"Showdown looming over government's privilege claim in Waco trial"
by Michelle Mittelstadt ("Associated Press", October 4, 1999)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorneys for surviving Branch Davidians and relatives of those who died during the 1993 Waco siege contend the government is withholding important evidence by saying it is classified or falls under Privacy Act protection.
The plaintiffs' lawyers expect to go to trial early next year in their wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the government.
"There are a lot of documents which have been turned over to us, large portions of which have been blacked out,'' said lead counsel Michael Caddell, calling some of the evidence critical to his case. "And that, we'll be taking up with the court.''
Caddell said he anticipates filing motions asking U.S. District Judge Walter Smith in Waco, Texas, to examine the government's privilege claims and he intends to bring up the matter when the parties meet privately with the judge Oct. 15.
Caddell's concern is shared by co-counsel James Brannon, who is representing the estates of the three children Davidian leader David Koresh had with his legal wife, Rachel Jones. The children, and others that Koresh fathered with different women, were among the approximately 80 people who died during the fiery end to the 51-day standoff on April 19, 1993.
The Justice Department offered no comment on the lawyers' complaint.
Caddell questioned the government's blacking out of passages from "virtually every'' post-siege interview conducted with all FBI agents at Waco. "We're entitled to know everything that they heard or saw or did on April 19,''
And Brannon is challenging the government's refusal to provide the names of certain participants in the final assault.
"They cannot hide behind any laws, any statutes to inflict wrongful deaths on American citizens and then say 'You can't ever find out who these people were,''' Brannon said, vowing to take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Pointing to past misstatements by federal officials, including the now-recanted denial that the FBI lobbed potentially incendiary tear gas canisters, Caddell said: "At this point, you have to be suspicious when they are withholding things.''
Smith or a court-appointed special master should review the items the government wants to keep private, he said.
Federal officials are finalizing production of an avalanche of siege-related documents for Smith's court, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno and a House committee, said Michael Bradford, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
On Monday, Smith granted Bradford 30 more days to give the court every Waco-related government document. The documents had been due last Friday.
"We're under deadlines from congressional subpoenas and court production deadlines and we've been working literally around the clock to try to get that accomplished,'' Bradford said. "It's a huge undertaking.''
The House Government Reform Committee is expecting more than 1 million documents, said committee spokesman Mark Corallo.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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