by Robert W. Lee
House Hearings failed to uncover the truth
When hearings about the Waco tragedy commenced in the House on July 19th, co-chairman Bill Zeliff (R-NH)* asserted that the goal was "to find the truth, to let the chips fall where they may." Ninety-four witnesses were questioned during ten days of testimony, yet the investigation did not move us noticeably closer to the truth about what happened at the Branch Davidian compound. Stifling time constraints (usually five minutes of questioning per subcommittee member) often precluded meaningful, indepth exploration of issues. As Llewelyn Rockwell of the Ludwig von Mises Institute observed in the August 10th Washington Times, "five minutes gives the advantage to liars, even when rigorously questioned." Time and again, when it appeared that something worthwhile might materialize, the gavel would fall.
Samuel Francis aptly summed up the hearings in his syndicated column for August 1lth: "After years of controversy and conspiracy theory, after months of preparation, after two weeks of witnesses, truckloads of evidence and whole libraries of documents, the Republicans who planned and ran the hearings simply blew it. The hearings accomplished nothing." Why not? Because, Francis continued, the "Republicans who ran the investigation really didn't much care that some 80 innocent people were slaughtered by the federal government or its bungling, nor that the agencies involved in the massacre were and remain out of control, nor that the swollen bureaucracy of the federal police exercises a degree of power unrecognized by the Constitution."
Constant procedural roadblocks and wrangling, orchestrated by crime subcommittee ranking minority member Charles Schumer (D-NY), wasted valuable subcommittee and witness time. For example, on the first day of the hearings, before the first witness was called, Schumer instigated a procedural complaint against the showing of a brief film which CNN had prepared for the hearings. The three-minute film contained footage of events beginning February 28, 1993 with the raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on the Branch Davidian complex, during which six Davidians and four ATF agents were killed, and culminating with the April 19, 1993 FBI assault which resulted in the conflagration that claimed the lives of another 74 Davidians, including 21 children under age 16 (23 if two late-term pre-born infants are included). Schumer claimed that the Democratic side had not been informed that the film clip would be shown. Fueled by other members of the minority, the ludicrous dispute raged for many minutes as witnesses waited to testify. Eventually the film was shown, after which the first witness, Richard Reavis, author of an important new book entitled The Ashes of Waco, curtly asserted: "I have cut the remarks I wanted to present in view of the ruckus that I've just witnessed here, which is taking time from everyone."
It was clear from the start that a major objective of both sides was to cleanse the sullied reputation of the federal law enforcement establishment. During the first day of hearings, co-chairman Bill McCollum (R-FL) stated that "we must restore confidence in the rule of law and in the federal government and its federal law enforcement arm. That's what these hearings are about." And Schumer asserted that if the investigation were to be constructive rather than destructive and divisive, the "ATF and FBI should leave this hearing stronger, better, and more effective at enforcing all our laws, including gun laws...." Schumer is an aggressive advocate of draconian gun controls for ordinary Americans. Such domestic civilian disarmament on the one hand, accompanied by pleas for stronger federal law enforcement on the other, would seem to be a blueprint for a police state.
Many persons involved in crucial aspects of the Waco saga were not called to testify, including:
· Representatives of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), which supplied the ATF with much of the information which demonized the Davidians and their leader David Koresh.
· Anti-cult deprogramer Rick Ross, reportedly the "expert" who had the most extensive access to the ATF and FBI regarding Davidian beliefs and practices.
· Reporters for the Waco Tribune-Herald newspaper who authored a series of anti-Davidian articles that began running the day before the ATF raid.
· Bob Ricks, the FBI's media spokesman during the siege.
Ricks was recently appointed commissioner of Oklahoma's Public Safety Department. He has said that he was not called as a witness because "I did not have any area in which controversy surrounded my conduct." To the contrary, statements by Ricks during the siege, and since, have simmered with controversy. On the day of the final holocaust at the Davidian compound, for instance, he claimed that one of the survivors had heard someone inside the compound yell, "The fire' s been lit. The fire' s been lit." But when sect member Renos Avraam, the source for Ricks' comment, was queried on camera by reporters he declared the exact opposite: "One of the tanks knocked over a gas lantern, and it started a fire under some bales of hay that were lying around The fire wasn't started by us."
Ricks also told reporters that one of the surviving sect members had reported that the children were safely placed in a bunker before flames swept the compound. "It appears that this was one final lie on David's [Koresh' s] part to assure the people that the children had been taken care of," he asserted. "It appears once again his final act to the American public was to go through a lie." But as the Associated Press reported on May 14, 1993, "As it turned out, it was no lie: Most of the children were found huddled in the concrete bunker, enveloped in the protective embraces of their mothers."
Also on April 19th, for the first time, Ricks detailed for reporters a scenario that had allegedly transpired on March 2nd, three days after the ATF raid. Koresh, he claimed, had planned to emerge from the compound with "hand grenades attached to himself. When the FBI approached him, he was going to pull the grenades and was going to kill himself .... Everybody knew this was the plan. They all reconvened back in the chapel. David Koresh kissed the kids goodbye and was going to go outside and was going to commit suicide in front of all the TV cameras. At the last second, he chickened out." But during the hearings, it was pointed out that the only basis for this explosive claim was an alleged comment by one of the Davidians who had left the complex during the siege. There was nothing else to substantiate it. Nevertheless, during her testimony before the subcommittee, Attorney General Janet Reno cited the most likely apocryphal story over and over again as a significant factor in her decision to go along with the FBI's final assault plan.
During an August 25, 1993 speech to a civic club in Tulsa, Bob Ricks claimed that, as summarized by the Dallas Morning News, the "FBI has evidence that Branch Davidian Steve Schneider [Kor-esh's close aide and main spokesperson] fatally shot cult leader David Koresh after seeing him trying to flee the sect's burning compound and apparently deciding that the self-proclaimed messiah was a fraud...." Ricks did not reveal the "evidence," but it is likely that it could only have been gleaned from listening devices planted by the FBI in and about the Davidian compound prior to the fire. Tarrant County, Texas Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani, who performed autopsies on the bodies of Koresh and Schneider, both of whom died from gunshot wounds, told the Morning News that while it is impossible to tell if the two were killed by the same gun, the "FBI has something we don't have: There were listening devices in there."
But as ABC's Ted Koppel reported during his July 6, 1995 Nightline broadcast, "At 12:01 [p.m.], the last of the FBI's listening devices went dead. A few minutes later, fires began breaking out."
Questions that should have been posed to key witnesses during the House hearings were not. One glaring oversight became evident when Joyce Sparks, a social worker with the Texas Department of Child Protective Services, appeared before the panel on July 21st. In 1992, Sparks had been involved in checking out rumors of child abuse at Mr. Carmel (no signs of abuse were found, and the case was closed due to lack of evidence). One of her visits, on April 6, 1992, was mentioned in the "probable cause" affidavit signed by ATF Agent Davy Aguilera, which served as the basis for the warrant to search the complex. Aguilera stated that Sparks "said that during her conversation with Koresh [on April 6th], he told her that he was the 'messenger' from God, that the world was coming to an end, and that when he 'reveals' himself the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco, Texas. Koresh stated that it would be a 'military-type operation' and that all the 'non-believers' would have to suffer."
This assertion attributed to Sparks received extensive media publicity and served to fuel a rumor that Koresh and his followers were plotting a violent attack on Waco. Note the date, however. Ms. Sparks, through Aguilera, has Koresh claiming on April 6th that "the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison" to events in Waco, when rioting in LA did not break out until April 29th 23 days later. Something was obviously amiss, and having Ms. Sparks under oath was an ideal opportunity for the subcommittee to clarify this puzzling aspect of the Waco chronicle. She was not, however, asked about the discrepancy.
It was not that subcommittee members were unaware of it. For instance, Representative Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Sparks conducted this colloquy without either indicating that there was a problem:
Taylor: ... I have asked Treasury for some information. This is the testimony that they have supplied, and it says that Ms. Sparks stated during her conversations with Koresh that he described himself to her as the messenger from God, and that when he reveals himself, the Los Angeles, California riots will pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco, Texas. Ms. Sparks stated that when she asked him to elaborate, all he would say was that the world was coming to an end. And when it happens, it will be a military-style operation, and that all non-believers would have to suffer. Is it safe to say the non-believers were the people who weren't a member of that cult?
Sparks: Everybody who's a non-believer, he considered Babylon ....
Taylor: Okay, so everyone other than his cult was going to suffer.
Sparks: That's right.
There were three other references to Koresh's alleged "riot" statement. Note that in two instances, those testifying under oath attempted to have it appear that Sparks' conversation with Koresh occurred after the riots began:
· Chuck Sarabyn, former special agent in charge of the ATF's Houston office, was asked by co-chairman Mc-Collum if there were any "specific indications you had that Mr. Koresh or the group in that compound was posing an imminent danger to the local community around them." Sarabyn replied: "! think, when Joyce Sparks was interviewed at one time, she had a conversation with Koresh. And he made the statement of, you know, the LA riots aren't nothing, or something. I can't remember the actual context of it. But it was something [to the effect] that you ain't seen anything yet, as far as violence, or whatever, in LA."
· Undersecretary of the Treasury Ron Noble asserted in response to a query from co-chairman McCollum: "I believe I have it right. I believe that Joyce Sparks was the person who reported that David Koresh had said on April 30th I might have the date wrong, April 30, 1992 in any event, the day following the LA riots, that when he revealed himself, the LA riots would pale in comparison."
· Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Jahn, who helped prosecute 11 of the surviving Branch Davidian members last year (they were all acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges, though some were convicted of lesser offenses), asserted in response to a question posed by cochairman Zeliff that Koresh "also, during the same period of time and you'll hear from this witness he testified to it or told an outsider who was there examining the child abuse allegations he told her that 'when I reveal myself, my true identity, the riots in Los Angeles will pale by comparison.' This is right after they had the major riots in Los Angeles."
At no point did a member of the subcommittee attempt to set the record straight. Instead, the obviously false affidavit account of Koresh's alleged "riots" statement not only went unchallenged, but emerged from the hearings with an enhanced aura of unjustified credibility.
Attorney General Janet Reno was the final witness. Representative Schumer expressed his delight that someone with her "towering integrity" would wrap up the hearings. Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) gushed that "you exude a degree of sincerity and decency and competence and compassion that makes all of us very proud to have you as our Attorney General. You are a terrific role model for millions of young women who aspire to public service." Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) effused, "You are tough, smart, and, most important, you have a lot of integrity and honesty, and serve our country well as a consequence." And even Representative John Conyers (D-MI) who made headlines during a one-day congressional hearing on April 28, 1993 when he told Ms. Reno that he was "extremely disappointed in the decisions" made by the federal agencies involved in the Waco debacle and that she had done "the right thing by offering to resign" chortled that "you're as confident and thorough and as well prepared as anybody. So that, for everybody that's worrying out there what's going to happen to Janet today you can sit back and get a cup of coffee, because nothing is going to happen to her."
On the GOP side, Chairman McCollum made the astonishing assertion that "everyone agrees that Ms. Reno ... performed her duty admirably," while Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) told her that he thought she had "done an excellent job given the limitations that surrounded you just being in office for 38 days."**
In her opening statement Reno listed a number of factors that culminated in her decision to endorse the FBI's tank-and-tear gas plan. One was that the "perimeter was becoming increasingly unstable, with frequent reports of outsiders, including at least one militia group, on the way either to help Koresh or attack him." This was the first time that an alleged militia incursion had been cited as justification for the final assault. Some observers viewed it as an attempt by Ms. Reno to take advantage of the anti-militia publicity generated in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. The issue piqued the curiosity of Representative J.C. Watts (R-OK), who requested more detail:
Watts: Was there specific information about a particular militia group that you are able to make available to us, or
Reno: Yes, and the name of it I wanted to make sure I had the exact name it was the Unorganized Militia of the United States. The call had gone out nationwide from an attorney for armed people to come to Waco.
Later that day, the Associated Press reported that "the Justice Department said information about the militia came from a discussion group on the Internet, a worldwide computer network." There was, at the time of the Waco incident, no such group as the Unorganized Militia of the United States. One did not surface with that name until the next year. And there were no militia organizations connected to the Internet in April 1993.
Where, then, did Ms. Reno's militia tale originate? Most likely in the April 19, 1994 call by Linda Thompson, an Indiana attorney and at that time the self-appointed "Acting Adjutant General, Unorganized Militia of the United States of America," for militia units throughout the country to convene in Washington, DC that September "armed and prepared to enforce" an ultimatum demanding certain actions by Congress. This appalling scheme, announced on the first anniversary of the Waco fire, was eventually canceled by Thompson in the wake of blistering criticism across the political spectrum. It was apparently this incident that Reno (or those who prepped her for the hearing) twisted into a call for an armed militia march on Waco.
It is important to note that Reno mentioned the phony militia story as if she were recalling something that actually transpired as she pondered whether to allow implementation of the FBI's final solution of the Waco siege. When Representative Robert Ehrlich (R-MD) asked her "with respect to this particular plea that went out to the Unorganized Militia of the United States, did you have any evidence at the time that that plea had actually been acted upon?" Reno replied, "I did not have any evidence that that plea per se had been acted upon," as if the plea had actually existed. She was under oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but in this instance fell far short of that commitment.
Ms. Reno's testimony was larded with contradictions. On the one hand, she said that her decision to allow prompt action to end the siege was based on such considerations as:
· The erosion of "perishable skills" (patience in negotiating, cognition, decision-making, sharp-shooting ability, etc.) of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), which would "soon have to be pulled back for retraining," but could not, she was advised by FBI and military officials, be adequately replaced by police SWAT teams, local law enforcement, or other alternatives.
· Suspected child abuse by Koresh, though child abuse falls under state and local jurisdiction and is beyond the federal government's constitutional purview.
· Indications that the Davidians had sufficient food and water to last up to a year. The FBI advised her that the Davidians' water supply "was plentiful and it was constantly being replenished." But as Richard Reavis points out in The Ashes of Waco, the water tanks "weren't bulletprooF' and could have been pierced again as they had been during the initial raid. Also, the "water pump on which Mt. Carmel relied was located outside the building; tanks could have sheared its pipes, which were above ground."
The "Seven Seals"
Elsewhere in her testimony, Ms. Reno seemed to contradict the need for emergency action, stating: "If I could have been assured that at the end of a year he [Koresh] would come out after he'd written his Seven Seals, I would have waited." And in earlier testimony, Jeffrey Jamar, former special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio office and overall commander of FBI personnel during the siege, asserted: "Had Koresh and anyone else given any indication that there was an earnest, sincere effort to prepare any manuscripts [on the Seven Seals], then we would have delayed it [the final assault]."
On April 14th (five days before the fire), Koresh had released a letter, addressed to Richard DeGuerin, one of his attorneys, in which he stated that "his waiting period was over," and that after completing a manuscript containing the "decoded message of the Seven Seals" of the Book of Revelation he would surrender to authorities. The FBI viewed it as a stalling tactic. Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) posed this question to Jamar:
Shadegg: We move forward to Wednesday, April 14th, when De-Guerin and [Jack] Zimmermann [another Koresh attorney] go in. They come out with this whole new plan. They describe it to you. You say to them, quote, "You have all the time in the world." Was that a misrepresentation on your part?
Jamar: It was not a misrepresentation because what I said was, "If there is writing of a manuscript, if there is progress, we'll take the time." ... Had there been serious preparation of the manuscripts, we would have waited. There was none.
In fact, however, there was. Ruth Riddle, one of the Davidians who survived the fire, brought with her from the complex a computer disk containing work which Koresh had completed on the manuscript. The full text of the fragment is printed in a revealing new book entitled Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America, which explains in detail the precepts of the Davidian faith as espoused by David Koresh and contends that Koresh was not only working on the Seven Seals manuscript, but would likely have surrendered to authorities once it was completed. Authors James D. Tabor, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Eugene V. Gallagher, professor of religious studies at Connecticut College, note that in his April 14th letter Koresh "joyfully reports that 'his waiting period is over' and that upon completion of a manuscript containing the 'decoded message of the Seven Seals' he would come out. He considered the composition of this manuscript a privilege allowed him by God, the direct answer to his prayers, which he had sought for the past seven weeks." Tabor and Gallagher assert, "Regardless of how the content is evaluated, one point is clear: in a short time, under most trying circumstances, Koresh produced a substantial piece of work. He completed the preface, which is a poem; the introduction to the work; and chapter 1, which discusses the First Seal. Judging from this work, we estimate that the finished manuscript would have run about 50-75 pages and might have taken him another week or more to write."
Tabor and Gallagher persuasively argue that the FBI's near-total ignorance of the religious features of the stand-off was a major factor leading to the final tragedy. Some FBI personnel belittled Koresh's scriptural accounts by labeling them "Bible babble."
Other elements leading to Attorney General Reno's final decision were based on ludicrously flimsy evidence. For instance, on at least 11 occasions during her testimony she referred to the alleged suicide plan which Koresh was said to have rehearsed on March 2nd. "Instead of coming out on March the 2nd," she claimed, "he had rehearsed a suicide attempt where he would come out with explosives on, blow himself and some agents up while the others committed suicide inside. That could have happened then, it could happen ten days from then, it could happen six months from then." As noted earlier, the only basis for the "rehearsed suicide" story was an alleged comment by one of the Davidians who left Mr. Carmel during the siege. Co-chairman McCollum told Reno that "as far as the fear of an imminent violent breakout if you waited is concerned, the only thing I've heard and you've repeated it today is this concern of March the 2nd, where Koresh apparently, according to one Davidian who came out, was planning or had made indications he wanted to come out that day with the explosives tied around him and might blow himself up." Thereafter, however, "there was not one shred of evidence that Koresh was implementing such a plan .... And it bothers me a lot that you and the FBI have relied upon that factor, that fear or that concern as the rationale for going ahead at this particular moment in time."
Reno also claimed that Koresh had "talked about Lake Waco causing a catastrophe of some sort." During the standoff, a false rumor had been circulated that the Davidian leader was planning to destroy a dam in the Waco area, supposedly to initiate a Noachian-type flood. The rumor was based on a letter he had written in mid-April claiming that he had been shown (presumably by God) "a fault line running throughout [the] Lake Waco area," and that an "earthquake in Waco is something not to be taken lightly." That was it. The FBI, which at first concluded that it might mean that the Davidians intended to destroy a dam, was eventually relieved to realize that Koresh was merely predicting a natural disaster at some time in the future, and that there was no basis for concluding that he or the other Davidians had criminal intent.
Uncorroborated testimony from disgruntled former members of religious organizations, of former employees, or of embittered family members is notoriously unreliable, but that did not keep Attorney General Reno from somberly asserting that "a former Davidian alleged that Koresh had once spanked a young child for 40 minutes so hard that her bottom was bleeding. The child was only eight months old." That "former Davidian," whom Reno did not mention by name, was Australian musician James Tom. He had received extensive media coverage in 1993 after charging that Koresh had spanked his daughter for 30-40 minutes (or 45-50 minutes, depending on the interview) because she would not sit on Koresh's lap. Once asked why he did not intervene, he said "I couldn't" because he might get hurt himself. The spanking incident remains unverified, as do other charges made by Mr. Tom, including the assertion that Koresh once asked him to surrender one of his children for a literal human sacrifice, and that Koresh had locked his own three-year-old son in a garage as punishment and told the boy there were rats in the garage who liked to gnaw on children.
Dangerous Tearing Agent
Reno was also questioned extensively about her decision to approve the use of the tearing-agent CS in the final assault. Though commonly referred to as a gas, CS is actually a white, crystalline powder (o-chlorobenzylidene malonitrile). It is scheduled to be banned for military use by the Chemical Weapons Convention signed in Paris in January 1993 (prior to Waco) by the U.S. and more than 130 other nations. At least 29 countries have ratified the pact to date; 65 are required for the treaty to take effect. The pact includes an exception, endorsed by the Clinton Administration, for the continued use of CS in domestic law enforcement operations. During her testimony, Reno denied knowing in 1993 that the U.S. had signed the agreement.
Used during the Vietnam War to flush the Vietcong from hidden tunnels, CS causes dizziness, disorientation, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, burning of the skin, and intense tearing, coughing, and vomiting. The FBI claimed that it hoped Davidian mothers, anxious to protect their children, would run outside when the chemical irritant was inserted into the building. It was a strange expectation for a substance that temporarily blinds, disables, and disorients persons.
The use of CS was recommended by FBI special agent Jeff Jamar in March. Attorney General Reno signed off on the plan on April 17th. She contended that her decision was based on the best evidence available to her, which she said indicated that CS was safe and would do no permanent harm to children or the elderly inside the complex. The excruciating short-term effects on both children and the elderly were eventually deemed acceptable. "My mother," she told the subcommittee, "had died the previous December. She had suffered from lung cancer for four years. I took care of her. She also had emphysema. And the image that I had as I first confronted the issue of the gas, and people's description was: 'What if she had been detained against her will, how would that have affected her?' And I kept going over it and over it again with her in mind."
One would think that very little time would be needed to conclude that someone suffering from late-stage lung cancer and emphysema should not be subjected to CS; a bad air-quality day can be life-threatening to such individuals.
"The other image that I had that was so vivid," she continued, "was I had a brand-new 11-month-old grand-niece who had come to Washington, who had seen me sworn in. And my reaction was, 'What do I do about somebody like Kimmy?' What is the answer to that? And I kept going through it and saying, 'I can't do this.'"
Eventually, though, she did it. What changed her mind? Reno testified, "With the additional statements from the FBI that they were going to ultimately have to pull that HRT team back and that they were reaching the limit, this seemed to be the best time."
But that begs the question of whether the Hostage Rescue Team should have been on the scene in the first place. The 50-person unit specializes in counter-terrorism and, as its name implies, the rescue of hostages. It was brought in after the FBI categorized the siege as a "complex Hostage/Barricade rescue situation." But the Davidians were not, by any objective definition, terrorists. And as Tabor and Gallagher note in Why Waco?, "For the Branch Davidians, no one was a hostage. The only 'rescue' they needed was from the government itself." The Justice Department's own October 1993 report on Waco, written by former Assistant Attorney General Edward Dennis, would note that the "negotiations" were characterized as "communicating" with Koresh or "talking" to the Davidians "because the Davidian situation lacked so many of the elements typically present in hostage barricade situations. Koresh made no threats, set no deadlines and made no demands. Koresh and his followers were at Mount Carmel where they wanted to be and living under conditions that were only marginally more severe than they were accustomed to."
The Justice Department report further stated, referring to videotaped interviews with Davidians (male and female, young and old) made during the siege by Koresh aide Steve Schneider: "The abiding impression is not a bunch of 'lunatics,' but rather of a group of people who, for whatever reason, believed so strongly in Koresh that the notion of leaving the squalid compound was unthinkable."
There was conflicting testimony among the experts who testified about the safe use of CS, but none could cite a precedent for the deliberate insertion of the substance into a building for any length of time when children, especially infants, were present. Nor were there precedents for the sort of operation the FBI had in mind. Representative Steve Schiff (R-NM) asked Ms. Reno if she had, when advised about CS, asked, "Has this been done before as the FBI wishes to do it in this case?" She replied: "We explored it because I was trying to see whether there were other circumstances. I don't think that I learned of any other circumstances in which a similar situation was involved. And so I don't think that we were able to find any precedent for it."
Representative Sonny Bono (R-CA), a member of the full House Crime Committee, was concerned that Ms. Reno had not conducted a more exhaustive study of CS before making a decision. He challenged her claim that she had done all she could to investigate the attributes and hazards of the substance, noting that the U.S. Army Chemical Research and Development Center had confirmed that it knew of no laboratory studies of CS in which the subjects were children. He pointed out that Army databases "contain virtually every study on CS that has ever been conducted by any government or private facility in the world," and stated that he found it "difficult to understand how, after extensive, exhaustive research you failed to uncover the following information that ! uncovered in just one day: a report contained in the Journal of the American Medical Association, dated August 4, 1989, that states, I quote, 'Inhalation and toxicology studies at high levels of CS exposure have demonstrated its ability to cause chemical pneumonitis and fatal pulmonary edema.' According to an ear, nose, and throat surgeon that I talked to, pulmonary edema is caused when the mucous membrane is irritated, it secretes mucous which in children and infants plugs up the bronchi. They thus drown in their own saliva and mucous. As soon as the child breathes the fumes, the process begins. Soon after that, the child has little lungs left to breathe, and dies. I find it impossible to believe that with the most powerful law firm in the country, the Department of Justice, at your disposal you could not find this information out, that I found out in one day with two staff members .... So I am sorry to say, Madam Attorney General, that I think you failed there." He concluded with the observation that, in his opinion, "it is the responsibility of the Attorney General in cases like this to research every bit of evidence, and if there is counter evidence, then the error should be on the side of the children."
Ms. Reno responded: "Sir, what we did was to consult with the foremost toxicologist in the country. Subsequently other people raised the concern. We consulted with other experts trying to pursue every possible lead, and we will continue to."
One important lead that appears to have evaded the Attorney General's pursuit was a readily available 1989 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) on the use of CS by Israel in the occupied territories. Representative Dan Mica (R-FL) produced a copy at the hearings. It stated that exposure of high concentrations of tear gas in small enclosed spaces is potentially lethal, particularly to infants and children, the elderly, and those with respiratory and cardiac disease. He asked Reno if any of those on whom she relied for information had made her aware of the report. She replied that she could not recall, then sought to imply that the GAO document was ambiguous about the type of tearing-agent used by Israel. She had, she said, been told that the GAO report did not "make the determination as to whether it was CS gas or CN gas that was involved. Again, we had no record of the CS gas."
But Representative Mica pointed out that the report clearly states: "According to U.S. and Israeli sources, only one kind of tear gas, known as 'CS tear gas,' has been used by the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] in the occupied territories."
In the wake of her testimony, the liberal media predictably portrayed Ms. Reno as having given a stellar performance by standing tall against those who sought to turn Waco into a tar baby for the Clinton Administration. Typical was an August 4, 1995 column by syndicated columnists Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover which, referring to the hearing as "the Republican inquisition," asserted that Ms. Reno had "demonstrated once again why she has proven to be an inspired choice for attorney general." As things turned out, they declared, "the president could not have had a better defender. And the Republicans ... have ended up with egg on their faces."
That last observation is sadly true, but only because the GOP, albeit with a number of notable exceptions, did such a sorry job of keeping their pledge to search for the truth, let the chips fall where they may.
* The hearings were conducted jointly by the Zeliff-chaired National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Representative Bill McCollum (R-FL).
** Ms. Reno was sworn in as Attorney General on March 12, 1993, 12 days after the initial raid and 38 days prior to the fire.
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