When tourists in the small Texas town of Waco ask for directions to the few twisted, charred remains of the Branch Davidian compound, locals prefer to change the subject.
"It was a long time ago," one shopkeeper said last week. "We just want to move on now. We want to talk about other things."
The compound is where about 80 members of the religious cult, including children, died in April 1993 when a botched 51-day stand-off between the sect and FBI agents came to an explosive end.
Waco residents' efforts to put the past behind them have been aided over the past week with the report of a special counsel's investigation the FBI's final tear-gas assault.
The operation - and the massive fatal fireball that followed - have been the subject of an array of conspiracy theories from other cultists and right-wing groups ever suspicious of the leadership of Attorney-General Janet Reno. After pledging to answer definitively the "darkest of questions",
Special Counsel John Danforth ultimately cleared the Government in a strongly worded report that blamed the paranoid cult leader David Koresh himself. But his judgment still noted a "tragic" lack of government candour in the weeks that followed. FBI agents did not start the fire, the military was not used improperly and the Branch Davidians were not fired upon, he ruled.
The Government "did not engage in a massive conspiracy and cover-up", Mr Danforth said as he released the document. "We are certain . . . and I give you these conclusions 100 per cent.
"The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of David Koresh.
This is not a close call." The FBI has long claimed the charismatic Koresh forced his group to barricade themselves deep within their booby-trapped compound after a group of four government Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were killed as they tried to serve an arrest warrant.
Mr Danforth's inquiry was sparked by the discovery last year that government use of volatile tear-gas projectiles was covered up in the controversial wake of the tragedy.
While determining that the projectiles could not have started the fatal fire, Mr Danforth has yet to rule on those responsible for hiding the facts.
His judgment comes a week after a preliminary jury in a civil wrongful death action brought by relatives found the Government not liable.
A judge's final ruling is still pending.
The tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, seven years ago will continue to be one of the darkest episodes in the history of US law enforcement. It should not, however, be recorded as a terrible example of reckless behavior by federal agents.
The report just issued by former US Sen. John Danforth (R) of Missouri, acting as a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno, directly counters the widespread public perception of police misconduct at Waco. Mr. Danforth's investigative team found no evidence that FBI or ATF agents fired at the Davidian compound or ignited the blaze that consumed the buildings and those in them.
The Danforth report comes on the heels of a jury verdict in a wrongful death suit brought by surviving Davidians. The jury, acting in an advisory capacity to the judge who will make a final ruling, said the government was not negligent in its handling of the affair.
These findings should help dispel the all-too-easy assumption that the awful climax of the 51-day standoff in itself implicated the government. Danforth concluded, reasonably, that responsibility for the 80 deaths at Waco lay primarily with the Davidians themselves, who set the fires and shot the guns that day, and particularly with their leader David Koresh.
But the report doesn't excuse the dishonesty of some government officials who withheld information from earlier congressional investigators and their own superiors. The failure to disclose that pyrotechnic devices had been used by the FBI was, after all, the issue that led to Danforth's appointment as special counsel last year.
A few agents and lawyers within the FBI lied about those devices, presumably out of the concern that blame for the fire could be shifted to the government. That, of course, was exactly what happened when the story finally came out.
Danforth, however, found that the pyrotechnic canisters were used hours before the conflagration began, and that they were aimed at a target separated from the main buildings. He points out that the attempted deception just compounded the tragedy, further eroding many people's faith in their government.
Now Americans have an opportunity to look again, and recognize that federal agents were not trigger-happy. That the government did not act with reckless disregard for life. And that the attorney general did not act to deceive Congress or the public - but was herself deceived.
All questions are not answered, however. Was there a way to handle that situation, which started with illegal-firearms allegations, to avoid a final blowup? Was the psychology of the Davidians really understood and taken into account?
The lessons from Waco, including the need for absolute openness with the public, have to be learned.
ST. LOUIS The Waco special counsel's report emphatically clears Attorney General Janet Reno of wrongdoing in the Branch Davidian siege and its aftermath, but it doesn't extend that finding to her Department of Justice.
The preliminary report released Friday by special counsel John Danforth reserved some of its strongest criticism for the Justice Department's actions in seven years of inquiries that have followed the 1993 Waco tragedy.
Although it found no evidence of a massive or deliberate cover up, the report details repeated instances of nondisclosure and resistance to thorough examination of government actions in Waco - a pattern that began with the agency's own 1993 post-siege review and continued in Mr. Danforth's ongoing investigation.
Justice Department officials initially tried to impose "a certain degree of control" over the Danforth probe, the preliminary report states. There was then "substantial resistance," within the agency to Mr. Danforth and his investigators' requests for access to internal agency documents, despite Ms. Reno's vigorous, public promise of "total openness and independence" for her Waco special counsel, the report says.
In some cases, it took direct intervention from FBI Director Louis Freeh or the acting attorney general named to oversee the agency's response to the Waco probe to force officials to surrender some of the estimated 2 million documents so far turned over to the special counsel's office, the report states.
The special counsel's preliminary report concludes that problems have been resolved, and the Justice Department is complying with requests for access to about 300,000 remaining Waco documents. But some congressional sources say they fear that cooperation has not extended to Capitol Hill.
A Senate subcommittee headed by Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa, has asked Mr. Danforth for a formal briefing on his preliminary report.
One official on Capitol Hill said, "We'd like to hear directly from Senator Danforth as to whether he's met the same fate as the Senate, and as well as the House committee investigating this matter. We'd like his thoughts on why the Department of Justice in July 2000 has yet to turn over thousands of documents on Waco."
"We know that the Department of Justice has had some relevant FBI documents, including significant documents, for months. Yet they have sat on them despite congressional subpoenas and repeated requests from the office of special counsel," said the official. "This does not bode well for Janet Reno's Department of Justice, and it deserves a lot more critical look than it has received to date."
Mr. Danforth said Friday that the "lack of openness" is partly rooted in the country's current inquisitorial and often highly partisan mindset. "If something happens, you need to investigate it," he said. "And people who are under investigation get scared. They hunker down."
But he said he found odd the agency's aversion to disclosure of information, especially when his 10-month examination - like past congressional and agency inquiries - conclusively cleared the government of any blame for the standoff's tragic end.
About 80 Davidians died when a fire leveled their compound on April 19, 1993, some six hours after the FBI began trying to force them out with tanks and tear gas. The Danforth report released Friday said all blame for the deaths lays with leader David Koresh and his followers. It also found no basis for charges that government agents might have set or spread the compound blaze or machine-gunned the burning building.
"The only antidote to public distrust is government openness and candor," the former Missouri senator wrote in the preface to his interim report. "Instead, and tragically, just the opposite occurred after Waco. Although the government did nothing evil on April 19, 1993, its failure to fully and openly disclose to the American public all that it did has fueled speculation that it actually committed bad acts that day. Even in their dealings with this investigation. Some government officials have struggled to keep a close hold on information."
Justice Department officials in Washington could not be reached Saturday. They have maintained that they are cooperating fully with all ongoing Waco inquiries.
A Texas federal prosecutor assigned to coordinate collection of government records on the incident for the federal court in Waco said Saturday that there was initial wrangling between Justice officials and Mr. Danforth's office over the breadth of access to internal agency computers and records considered attorney-client privileged.
But the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford of Beaumont, said those disputes centered on valid concerns about setting precedents for future outside inquiries and fears of inadvertent disclosure of case information unrelated to Waco that is strictly protected by federal law.
Mr. Bradford, whose cooperation with the Danforth probe was praised in the special counsel's report, said he was not directly involved in most discussions between Justice and the special counsel.
But he said he helped resolve some problems after being asked to oversee the turnover of documents to the court and then asked in January to lead the government trial team that successfully defended a recent Branch Davidian wrongful death lawsuit.
"I don't think any of it was in bad faith. Sometimes, I think they were being overly cautious," he said. "And frankly, it's like any large organization. It's like any bureaucracy. Things move slowly. Things have to be done by committee.
"I think in general, we did not do as good a job as we should have from the beginning of paying attention to the public perception of things."
Mr. Danforth's criticism of Justice and FBI officials centered largely on the long failure to disclose the use of three military pyrotechnic tear gas grenades on April 19. A senior FBI official acknowledged the use of the devices for the first time last August.
Ms. Reno had expressly banned the use of anything that might spark fires in the April 19 tear gas operation, and the furor over the revelation prompted her appointment of Mr. Danforth to examine the government's actions at the end of the siege.
Mr. Danforth's preliminary report faulted a 1993 Justice Review of the incident for not identifying and disclosing the use of the devices. It concluded that the department's failure was grounded in the "assumption that the FBI had done nothing wrong." As a result of that "clearly negligent" assumption, the report stated, the review that the Justice Department presented to the public in September 1993 as a x complete assessment of FBI actions was neither thorough nor complete.
But when two House subcommittees opened a lengthy inquiry into the Davidian siege, Ms. Reno's special assistant Richard Scruggs and his chief assistant from the 1993 Justice Review were asked to lead the Justice Department's preparations for the congressional hearings.
The department's prevailing attitude was that the 1995 hearings would be aimed at partisan bashing of Ms. Reno, the report states.
Internal Justice documents generated for the hearings and FBI and Justice Department briefings of congressional investigators erroneously insisted that nothing pyrotechnic was used on April 19, the report states.
The special counsel is still investigating whether the misstatements in the documents were product of intentional wrongdoing.
After the Waco controversy resurfaced and Mr. Danforth was brought in to investigate, some Justice officials improperly tried to assert control over the inquiry, the report states.
Some officials tried to deny access to any records on Waco generated after Mr. Danforth's September appointment, and they "resisted" efforts to obtain access to departmental e-mail.
Justice officials also claimed that some information was protected by attorney-client privilege.
"The office of special counsel encountered substantial resistance from some federal agencies to the production of some of these records," the report states.
In some cases, the report states, the resistance continued even after Justice acknowledged that "it had no right to withhold privileged communications from the office of special counsel (because the office is technically part of the Department of Justice)."
Mr. Danforth's investigators also learned from some witnesses that records had not been divulged even after "repeated assurances from the Department of Justice" that they had been turned over. There were repeated instances in which witnesses arrived for interviews with notes, videos and diaries that the Justice Department had never told them to turn over to the Danforth inquiry, the report states.
At one point, the special counsel's office had to ask FBI Director Louis Freeh to intervene after it learned of possible "similar omissions in the FBI's production of documents." In response, the report stated, Mr. Freeh dispatched 11 agents and three attorneys to search offices of FBI lawyers, and they "obtained important records in the process," the report states.
By last week, the special counsel's office was "satisfied" that it had all Justice documents except for some departmental e-mails, which the department has promised to produce, the report stated.
Justice officials also tried unsuccessfully to demand the right to be consulted in actions that might impact the Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit. That demand came after Mr. Danforth's office endorsed a call by a lawyer in the wrongful death lawsuit for a field test to resolve whether government gunfire caused flashes on an FBI infrared video recorded just before the April 19 fire, the report says.
Government lawyers initially fought the proposal but ultimately acquiesced after intense negotiations. After the March test, a British infrared expert who supervised it for the special counsel and the Waco federal court reported in May that the flashes came not from gunfire but from sunlight glints.
Plaintiffs' lawyers in the wrongful death lawsuit have challenged that finding, which has yet to be ruled on by U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. But government lawyers have said they are confident that Judge Smith will reject the gunfire theory, just as an advisory jury recently rejected all other claims of government wrongdoing.
After Mr. Danforth's appointment, the preliminary report states, Justice officials also tried to convince Mr. Danforth to ask Judge Smith to delay the wrongful death trial. The judge had already rejected repeated government bids to delay the trial until at least late this year, but some Justice officials argued that Mr. Danforth should seek a delay until his inquiry was completed.
The report states Mr. Danforth rejected that, adding, that he "did not want to delay or deprive the Davidians of their day in court and [considered] the legal precedent for such a stay weak since the investigation was not initially criminal in nature."
The wrangling with Justice officials - particularly fights over access to evidence - ultimately were all resolved, the report states. But it adds that the efforts were often "contentious" and took "an unnecessarily large amount of time and resources."
"The office of special counsel did not allow these problems to affect the integrity of its investigation, and ultimately obtained all the information that it requested," the report states. "However, the office of special counsel strongly recommends that the Department of Justice draft more specific guidelines outlining the relationship between a special counsel and the Department of Justice in situations where the Department is the subject of an investigation."
Addressing such problems fully with not only the current special counsel's probe but with all legitimate oversight inquiries could prevent a repeat of the seven-year controversy arising from the Waco tragedy, the Capitol Hill official said.
"No one short of the 40 conspiracy nuts on the Internet who are still obsessing about Waco take issue with Danforth's findings of no serious wrongdoing by the government. But the embers weren't even cool in Waco before the Justice Department began stonewalling and blocking legitimate congressional oversight, legitimate discovery requests from both civil and criminal lawyers, and even a legitimate review by their own agency," the official said.
"The American public would not be at the point of learning about these things only seven years after the fact if the Department of Justice had been open from day one," the official said. "Millions of dollars have been spent to answer questions that should have been readily and fully answered immediately after the fire."
After a 10-month independent inquiry, former Missouri Sen. John Danforth issued a 152-page report Friday clearing the government of wrongdoing during the Branch Davidian siege. He found that:
Federal agents did not start the fire at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco on April 19, 1993.
Federal agents did not shoot at Branch Davidians as the compound burned, killing about 80 people inside.
Pyrotechnic tear-gas devices fired on the last day could not have set off the compound fire because they were used four hours before the blaze in an area 75 feet from the compound.
Government officials in Washington, D.C., and Waco did not act wrongfully during the siege.
Mr. Danforth said the government did not engage in a "massive conspiracy and cover-up" in the years after the siege, but he did find irregularities that he has said to date do not merit criminal prosecutions. Among those findings:
He found no wrongdoing by Attorney General Janet Reno or former FBI Director William Sessions.
On-scene Hostage Rescue Team commander Richard Rogers who authorized the use of the pyrotechnic tear-gas devices failed to inform superiors about their use, even when sitting directly behind Ms. Reno as she testified to Congress in 1993 that they were not used. His failures to say the grenades were used "contributed to a public perception of a cover-up," the report said.
Some other members of the hostage rescue team had openly admitted using the pyrotechnic grenades at various times since 1993.
Investigators led by Richard Scruggs in the 1993 Justice Department review of the siege were negligent and failed to conduct a thorough investigation because they proceeded "with the assumption that the FBI had done nothing wrong."
FBI attorney Lynn Brown made "inconsistent, self-serving, misleading and false" statements about the use of the pyrotechnic grenades. The report says she knew about the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades as far back as 1996.
Still being studied
Mr. Danforth said his report later this year will seek to answer these questions:
Did Justice Department attorneys "intentionally" conceal the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds when they failed to inform defense attorneys about them during the 1994 criminal trial in which eight Branch Davidians were convicted on weapons and other charges relating to the siege?
Did the FBI or Justice Department intentionally make "misstatements" in internal documents generated in connection with the 1995 congressional hearings that detail use of gas grenades in Waco and that say none of the gas was pyrotechnic?
What happened to the pyrotechnic tear-gas grenade shells?
Why did the FBI not reveal until 1999 the existence of infrared tapes from the last day of the siege that contain audio tracks showing Mr. Rogers authorizing use of the pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds?
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith will make final rulings within a few weeks in the lawsuit by surviving Branch Davidians and their relatives. An advisory jury on July 14 found federal agents not guilty of using excess force at the beginning of the siege and not guilty of starting the fire at the end of the siege or being negligent for not having firefighting equipment nearby. The judge will also rule on whether FBI agents shot into the burning compound, thereby preventing sect members from escaping.
Mr. Danforth is expected to be asked to appear as soon as next week before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee to discuss his findings and how he conducted his investigation.
The House Government Reform Committee, which also has been examining issues arising from the siege, has yet to determine whether it will hold hearings.
Special counsel John C. Danforth was amazed that most Americans were willing to believe, without evidence, that the government intentionally burned up a group of its citizens at Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Danforth said that amount of mistrust, revealed in a poll last September, undermines the fundamental bargain of American democracy -- that government derives its authority from the consent of the governed.
But in his 10-month investigation of the Waco siege, Danforth also concluded that the government itself was partly at fault for the mistrust. When it came to telling what really happened at Waco, the government was its own worst enemy.
Danforth said that by withholding information from Congress and even stonewalling Danforth's investigators, a few FBI agents and Justice Department lawyers sometimes made it look as if the government was lying.
Danforth called for greater "openness and candor" in government as an "antidote" to the "remarkable" distrust of government. And he called upon all Americans to surrender the dark assumption that the government is involved in evil acts.
The main point of Danforth's interim report of his investigation into the deaths of 80 Branch Davidians at Waco was that the serious allegations of government wrongdoing were untrue. David Koresh caused the death of the Branch Davidians who died in a fire on April 19, 1993 - not Attorney General Janet Reno or anyone else in the government.
But, even though he exonerated Reno, Danforth did not give the Justice Department a clean bill of health. He provided the most detailed account to date of how a few FBI agents and lawyers held back important information about the use of pyrotechnic tear gas rounds, which can cause fire. Agents fired three of these rounds at a bunker 75 feet away from the building four hours before the fire started.
The government's failure to disclose information about the pyrotechnic tear gas was "especially puzzling," Danforth said, "because the use of pyrotechnics had nothing to do with the fire because they weren't fired at the building.
"Yet the failure to disclose this information, more than anything else is responsible for the loss of the public faith in the government's actions at Waco," he said.
Danforth disclosed that:
* Dick Rogers, the head of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team during the siege, sat silently behind Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director William S. Sessions when they testified to Congress in April 1993 that no pyrotechnic tear gas was used at Waco. That was nine days after the April 19 siege during which Rogers had authorized agents to fire three pyrotechnic tear gas rounds at the bunker away from the building. Danforth said Rogers' failure to step forward with the truth "was a significant omission that contributed to the public perception of a cover-up."
Rogers has retired from the agency.
* The government repeatedly denied, until 1999, the existence of an audiotape of Rogers authorizing the firing of the pyrotechnic rounds. Danforth continues to investigate why it took so long for the government to acknowledge the tape's existence.
Two Justice Department lawyers, Ray Jahn and his wife, LeRoy Jahn, submitted written statements in court and to Congress stating that only "nonlethal" rounds of tear gas were fired. The Jahns knew at the time that pyrotechnic rounds had been used. Danforth is still investigating whether their actions might be illegal.
* An FBI lawyer, Jacqueline Brown, knew about the pyrotechnic rounds but failed to tell a Justice Department lawyer about them. Brown gave Danforth's investigators "several different accounts of her actions," but Danforth decided that "one FBI attorney's attempt to cover up her own misconduct" should not be prosecuted because it was not the main focus of the investigation.
* The three pyrotechnic tear gas projectiles and two of their casings still have not been found among the tons of evidence collected from the scene. Danforth reported that he "has developed information" about what happened to the missing evidence and is continuing to investigate it.
Danforth also criticized the Justice Department's own 1993 investigation of Waco, which was headed by Richard Scruggs, an acquaintance of Reno's who came from Miami at her request. Danforth said Scruggs began with the assumption that the FBI did nothing wrong and "did not conduct a formal investigation."
Government hindered inquiry
The Justice Department's roadblocks to finding out what happened at Waco did not end with Danforth's appointment last September.
He disclosed that Justice Department lawyers had tried to withhold documents from the investigation, telling him he was not entitled to documents written after his appointment. They also told him he needed their permission before he sought to simulate the conditions of the Waco siege. And he disclosed that top government officials tried several times to persuade him to seek a delay in the civil suit that the Branch Davidians had filed against the government.
After "contentious" discussions with the department, Danforth refused to give in to any of these limitations. He got the documents, conducted the simulation, and the civil case went ahead. Ironically, the test cleared the government of the gunfire allegations. Then, on July 14, a jury in Texas cleared the government of wrongdoing in the civil case.
Danforth recommended in his report that the Justice Department draw up new guidelines to provide more cooperation with future special counsels who are investigating the department. Danforth is the first special counsel appointed since Congress allowed the independent counsel law to lapse.
Reinforcing public mistrust
Danforth said he was astonished that a poll last September showed that 61 percent of respondents believed that federal law enforcement officials started the fire of the Davidians' complex "despite the lack of any real evidence."
Danforth said his decision to clear the government of bad acts wasn't a close call. "What is remarkable is the overwhelming evidence exonerating the government," he said.
One new piece of evidence in the government's favor was a lie detector test that Danforth's team administered to David Corderman, the agent who fired the three pyrotechnic tear gas rounds. The test indicated that Corderman was answering truthfully when he said he had not fired the fire-causing tear gas at the building.
During the civil trial, lawyers for the Branch Davidians had suggested that Corderman had started one of the fires in the building by firing pyrotechnic rounds into the structure.
Danforth also prepared his own transcripts of conversations among Davidians about starting the fire. The conversations had been intercepted by 11 electronic bugs that the government had sneaked into the complex with the delivery of milk and other items.
Separate transcripts of the conversations that had been prepared by the Justice Department appeared to have been influential in the recent trial. Danforth's transcripts added some new detail and fixed the time of the conversations more precisely. In the hour just before the fire - between 11:17 a.m. and 12:04 p.m. - Davidians said:
"Do you think I could light this soon?"
"I want a fire on the front . . . you two can go."
"Keep that fire going, keep it."
Danforth concluded, as did the jury, that "The only plausible explanation for these comments is that some of the Davidians were executing their plan to start a fire."
Danforth said all of the witness and physical evidence was consistent with Koresh's teaching that fire would "transcend" or "translate" the Davidians immediately to heaven.
No evidence of gunfire
Danforth said "zero" evidence supported the claim that government agents fired on the Davidians in the hour before the fire, trapping them inside. All of the more than 500 government agents who were interviewed by Danforth said there was no government gunfire. Nor was there testimony from any Davidian claiming to have witnessed government gunfire.
Danforth also stressed autopsy results showing that none of the 20 Davidians who died of gunshot wounds had died from "high velocity" rounds that FBI snipers use. Instead, Danforth said, the Davidians killed each other - including five children - with "execution-style" shots from close range.
Tests on 36 shell casings collected from the floor of a government sniper position (called Sierra-1) showed that the casings had not come from FBI guns. The casings were instead from guns fired earlier by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who got in a gunbattle with the Davidians at the start of the 51-day siege.
But Danforth said that the key event of his investigation was the test he organized simulating the conditions of the final day of the Waco siege. The idea of the test was to help determine whether flashes on a 1993 infrared surveillance tape that day had come from the muzzles of guns, as the Davidians claimed.
The test, performed by Vector Data Systems Inc. of England, concluded with "no doubt" that the flashes were from reflections of sunlight, not guns.
Danforth disclosed Friday that he had hired another consultant, Lena Klasen, to perform a separate analysis that determined that no people were on the ground near the places where the flashes were recorded - in other words, that there were no shooters near the flashes.
FBI photographs of the scene, showing no agents on the ground, verify this finding, said Danforth.
Finally, Danforth said it would make no sense for agents to leave the safety of their armored vehicles and face a hail of Davidian gunfire from above. Nor does it make sense, he said, that agents at the back of the complex would be firing at the Davidians, while agents at the front were saving Davidians from the fire.
Military had limited role
Danforth called "entirely meritless" the allegation that commandos had been involved in an armed attack on the complex.
Before the initial ATF raid on Feb. 28, 1993, there was disagreement within the military about how much assistance the military could provide. In the end, the military cut back on its assistance for that raid.
But the sensational allegations of military involvement related to the final day, April 19, when the fire occurred. Davidians claimed that military commandos had taken part in an armed raid on the complex. Danforth administered a lie detector test to a military officer present on the final day of the fire who said that he had not gotten near the complex.
Danforth also dismissed as entirely baseless the claim made in a documentary movie about Waco that a high-explosive "shaped" charge had blown up a concrete bunker where most of the women and children were found dead. Danforth said a propane gas explosion accounted for the damage to the bunker.
Finally, Danforth said the evidence supported the claims by FBI commanders Rogers and Jeff Jamar that they had not begun the premature demolition of the complex in the hour before the fire. Rogers and Jamar insisted that tanks were knocking down part of the building to insert tear gas into an interior room where Davidians had sought refuge. Danforth cited an FBI log entry substantiating Rogers and Jamar's claims.
But Danforth said he was still investigating who had written a medal commendation letter that proposed decorating FBI tank drivers for "dismantling" part of the complex. That was the strongest evidence that FBI agents were ordered to destroy the complex.
Spreading the blame
In a preface that Danforth personally wrote, the special counsel said that the willingness of people to believe such clearly erroneous charges poses a challenge to the principle in the Declaration of Independence that government derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed."
"When 61 percent of the people believe that the government . . . intentionally murders people by fire, the existence of public consent, the very basis of government, is imperiled."
Danforth cast his net of blame widely. He blamed government lawyers for their lack of candor. He blamed lawyers for the Davidians for taking their zealous representation to "extremes." He blamed the media for giving "equal treatment to both outrageous and serious claims" in the interest of "balance." And, he blamed Congress for forcing government officials into a "bunker mentality."
To break "this vicious circle of distrust and recrimination," said Danforth, requires action from the government and from the people.
The government must be more open. Government lawyers must stop "playing it close to the line" and trying to win legal "victory at all costs."
"A government lawyer should never hide evidence or shade the truth, and must always err on the side of disclosure," Danforth said.
As for the people, Danforth said, "We all have the responsibility to distinguish between healthy skepticism about government and the destructive assumption that government is an evil force engaged in dark acts."
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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