"More time sought to surrender siege papers - Government files plea just before deadline"
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", October 2, 1999)
The U.S. government has asked for another month to surrender documents dealing with the Branch Davidian standoff, telling a federal judge Friday that its agencies, particularly the White House, needed more time.
The plea was filed just before a Friday deadline set by U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, and it came as U.S. marshals in Washington packed a truckload of Branch Davidian documents for shipment to the federal court in Waco.
Last month, Judge Smith gave federal officials until Oct. 1 to surrender all documents and other information related to the 1993 standoff.
He issued the unprecedented order after Texas Department of Public Safety officials asked him to take control of Branch Davidian case evidence that they had kept for the federal government since the standoff. Texas Rangers were brought into the case to investigate the deaths of four federal agents who died in a gunfight that broke out as they tried to search the Branch
Davidian compound and arrest sect leader David Koresh on Feb. 28, 1993.
A 51-day standoff followed the gunbattle, and it ended with a fire that destroyed the compound on April 19, 1993, with Mr. Koresh and more than 80 followers inside. The fire erupted after FBI agents assaulted the compound with tear gas and tanks.
Investigators ruled the fires were set by the Branch Davidians. But criticism of the government's actions reignited in August after a former FBI official told The Dallas Morning News that the bureau had used pyrotechnic tear gas during its final assault.
Senior FBI and Justice Department leaders have insisted that the tear-gas grenades capable of sparking fires had nothing to do with the final compound blaze.
But the revelation has prompted congressional inquiries and an independent counsel's investigation.
Attorney General Janet Reno banned such devices during the final assault
because of fears that they could spark a fire.
She and other government officials repeatedly told the public and Congress that none were used, and she has said she learned that they were used only after the former FBI official's admission in late August.
But Justice Department records recently turned over to Congress and Judge Smith's court indicate that some lawyers in the Justice Department have known for years that pyrotechnic gas was used.
Those documents include handwritten notes from prosecutors' 1993 interviews with the FBI's hostage rescue team and notes from interviews conducted by Justice Department civil lawyers.
Although none of the notes identify their authors, a document accompanying them indicates that the interviews on which they were based were conducted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Leroy Jahn of San Antonio and Justice Department prosecutor John Lancaster. The two prosecutors could not be reached for comment.
One of the prosecutor's sets of notes contrasted the nonflammable "federal" tear-gas rounds approved by Ms. Reno with the "military" rounds used by the hostage rescue team, noting that the military rounds were "pyrotechnic."
The other prosecutor's notes refer to "military gas rounds," adding that one agent said he "fired 1-4 incendiary rounds. . . . One military round at cement underground deal."
Other documents that have surfaced since August include a 1996 FBI memo describing the use of gas rounds capable of starting fires against an underground bunker adjacent to the sect's compound.
Mike Bradford, a Texas-based federal prosecutor assigned to oversee the search and turnover of government materials related to the siege, said this week that more than 200,000 pages of documents had been found in the federal prosecutor's office in San Antonio alone.
Mr. Bradford, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, said many of those were turned over to Congress in 1995, when the House conducted a lengthy investigation of the Waco tragedy.
The prosecutors' handwritten notes describing use of pyrotechnic or incendiary rounds were not turned over in 1995, congressional documents indicate.
Mr. Bradford was asked to oversee the document turnover after the U.S. attorney in San Antonio asked that his entire district be taken off the case because of a possible conflict of interest.
His prosecutors could be asked to testify in congressional inquiries and also could face new legal action for failing to reveal the use of pyrotechnic tear gas to defense lawyers representing members of the sect in a 1994 federal criminal trial.
More time needed
Mr. Bradford said the production of all federal information relating to the siege could take weeks because copies of everything must be made for Congress and independent counsel John Danforth.
The government's motion stated that the White House counsel's search has been slowed by the "number and magnitude of searches being conducted" by its lawyers. "They have been unable to complete their search, but they will produce any responsive documents as soon as possible."
At least some of the documents being turned over to the Waco court could become public in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Branch Davidians. Judge Smith is presiding over the case, in which Branch Davidians have alleged that government negligence and wrongdoing caused the tragedy.
Judge Smith has warned both sides that he will not allow a fishing expedition into the massive document trove, which is expected to include classified military data and information protected by federal privacy laws.
©1999 The Dallas Morning News
The rubble of the Branch Davidians' compound offers up few answers, only ghosts of the siege's fiery end
Debris covers the site of the Branch Davidian complex where about 80 people died in fire April 19, 1993.
by Terry Ganey ("St. Louis Post-Dispatch", October 3, 1999)
A woman who watches at the gate of what was once the Branch Davidian church complex views John Danforth's investigation of what happened here with a mixture of hope, prayer and skepticism.
"I hope he's an honest man and will dig for the truth," says Edna Doyle, 84. "I pray that he will not be sidetracked by any story that favors the government."
Doyle runs a one-room visitors center at the entrance of the place where six years ago federal agents and church members fought with bullets, tear gas and fire.
On Feb. 28, 1993, four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six Branch Davidians died in a gunbattle that followed an attempt to serve arrest warrants on the sect's leader and self-proclaimed prophet, David Koresh. On April 19, after a 51-day standoff, nearly 80 church members, including Koresh, died when their complex went up in flames as tank-driving FBI agents tried to evict them with tear gas.
Danforth visited the site a few weeks ago, shortly after Attorney General Janet Reno appointed him to answer lingering "dark questions" about whether the agents started the fire or shot and killed people on the last day of the siege and then covered it up.
It's unlikely he will find his answers here.
Weeds and grasshoppers have replaced the Branch Davidians' complex, known as the Mount Carmel Center, on 77 acres, 12 miles northeast of Waco. Nearby are stone memorials to the people who died and the concrete foundation of a new church under construction.
There is a grove of newly planted trees here, too, one tree with a stone marker for each church member who was killed. The grove is about half the size of a football field. There is also a granite memorial to the ATF agents.
The buildings are now marked only by framed placards on posts that tell the Branch Davidians' version of what happened.
Danforth's quest for the truth will follow the people and the evidence that left this site six years ago.
It is a massive undertaking.
The evidence accumulates.
After the fire, investigators found nearly 300 weapons and about 800,000 rounds of ammunition in the remains of the structure. Other evidence includes boxes of videotapes and photos of the activities of federal authorities and members of the Texas National Guard, audio tapes of hostage negotiations and surveillance within the complex, spent cartridges and tear gas canisters recently identified as capable of starting a fire. Then there are statements from witnesses, many of whom may be re-interviewed. There were hundreds of law enforcement agents involved in the siege and nine Branch Davidian survivors who escaped the fire.
Until recently the evidence, which filled 214 boxes, was stored at the Austin headquarters of the Texas Rangers, the state police agency that is similar to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Two weeks ago, the rangers hauled the boxes back to Waco, where a judge has ordered the evidence to be made available for a trial on a wrongful death suit that Branch Davidian survivors have filed against the federal government.
Now the boxes are stored at Waco's federal courthouse, a well-worn, three-story yellow brick building with a red, tin roof, built in 1935.
While Danforth's team will rely on some of the evidence to reach a conclusion, the former senator's inquiry is limited to the events that ended the siege and what the FBI and Justice Department did after that. What happened to cause the standoff and the decisions made during it are not part of Danforth's focus.
Those who have viewed the evidence came away with sharply differing interpretations.
Edward Allard, an expert witness for the Branch Davidian plaintiffs in the suit, has said a preliminary analysis of infrared tapes made on the day of the fire has convinced him that people who accompanied the tanks fired into the Branch Davidian complex.
"Two or three gunners directed automatic gunfire toward the burning building," Allard said in court documents. He has also said fire was directed at the building from a helicopter hovering above.
But the court file is filled with accounts by FBI agents who drove the armored vehicles or who occupied sniper lookout positions. They say no shots were fired at the building, even though some of its occupants were firing at the tanks.
FBI denies shooting Richard Rogers, who headed the FBI's hostage rescue team, said the sniper coverage was to protect those in the armored vehicles from people who might try to disable the vehicles or kill their occupants.
"At no time during the morning of April 19, 1993, or at any other time since Feb. 28, 1993, has any member of the hostage rescue team fired a single shot," Rogers said. "The snipers specifically did not fire at any individual in the compound when there was automatic weapons fire coming from the compound and directed at the armored vehicles or the sniper positions themselves, because the (rescue team's) snipers did not acquire clear and identifiable targets."
Richard Schwein, then special agent in charge of the El Paso FBI office and one of the commanders in the forward command post on April 19, said in a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch that it would have been impossible for the FBI to fire shots unnoticed.
"There wasn't anybody (agents) shooting back," he said. "If an FBI agent fires his weapon, a major investigation ensues. You account for every round. You can't fire a weapon and not have an investigation. You could not conceal the fact that shots were fired."
But one FBI agent, Charles Riley, said in an after-action report that he heard gunshots coming from one of the FBI sniper positions on the day of the fire. The position was that of Lon Horiuchi, an FBI sharpshooter, who had fatally shot Randy Weaver's wife at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. Horiuchi has denied firing shots at Waco, and Riley, in a report in 1996, said he never had heard shots or said he had. Nevertheless, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr., who is hearing the Branch Davidians' wrongful death case, has kept Horiuchi in the case as the only individually named defendant.
"It's already poured..."
As to who started the fire, Edward Wenger, an FBI agent occupying an observation post, said he was "absolutely certain" that the fires were started by people in the compound "intending to die inside and take as many law enforcement people with them as possible."
But James Tabor, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina and author of a book about the Branch Davidians, believes it's unlikely they committed suicide because the church has a strict prohibition against it. He has also said survivors he interviewed knew of no plans for a suicidal fire.
The Branch Davidians believe the fire could have been started by the heat from tear gas projectiles or when tanks tearing down the buildings knocked over oil lanterns. (The FBI had cut off electricity to the complex during the siege.)
Still, the government has audiotapes made by surveillance microphones indicating the Branch Davidians set the fire themselves. On the tapes, unidentified male voices say, "Have you poured it yet?"
"It's already poured."
"So we only light them as they come in, right?"
Aerial photographs of the compound showed a point of light indicating a fire a few seconds before 12:08 p.m. Within 1 1/2 minutes, three separate fires are visible in the photographs. A team of independent arson investigators assembled by the Texas Rangers concluded that the fire was deliberately set from inside the compound and that a flammable liquid was used to accelerate it.
James Quintiere, professor of fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland, confirmed in a separate analysis that the complex was destroyed by three fires that appeared to be intentionally set. His report said there were 77 victims; 27 had possible gunshot wounds and the rest died from smoke inhalation. At least 17 children died in the fire, their bodies found in a concrete food-storage room.
The room was at the base of a tower toward the front of the complex. That tower and the rest of the buildings are gone, now - knocked down, bulldozed or hauled off.
About 200 yards away, the names of the people who died on that last day are posted on the wall of the tiny visitors center. That's where Edna Doyle, a member of the Davidian church since 1958, maintains her vigil. Her son, Clive, survived the fire.
She says she hopes people involved in the siege will tell the truth.
"Their salvation is at stake," she says.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]