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The Latest Waco Fireball

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APRIL 19th was the eighth anniversary of the final FBI assault on the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas. For almost a decade, politicians and bureaucrats have sweated to withhold key information about that day’s events from the American public. But the ghost of Waco may be rising from the grave once more to place its ice-cold hand on the neck of the Washington establishment.

Back in September 1999, Attorney General Janet Reno handpicked former U.S. Senator (and Clinton golfing buddy) John Danforth to put the wooden stake in the heart of the Waco issue once and for all. Danforth, operating supposedly as an independent counsel, did his pious best and raced to release his report last summer just as he became a rumored top prospect to be Bush’s vice presidential candidate.

Danforth basically exonerated the feds, saving his scorn for low-life Americans who dared criticize the government tank assault and gassing of the women, children, and men in the Davidians’ home.

A key issue for Danforth’s investigation was whether FBI agents fired on Davidians during their final attack. Rhythmic patterns on Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) tapes made by an FBI plane strongly suggested automatic-weapons fire came from positions near the FBI tanks. Danforth persuaded federal Judge Walter Smith to conduct a reenactment last year of the final day’s action. Danforth then proclaimed that the film from the reenactment proved beyond a doubt that federal agents did not shoot at Davidians — in large part because the muzzle flashes on the reenactment were much shorter than the shots from the April 19, 1993, tape.

A new film, entitled The F.L.I.R. Project, produced by Mike McNulty (one of the masterminds behind the 1998 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement), reveals fatal flaws in Danforth’s reenactment. (The film is available at www.flirproject.com.)

On April 19, 1993, FBI agents relied on commercial, off-the-shelf ammo — the type that would be used by any hunter or shooter.

For the March 19, 2000, Danforth-FBI reenactment, the FBI used military-issue ammunition that had a special chemical coating on the gunpowder to reduce muzzle flash (helpful in preventing soldiers from being detected in combat). The military ammo thus had a built-in flash suppressant. Since a key issue was the length of the muzzle flashes, using flash-suppressing ammunition ensured that the reenactment would be a farce.

The Danforth-FBI reenactment further biased the test results by having the FBI agents use weapons with 20-inch barrels — instead of weapons with 14-inch barrels which agents carried on April 19, 1993. The longer a weapon’s barrel, the less muzzle flash will be shown from each shot.

This is a tricky way to do an accurate reenactment. But the reenactment produced the politically correct result, and Danforth proceeded to denounce the American people for thinking bad things about their federal masters.

No doubt Danforth, the FBI, and others will continue to insist that there was no gunfire by FBI agents on April 19, 1993. But if the feds are innocent, why have they gone to such absurd lengths to conduct the tests in such a manner?

The $12 million in tax dollars that Danforth spent for his Waco investigation should have been categorized as part of the public-relations budget of the FBI and Justice Department — or perhaps as a line-item expense in the Clinton Legacy Project. The Danforth investigation was a marvel, discovering so many “inaccuracies” in statements by federal officials — but so little perjury.

These revelations come on top of information that has already surfaced showing the Danforth investigation to be a sham. Danforth personally chose Vector Data Systems to carry out the tests, with U.S. military assistance, and to evaluate the results. He repeatedly identified Vector as an independent British company. But Vector is actually owned by Anteon, a large American corporation that boasts on its web page of contracts with 50 federal agencies, including the White House Communications Agency.

“This is not an assault”

A new book by former federal attorney David Hardy further debunks the government’s Waco fairy tale. This Is Not an Assault provides fascinating inside details on how private investigators squeezed out damning information on Waco. Hardy was involved in the trial last year in which Waco survivors sued the federal government for civil damages.

Federal Judge Walter Smith allowed the federal government almost twice as much time to present its case as he allowed the lawyers for the Waco survivors. The Davidian survivors’ lawyers were allowed “only one afternoon in which to rebut two weeks of government testimony.”

The judge also prohibited Davidian attorneys from introducing more than a hundred specific pieces of evidence:

The Davidians’ attorneys were forbidden to mention the ATF’s raid planning, [ask] whether a violent raid was necessary at all, mention that ATF agents (who told the jury they were in self-control) had battered and kicked a cameraman as they retreated, [ask] whether FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team had sabotaged negotiations, state that the military was involved, [and] argue whether the gassing attack was necessary, whether the gas injected was harmful or lethal, or whether the FBI had fired shots.

Hardy also highlights how the government’s tactics tilted the legal playing field:

The government was carrying out an eleven-day courtroom human wave attack. They had eighty or so ATF witnesses to choose from, and several hundred FBI ones available. Eight or ten might be listed for any given day. As quickly as [an attorney for Davidian survivors] ate up one witness, they brought forward another. There had been neither money (a deposition transcript averages about a thousand dollars) nor time [for Davidian survivors’ attorneys] to depose them all; not all had testified at the criminal trial or given statements to the [Texas] Rangers.

Hardy deftly summarizes the Danforth investigation’s peculiar notion of legal duties:

Time after time, agents or Department of Justice attorneys had been caught lying or hiding key evidence, and time after time Danforth proclaimed that no charges would be brought.

Hardy also exposes how Republican congressmen and aides cowered and effectively aided the Clinton administration cover-up. Hardy’s skill in hammering federal agencies with Freedom of Information Act requests was a decisive factor in making Waco a hot political potato in 1999.

Hardy’s book is available at www. xlibris.com.

A genuine investigation is needed

Unfortunately, neither the McNulty film nor the Hardy book seems to be generating much curiosity in Washington. Instead, it is business as usual — with the city’s media already launching a long series of goodbye tributes to retiring FBI director Louis Freeh.

If President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft want to restore the faith of the American people in the federal government, they must open the vaults on Waco. Neither Bush nor Ashcroft should have any incentive to cover up the outrages of Reno and other Clinton administration officials.

On the other hand, if Bush and Ashcroft do not have the will or gumption to force the FBI, the ATF, and the Justice Department to come clean about Clinton-era abuses, what hope can we have of their honesty regarding any abuses occurring after January 20?

Perhaps the Bush crew will avoid doing anything that might potentially “undermine faith in law enforcement.” In the same way that Louis Freeh — who did not become FBI director until several months after the final assault — earned much of the onus for the FBI’s misleading Congress and failure to disclose key information, the Republicans could soon be the fall guys for keeping the truth suppressed about Waco.

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    James Bovard serves as policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader's Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. His other books include: Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book's Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.