|Report On Senate Waco Hearings|
|by Carol Moore|
|November 16, 1995|
I attended both sessions of the Senate Waco hearings, October 31 and November 1, 1995. These hearings focused on federal law enforcement procedures at Waco -- specifically intelligence gathering and relations between the FBI negotiators and Hostage Rescue Team. While the Senate hearings were much more tame than the House hearings, with relatively little demonization of the Branch Davidian victims, they still gave aware citizens the same impression: despite its protestations, Congress is more interested in protecting federal law enforcement than in protecting citizens from federal law enforcement.
During most of the hearing only three or four members of the 18 person committee actually were in attendance. Only Senate Judiciary Committee chair Orrin Hatch and the surprisingly level headed Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein sat through much of the hearing.
Hatch declared there was no "conspiracy" against the Davidians, even as the committee chose to ignore evidence of a "cover your butt" conspiracy between BATF and FBI agents -- evidence that: BATF agents fired from helicopters and killed four Davidians, BATF shot first at the front door mortally wounding the unarmed Perry Jones, BATF agents assassinated Michael Schroeder as he approached Mount Carmel, FBI and BATF agents systematically destroyed evidence, and FBI agents in Waco withheld information from Janet Reno and other officials to gain approval of their fatal gassing plan.
Hatch did show and criticize a photograph of a rambo-style FBI agent astride a tank and another of a burned Davidian book opened to a page about the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. He opined that the FBI Hostage Rescue Team should be used as the last resort, not the first, in civilian law enforcement situations like at Ruby Ridge and Waco. FBI critic Senator Chuck Grassley asserted that some federal law enforcement agencies had come to resemble "Keystone Ninjas" and noted that many in the law enforcement community believe Koresh got what he deserved.
Democrat Joseph R. Biden, former head of the Committee, emphasized that federal agents' actions at Waco were merely mistakes, not in any way based on malevolence. C-SPAN and CNN headline news chose this point to show me and another member of the Committee for Waco Justice sitting in the hearing room wearing black t-shirts reading "ATF COPTERS KILLED 4" and "FBI TANKS KILLED 76". The capitol police initially tried to keep us out but the committee staff person let us in; Biden was not too happy and glared at us.
The first day's first witness, James Fyfe, Professor of Criminal Justice at Temple University, complained there was "No FBI to investigate the FBI," as the FBI investigates local police for abuses. He called for the creation of a citizen's advisory and review panel, along the lines of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, to oversee federal law enforcement actions. This suggestion was ignored.
His co-panelist was Nancy Ammerman, the religious scholar who was one of the outside experts asked to review the Justice Department report on Waco. At the hearing she repeated her criticisms of the religious insensitivity of the FBI, their reliance on the advice of anti-cult activists, and the Hostage Rescue Team's primacy over the negotiators. And she asserted that after hearing the negotiation tapes, which had not been made available to her for that report, she was convinced Koresh would have come out after finishing his book on the Seven Seals. Ammerman warned law enforcement that just because a religious or political group considers the government to be the enemy, professional law enforcement agents should not, therefore, adopt the mentality that the group is the enemy.
Fyfe and Ammerman's testimony was "balanced" by the next six witnesses, all of whom toed the government line. Geoffrey Moulton, project director of the Treasury Department review, did criticize some aspects of the investigation, the decision to conduct a "dynamic entry," the supervision of the raid, and post-raid BATF disinformation, but defended BATF's assertions to the military that there might be a methamphetamine laboratory at Mount Carmel. He criticized Congress for using its hearings to undermine federal law enforcement. Captain John Kolman, who assisted in the Treasury report, made a similar charge, claiming Congressmen asked the wrong people the wrong questions. (However, he didn't make the logical suggestion that Congress therefore appoint an independent counsel who would ask the right people the right questions!)
Three BATF agents described their involvement in intelligence planning and used their testimony to repeat horror stories about the fury of the Davidian "ambush" and to decry the activities of such "criminals." Gerald Petrilli emotionally described retrieving the bodies of dead agents and his doctor's conclusion that he had been hit by a Davidian grenade. Jeff Brzozowski described his own heroism in protecting the family living across the street from alleged Davidian gun fire. Roger Gutherie, who has claimed he shot from the ground Davidian Peter Gent, who was on the water tower, merely referred to his firing on "individuals identified as a threat." He then lied, asserting that BATF agents got in a "second gun battle with three members of the Branch Davidians" by the hay barn. However, at trial only (dubious) evidence that one Davidian fired a gun was entered.
Treasury official Ron Noble defended the Treasury Department's oversight of BATF's actions at Waco, repeating the usual assertions that the search warrant was sufficient, that Davidians were not targeted because of religious beliefs, that Davidians ambushed BATF, and that after the fire four dozen illegal weapons were found. He outlined changes in policy since Waco: new leadership, the requirement that Treasury be notified of significant operations, improvements in undercover, oversight and coordination functions; he bragged about recent BATF successes. BATF Director John McGaw read off a laundry list of recent BATF arrests and convictions of obviously nasty criminals, even as he asserted "ATF is no threat to the private ownership of lawful firearms."
The second day was devoted to problems with negotiations. Frank Bolz, former chief negotiator for the New York City police force, who negotiated 285 hostage incidents without the loss of a single life, stressed that the most important issue in negotiations is always to save lives. "Life, once taken, is irreplaceable." (A concept foreign to Richard Rogers' FBI Hostage Rescue Team.)
Ken Lanning, FBI's leading expert on cults and the sexual victimization of children, revealed that he had only two brief conversations with FBI agents at Waco and was never asked to come down and lend his expertise. He mentioned that he had previously been critical of law enforcement's tendency to believe questionable information about so-called "cults," including from "disgruntled" and therefore biased former members. He considered the label "cult" to being akin to a racial slur. The inference was that FBI agents in Waco didn't want another FBI expert who might be "soft" on the Davidians. Senator Simon actually noted that it was unfortunate that there had been so much "demonization" of the Davidians.
The second panel was definitely the high point of the hearing because it included Davidian prisoner Graeme Craddock, there with one of his attorneys, Patrick Browne. (Craddock received a twenty-year sentence for possession of a grenade and use of a weapon in a crime of violence, namely, the conspiracy charge of which the jury found him innocent. He is serving his sentence at Oakdale, Louisiana and is appealing his case.) Two Davidian survivors who came down from Canada managed to make it just in time, walking into the hearing room just two minutes after Craddock began his testimony.
Craddock, a deliberate, even pedantic, and somewhat stern speaker (he was a school teacher and engineer) asserted that the standoff could have and should have ended peacefully. He explained that Davidians truly believed in what David Koresh told them during the standoff. His statement, "If we were deceived, we were genuinely deceived," was reportedly misused by some newspeople. He stated Davidians believed God would protect them even as he had protected Jerusalem from the Assyrians by killing 185,000 of the attackers. Davidians thought it possible God would protect them "even by similar means." (During the standoff Koresh kept warning the FBI that God might decide to destroy them.)
However, Craddock also stressed that Koresh said that if the FBI was honest with Davidians they were obligated to come out -- but the FBI was not honest. Craddock described FBI lies about milk, lies during press conferences, and lies about David acting like madman on April 18 as the FBI removed automobiles. He said Davidians heard FBI lies on that date as an attempt to dehumanize them to justify to the public what they were about to do. Davidians believed public opinion was the main thing preventing the government from slaughtering them. Craddock explained that "the beast" is the most negative aspect of human nature and Koresh had told Davidians that the U.S. Government only had the potential to be the beast.
Craddock revealed that on March 21, after 7 Davidians had just exited, Steve Schneider was giving a Bible study to about twenty Davidians who were to exit the next day. When Schneider refused to leave the study to answer the phone, the FBI punished him by beginning the nightlong playing of loud music, refusing to stop it on the Davidians' request. The angry Davidians canceled their exit plans. Craddock stressed that every time the Davidians did something positive, the FBI did something negative.
The FBI negotiator at Waco, Clint Van Zandt, confirmed that fact, saying that every time Davidians cooperated, the Hostage Rescue Team would punish them with destruction of property, turning off electricity, or escalated harassment. And Senator Hatch twice played the sound of rabbits being slaughtered on national TV, which was quite a consciousness raiser! Van Zandt compared FBI siege commander Jeff Jamar to General Patton saying he, like Hostage Rescue Team commander Richard Rogers, were action-oriented. FBI behavioral expert, who agreed that the Hostage Rescue Team was overly aggressive, nevertheless engaged in some furious demonization of Koresh and the Davidians.
Craddock, who kept referring to whether or not people were "sent out," explained that people couldn't just come out without Koresh or Schneider calling the FBI. If they did so, they would get flashbanged. He admitted some Davidians wanted to leave, but were "embarrassed" to ask Koresh or Schneider to contact the FBI. However, others requested to leave and did so.
Craddock detailed his assertion that Davidians did not throw out the phone in the morning, as the FBI asserted, and that he did not retrieve the phone when he went outside. Rather he went out and discovered the phone line had been broken out much further in the yard by a tank.
Despite the fact that Craddock agreed to appear to discuss only negotiations, Democrats Feinstein and especially Patrick Leahy, "ambushed" him and started asking sensitive questions about child sexual abuse (he said he abhorred it, but did not believe Koresh did it); the March 2 "suicide plan" (he said all he knew was a few guys were going to carry guns because they thought the FBI might attack them); why he carried so many guns on February 28 (he insisted he didn't intend to use them, except in self-defense); why he was carrying an (allegedly) live grenade on April 19 (he didn't feel like arguing with Koresh, who gave it to him, and didn't want to leave it around where it might hurt someone); and whether the Davidians started the fire (he said he did not "see" or "know" that anyone did so, and did not believe they did. (Craddock has been criticized because in his Grand Jury testimony after the fire -- the main evidence used to convict him -- he said he heard confused calls that he thought might be related to starting a fire.) When Leahy asked if Craddock knew about preparations to start a fire, his attorney advised him not to answer the question and complained about the sensitive line of questioning. Leahy replied by criticizing Craddock's "self-serving" testimony.
Chair Orrin Hatch did not intervene as Leahy continued tough questioning -- at least until Craddock began to assert that BATF shot first at the front door. He was getting ready to launch into stories other Davidians told about what happened there. Suddenly Hatch piped up, saying, "Oh, we agreed not to ask him these sensitive questions that might influence his appeal." It was obvious Hatch was not interested in hearing too much truth.
Senator Feinstein countered Leahy's assertion that Craddock was lying and self-serving by asserting that she thought Craddock had been very honest and they should not criticize him for not answering questions his attorney told him not to answer. One top congressional staffer, after hearing Craddock's testimony, opined to a spectator that the prisoner should received a presidential pardon. So should they all!
Craddock's attorney Patrick Browne strongly countered Pete Smerick's false statements that Koresh had wanted a showdown with the government by reminding the committee that Koresh had invited BATF agent Aguilera to inspect his guns through his gun dealer Henry McMahon in July, 1992. And he emphasized that Koresh had in fact given BATF a chance to conduct its search on February 28 by standing at the door unarmed and saying, "Let's talk about this." The important implications of these attempts to cooperate were not acknowledged by the senators. (Smerick's ultimate analysis of Koresh's "psychopathology" was, "Koresh was the type of man who would never be told what to do. David Koresh was a man who would control his own destiny." Can you imagine! What did Koresh think this is, a free country?!?)
FBI Director Louis Freeh could not find time to attend the hearing. The last panel featured three of his underlings, Robin Montgomery, Special Agent in Charge of the Critical Incident Response Group (and a main participant in the Weaver incident); Gary Noesner, a lead negotiator at Waco; and William Esposito, Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division. They reassured senators that the new Critical Incident Response Group would ensure that only experienced crisis managers would be in charge of such future incidents, that negotiators would be equally important as tactical units and that credible outside experts with appropriate information would be consulted. They tried to reassure senators that the FBI would not make the same "mistakes" again at Waco.
However, many Americans remain convinced that many of the FBI agents' actions were not merely mistakes, but attempts to destroy evidence of BATF criminal assault -- including the killing of four Davidians by shots fired from helicopters -- and punish the Davidians for defending themselves against the BATF assault. The credible suspicions that Congress and federal law enforcement are willing to let a few agents get away with mass murder rather than tarnish the image of all law enforcement continues to undermine the credibility of the whole federal establishment.
Carol Moore is author of the newly published mass market paperback The Davidian Massacre. To order autographed copies from the author, or to get on the Waco mailing list, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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