|Friday, September 3, 1999||
Volume 65, Issue 10
Whitlock on Questions
Ed De La Garza
What's to hide?
New evidence has surfaced in the Justice Department's ongoing investigation of the FBI's actions during the Branch Davidian compound siege near Waco. The 51-day standoff, which began when cult leader David Koresh refused to allow ATF agents to enter the compound, ended in fire and killed nearly 80 people more than six years ago.
The cause of the fire had been unknown. The assumption was that Koresh's followers started it, choosing to die rather than be arrested, but recent developments may prove otherwise.
A surveillance videotape contains audio of an agent asking a superior for permission to fire potentially flammable tear gas at the compound more than four hours before the start of the fire.
Until last week, the FBI refused to acknowledge the use of tear gas at all. This conflicts with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's 1995 sworn testimony to Congress that no incendiary devices were used in Waco. The new evidence has upset Reno, who was assured by the FBI that no such devices had been used.
The FBI argues that its agents did not fire the tear gas at the main building of the compound, and that they were not the final cause of the fire.
Whoever is to blame for the fire, it's clear that neither the Justice Department nor the FBI is capable of conducting an unbiased investigation. Reno feels she was lied to, and thus made a fool of, when she offered conflicting testimony four years ago. The FBI surely doesn't want to be taken to task for the deaths of 76 people. It's like asking criminals to prove themselves guilty.
Though we've had enough of independent investigators and committees, it's clear that one is needed in this case. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde is moving closer to creating a five-member committee to look into the matter.
Whoever is to blame -- whether the FBI acted recklessly or the Branch Davidians decided to perform a mass sacrifice -- if new evidence points to wrongdoing, it has to be investigated. There's something funny about government agencies that look like they're trying to hide something. It eventually starts to look like they are hiding something.
Given the frequency of misconduct among officials in all areas of the Clinton administration, it's important to know what really happened in Waco.