DALLAS (AP) - The judge deciding Branch Davidians' wrongful death lawsuit against the government said Friday he has changed his mind and will order a court-appointed expert to testify on whether FBI agents shot at the Waco compound the day it burned.
An advisory jury determined last month that the government was not responsible for the deaths of some 80 Davidians in the 1993 raid, but Judge Walter Smith has yet to make a final ruling in the case.
Smith had barred from the trial a study of infrared images taken by an FBI surveillance camera on the final day of the 51-day standoff, saying he wanted court-appointed expert David Oxlee to review the study's findings before admitting it into court.
The British firm Vector Data Systems Ltd., which conducted the study, concluded flashes on the tape were reflections from sunlight, not gunfire as Davidian survivors and family members of those killed had claimed.
Smith on Friday set a Sept. 18 hearing for Oxlee to testify about the findings.
Smith had originally decided against requiring Oxlee to come from England to testify after plaintiff's attorney Michael Caddell said he wouldn't participate in the hearing.
Plaintiff's co-council Ramsey Clark is now scheduled to question Oxlee at the hearing, Smith said Friday.
In his preliminary report on the events surrounding Waco, Special Counsel John C. Danforth missed an opportunity to note an important reason for the public distrust of government -- the use of military advice and equipment against citizens.
Danforth found government did not commit such "dark acts" as starting the fire at the Branch Davidian complex, but the government's failure to be forthright has contributed to public distrust of government.
His report could have observed that when military advice and equipment are mobilized by civil authorities, public distrust can grow because citizens can be transformed into "enemies." But it didn't.
Instead, his report detailed the military involvement at Waco, but strained to find it all "legal." When three Texas National Guard helicopters, flown by guard personnel, acted as a diversion during the fateful and deadly Feb. 28 raid by military-trained agents from the Treasury's Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unit, the Danforth report said it did not violate the Posse Comitatus Act because the federal act does not apply to the state military aid.
Even though the helicopter flights were a direct military participation in a raid by a civilian agency -- a clear violation of the spirit if not the letter of the federal law -- and even though the flights were in direct contravention of National Guard advisories, the report found the action an "inadvertent violation."
And when U.S. Army Special Forces generals advised Attorney General Janet Reno, the Danforth report said they did not "grade" the FBI's plan at Waco -- which would have been clearly illegal and something the military lawyers had explicitly warned against. Instead, the generals merely recounted how the military would do it, the report said. (One could almost see the report's lawyers wink at this one.)
When Reno testified about the generals before Congress (which the report never mentioned), she said, "Their comments were instructive."
"Rather than an incremental approach proposed by the FBI, [the generals said] gas should be inserted into all portions of the compound simultaneously." And that became the approach pushed by the FBI's military-trained Hostage Rescue Unit.
Of course, military spying, advising and training have been part of American history for decades. It was specifically mobilized to counter anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Then, in what might be called the "Vietnamization" of local police, came SWAT teams and the dumping of excess equipment (such as helicopters).
The War on Drugs gave the military another opportunity to advise and dump equipment on local police -- and to promote an approach to citizens as enemies.
There was a "drug nexus" at Waco, too. It was pretty flimsy, but, according to the Danforth report, the ATF request was enough to get the U.S. military to form a special team, to give the ATF military training, equipment and support for the Feb. 28 raid.
A precipitating event related to the Feb. 28 ATF raid was a surveillance flight that allegedly discovered a "hot spot" indicating a methamphetamine lab. No evidence of such a lab was found in the ashes of the complex. But not to worry. The Danforth report says "the vast majority of military support provided at Waco was not premised on any alleged drug nexus."
That aid included two tanks, a transport aircraft, helicopters, ammunition, surveillance "robots," classified television jamming equipment, gas masks, night-vision goggles, concertina wire, tents, cots, generators and medical supplies -- not to mention 10 Bradley vehicles, five Combat Engineering Vehicles and other military supplies provided by the Texas Guard.
Danforth did point to some in government who acted to keep things secret -- such as the six-year denial that the FBI fired pyrotechnic military rounds on the day of the April 19 fire. This false denial "more than anything else" is responsible for the loss of the public faith in the government's actions at Waco, Danforth said.
Yet the last three decades of military training and equipment for civilian police and the "drug exception" Congress made to the federal Posse Comitatus law have also played a role.
Danforth noted that Waco presented several haunting images: "the sight of ATF agents carrying their dead and wounded from the Branch Davidian complex, the image of that same complex burning against the sky." Another image the public is unlikely to forget is that of a tank ramming and penetrating a frame building on the wind-whipped plains of Texas.
WASHINGTON The special counsel reinvestigating aspects of the 1993 siege near Waco interviewed President Clinton by telephone Wednesday, the White House said.
In a three-sentence statement, the White House press office said the president and special counsel John Danforth had a brief conversation that morning.
"The president voluntarily agreed to be interviewed and spoke with Senator Danforth for about 15 minutes," the statement said. "Consistent with past practice, no further statement about the interview will be made."
Mr. Danforth's spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. But the special counsel's office told The Associated Press that no comment would be forthcoming, citing the ongoing investigation.
The president, in a transcript released last week by the White House, said he made a "terrible mistake" in following the Justice Department's recommendation to permit the FBI to go ahead with a final assault designed to end the 51-day standoff with the Branch Davidians.
The FBI operation ended in tragedy when about 80 sect members perished during a fire that gutted their compound several hours after federal agents launched a tank and tear-gas assault.
"I gave in to the people in the Justice Department who were pleading to go in early, and I felt personally responsible for what had happened, and I still do," Mr. Clinton said in comments made in April. "I made a terrible mistake."
Attorney General Janet Reno, who discussed the operation with the president on the eve of the assault, said last week that both she and the president "had to be convinced, if you will" about the need for the operation.
The president's comments on Waco his bluntest yet came during an April interview with federal investigators who are examining campaign fund-raising controversies. The issue arose when Mr. Clinton explained that his memory of an April 19, 1993, White House visit by political supporter James Riady is clouded because of the unfolding Waco drama.
Asked her reaction to his comments, Ms. Reno said last week: "I think everybody who has been touched by Waco would like to be able to undo it."
Mr. Danforth's interview with the president comes as the special counsel is finalizing his investigation, which began more than 10 months ago and has cost $12 million. The special counsel, appointed last year by Ms. Reno, issued an interim report last month, saying he had wrapped up 95 percent of his investigation.
In that report, the former Republican senator from Missouri cleared the government of "bad acts" at Waco concluding that federal agents neither fired their weapons nor played a role in touching off the inferno. He also cleared the government of engaging in a "broad" cover-up or improperly using the military.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton on Wednesday submitted to a brief interview with former Sen. John Danforth, the special counsel looking into the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas, the White House said.
In a three-sentence statement, the White House said Clinton voluntarily agreed to be interviewed and the two spoke by telephone in the morning for 15 minutes.
``Consistent with past practice, no further statement about the interview will be made,'' it said.
Last month, after conducting a 10-month probe, Danforth released an interim report exonerating government agents and officials in the events that led to the April 19, 1993, deaths of 80 cult members.
Danforth was appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno as an outside investigator after some members of Congress alleged there had been a cover-up of government wrongdoing.
Danforth said in his report that Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and several others from the group were entirely responsible for what transpired at Waco.
About 80 sect members, including Koresh, died in the fire, which followed a raid at the end of a 51-day siege. The standoff began on Feb. 28, 1993, when government agents tried to serve a warrant on Koresh. A gunfight erupted, killing four of the agents and six of the cult members.
Danforth said in his interim report that there were some ''nettlesome'' issues still to be investigated. He is still looking into whether there was an attempt by the FBI to cover up the use of potentially incendiary devices before the compound burned down.
When he released his findings on July 21, Danforth said he envisioned more than three months of work before he issued his final report.
In comments released last month, Clinton said he ``felt personally responsible'' for the deaths at Waco and said he ''made a terrible mistake'' in allowing FBI agents to storm the sect's compound.
Those comments were included in the transcript of a separate Justice Department investigation, conducted in April on campaign finance violations.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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