8/95 Waco Hearings

Waco Hearings: A Rush to Judgment
by Larry Pratt
Executive Director
Gun Owners of America

One of the most important questions emerging from the Waco tragedy never got considered by the Waco committee even though an eloquent appeal to consider the dangers of federalizing police work in the U.S. came from Texas Ranger Captain David Byrnes. Byrnes pointed out the trend to federalize everything from carjacking to those evading child support. He warned against passing repressive laws in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing.

Byrnes continued “that for law enforcement to be effective it has to be accountable, and to be accountable it has to be controlled at the lowest possible level. It worries me to think that we’re vesting … a tremendous amount of authority in the FBI to take over every aspect of civil law enforcement in this country…. I think it’s detrimental to our continued freedom in this country. I don’t believe anybody wants a national police force in this country. I certainly don’t.”

Byrnes certainly was in the right place to issue his warning. Last year it was the Democrats with their Crime Bill of 1994 who fought to weaken local control over the police. This year it is the Republicans in their Terror Bills offered in response to the Oklahoma tragedy. Those anti-Bill of Rights bills of 1994 and 1995 are the very legislation that Capt. Byrnes was warning against.

Other issues seemed to preoccupy the Members of Congress, or at least it seemed that way as Rep. Charles Schumer virtually hijacked the hearings singlehandedly. Was David Koresh a teacher of wacky religion? Was he a sexual pervert and child abuser? These were the issues that Schumer wanted to focus on. No one bothered to point out to Mr. Schumer that his oath of office does not give him, or anyone else in the federal government, authority in these areas. Instead of trying government agents for a disastrous action, Kiri Jewel was brought in to spin a lurid tale of how Koresh sexually abused her. No one asked London Daily Telegraph reporter Ambrose Evans-Pritchard to testify regarding the few easy phone calls he made to find out that Ms. Jewel never was in Waco during the time she claimed to have been molested. But, like the tendentious affidavit sworn out by BATF agent Davy Aguillera which read like a supermarket tabloid, the hearing record was distorted by the irrelevant and probably untrue statement allowed from Ms. Jewel.

Another part of Schumer’s hijacking was based on his unrebuted hypocrisy. He made a huge case out of the NRA’s willingness to pay a group of experts to X-Ray the supposedly full-auto guns taken from Mt. Carmel. Somehow, Schumer alleged, this tainted the whole committee process. Where was the Republican rebuttal to point out that the Cult Awareness Network Attorney, David Bardin, was visibly consulting with the Democrats on the first day of the hearing right in front of the cameras? Congress has traditionally used outside groups to supply information. But only Schumer can make it seem, because of Republican ineptness, that something is wrong with what Schumer himself has done for years with Handgun Control, Inc. when he was the top dog on the same committee.

The evidence that there was no ambush planned by David Koresh was glossed over or even ignored by the committee. A fifty caliber Browning — even a semiautomatic .50 caliber — had it been used in an ambush, along with the rest of the guns the Davidians had at their disposal (even without the controversial “evidence” of machine guns at Mt. Carmel) would have left the BATF invaders a lot worse off than four dead. As attorney Jack Zimmerman pointed out, the BATF had to drive hundreds of yards down a flat, wide-open driveway. The Davidians had the high ground. Had they planned an ambush, it would have been like sheep going to the slaughter. But even before the hearings were over, Rep. McCollum was pronouncing as fact that the Davidians had ambushed the government.

Also, the Committee never explained a photograph Gun Owners of America supplied them. The photo (which will be in our Gun Owners Foundation’s forthcoming book, The Davidian Massacre by Carol Moore) shows five BATF agents firing blindly at will into the Davidians’ building without any cover whatsoever. If those agents had been ambushed, their casual shooting posture would have left them for dead.

If there had been an ambush, and the Davidians had fired through their front door at the unsuspecting agents lawfully delivering a warrant, where is the door? One of the agents at the trial said he had seen splinters showering out of the door during the Davidian fusillade. Splinters from a metal door? All of this corroborates the testimony of attorneys Jack Zimmerman and Dick DeGuerin who saw the door and who said that the bullet holes showed entry from the outside in. They also saw the same pattern in the roof of the building that was being ground into the dirt by the tanks before the fire started. And any evidence that might have survived the fire was filmed being pushed into the fire by the FBI’s bulldozers.

It is clear from the record of the trial and the hearings that there was never any intention of serving a warrant on David Koresh. The raid commander could not even say who he had designated to serve the warrant. Koresh could have been arrested on any number of occasions in town. Firearms dealer Henry McMahon has told of David Koresh’s offer, seven months before the raid, to have BATF agents come to Mt. Carmel and inspect the large quantity of guns he had bought legally from McMahon. The Davidians made a fair amount of their income from selling guns at gun shows throughout Texas. The BATF was not interested in inspecting Koresh’s guns, or arresting him the way real cops would, they just wanted to carry out their Rambo-raid.

Another disturbing piece of testimony that was overlooked by Chairman McCollum in his rush to judgment that the Davidians were to blame for what happened related to the CS gas. The hearings did not give a seal of good housekeeping approval for CS gas. It turned out that the FBI had declined to use it against the survivors of their attack on the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho for fear of killing the baby. Dick Sherrow, a former BATF agent and expert witness, contradicted other experts who virtually claimed that CS gas was as good as a vitamin pill. Amnesty International has reported on cases of children dying from CS gas, but they were not invited to testify. Failure Analysis Associates, the firm retained by the NRA, found that the CS gas was, depending on the location in the building, between two and ninety times the concentration used on soldiers. It would seem that the FBI did not want the Davidians to get out of the building.

If fact, Sherrow had warned two years before the BATF assault on the Davidians that something like Waco was going to happen. Corroboration could have come from Mike Wallace of CBS’s 60 Minutes. Wallace found from his contacts with the BATF that the decision to attack Mt. Carmel was based on a desire to improve its tarnished image. In other words, it had nothing to do with the charter the BATF supposedly has from the 1968 Gun Control Act — to combat violent street crime.

The unanswered questions of the Waco hearings still beg for answers. Why did the video tape the BATF made of the initial raid not record? Where is the missing front door with all of its mute testimony as to who shot first? Why were “escape holes” punched in the top of the building? Why were the Davidians’ bodies allowed to decompose in the morgue, thus preventing any follow-up autopsies? Why did 4 1/2 minutes of the infrared tapes for the period just prior to the outbreak of the fire mysteriously get erased? Why were the walls bulldozed into the burning fire?

Rep. Schumer was of the opinion that gunfire or fire killed all the Davidians. Yet there were six women and children who died of blunt trauma, almost certainly from the concrete wall that fell on them after the tank knocked it over, according to Harvard physician Alan Stone.

The hearings gave the overall impression that the government’s honor was being defended, although the evidence of a cover-up is abundant. The FBI was allowed to charge Koresh with having broken his word during the course of the negotiations. Yet the congressmen did not seem interested in the FBI’s lack of good faith that resulted in the Davidians not trusting the government. The Treasury Department’s report on Waco said that there had been no guns on the helicopters. At the hearings, however, it came out that at least one airborne agent did have a gun. And of course, it is now quite clear that the BATF lied to the military about there being drugs at Mt. Carmel. And we know quite well that the raid commanders lied about losing the element of surprise. (Lying is a serious issue, but it should not obscure the even worse offense of deciding on a military raid to begin with.)

And worst of all, something Texas Ranger Captain Byrnes underscored — the need for accountability — is still almost totally lacking. Eighty people are dead, and nothing has happened to those in charge.

The next time the government has a mess like Waco, the feds should be required to call upon the SWAT team of almost any major U.S. city. Had that been done in Waco, it is very likely that nobody would have died on April 19 — or any day after that. The Davidians would almost certainly come out if real cops had been involved.

[Carol Moore’s The Davidian Massacre can be ordered for $8 plus handling by calling Gun Owners Foundation at 1-800-417-1486].