figure that much out ourselves, no matter what the jury