Saturday, February 01, 2003
Licensed to Slaughter
An Examination of Governmental Crimes in Waco
By John D. Dingell III
On Feb. 28, 1993, highly militarized agents of the BATF attacked the Branch Davidian religious group outside of Waco, Texas. A standoff ensued and by its end, after the fire of April 19, 1993, nearly 90 people had died. This article, written by John D. Dingell III only two months after the fire, examines the initial BATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound. It still stands as one of the best journalistic analyses of the BATF raid. It is reprinted from the July-August 1993 issue of Incite Information, a newsletter precursor to Press Action.
The U.S. news media has focused on the catastrophic end to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco rather than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ (BATF) actions that started the Waco incident. The FBI deserves critical scrutiny for their actions on April 19, but it was the BATF who recklessly opened the Pandora’s box in Waco.
The BATF has a long history of violating constitutional and human rights during their raids, raids that have been designed to convey political and bureaucratic messages well beyond their ostensible law enforcement purposes. Because the BATF raids are not strictly law enforcement operations, their goals are muddled and their execution frequently produces casualties. Should the BATF successfully escape responsibility for the outrage in Waco, Americans can expect repeat performances from them in the future.
The dress rehearsal for the Waco tragedy occurred in December 1991, when BATF agents under the direction of Senior Agent Phil Chojnacki attacked the home of John Lawmaster in Tulsa, Okla. Heavily armed BATF agents stormed into Lawmaster’s home and, just as in Waco, the news media cameras were recording the “action.” The news media received an “anonymous tip” that the Tulsa raid would be taking place.
Lawmaster’s home was unoccupied at the time of the raid so no one was injured, but the BATF agents literally tore his house apart (doing about $20,000 worth of damage) looking for illegal weapons. They found nothing illegal and left, after intimidating his neighbors who thought that thieves were at work. The BATF agents left Lawmaster’s possessions strewn about his house with a shattered front door and a note on the kitchen table: “BATF search, no evidence found.”
Lawmaster attempted to find out why the BATF targeted him, but the local U.S. district attorney had the search warrant “sealed” by court order. This legal action also effectively prevents Lawmaster from seeking any compensation under the Tort Claims Act for the damages done by Chojnacki’s storm troopers.
The local and national news media ignored the Lawmaster raid, as well as the government’s legal maneuvering to bury it. No doubt the local media felt guilty about their involvement, but this doesn’t explain the silence of the national media. Their silence emboldened BATF Senior Agenty Phil Chojnacki, who went on to direct the disastrous raid at Waco that ultimately caused about 80 deaths.
BATF personnel at all levels have been lying about the Waco incident, beginning before the raid. BATF intelligence chief David Troy told Texas officials that the Branch Davidians were operating a methamphetamine laboratory, but this was not mentioned in the search warrant for the raid. The BATF concocted the “methamphetamine lab” charge against the Branch Davidians at the last minute to get Texas National Guard helicopters for the raid once they discovered that federal law only permits the use of National Guard equipment in criminal raids when drug charges are alleged.
BATF Director Stephen Higgins claimed the paramilitary raid was necessary because David Koresh hadn’t left the Branch Davidian compound for several months prior to the raid. But Koresh had been out of the compound on a weekly basis, leaving the compound as recently as Feb. 26 to visit a nightclub in Waco. That was verified by many Waco townspeople and local law enforcement officers.
BATF Director Higgins also claimed that a paramilitary raid was the only way possible to arrest Koresh because he was so well-armed. Yet his agency knew that Koresh and six of his followers had been peacefully arrested on attempted murder and weapons charges (later dismissed) in 1988 by Waco Sheriff Jack Harwell and his deputies. These were much more serious charges than those alleged by BATF, yet Koresh and his followers put up no resistance to Sheriff Harwell. Waco District Attorney Vic Feazell said the difference between the 1988 arrests and the 1993 fiasco was that “we treated them like human beings, rather than storm-trooping the place.” Indeed, the FBI had to call in Sheriff Harwell to restart stalled negotiations with Koresh because Harwell was the only law enforcement officer Koresh trusted.
Director Higgens has repeatedly stated that the BATF raid in Waco produced a large number of casualties because they unknowingly lost the element of surprise and that “no BATF supervisor would proceed with such a raid once the element of surprise was lost.” Yet press reports indicate that BATF Senior Agent Phil Chojnacki was buzzing the Branch Davidian compound in his TNG helicopter before he ordered the BATF agents on the ground to begin their portion of the assault.
Director Higgens also tried to pin the loss of surprise at Waco on unknown persons. Despite Director Higgens’ statements to the contrary on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” BATF informed several news organizations prior to the raid so they could record the action. Director Higgens recanted the outright lie at the House Judiciary Committee investigation, but only because some BATF agents injured in the raid had filed a lawsuit against the Waco Tribune-Herald for disclosing the raid after being given advanced notice.
Director Higgens also stated on “Face the Nation” that the BATF agents on the ground were shot down before they made it to the Branch Davidian compound. But the BATF agents on the ground say they were greeted by an unarmed David Koresh at the front door of the compound. The shooting on the ground began later when a BATF agent shot himself accidentally while disembarking from a cattle trailer. Confused BATF agents at the front door who could not see the accidental discharge began firing at the Branch Davidians, thinking that they were responding to gunfire from the Branch Davidians. The reporters present at the time believed that the Branch Davidians began the shooting, but they got this false impression because the BATF agents who started firing were using sound-suppressed H&K MP-5SD submachine guns.
After the raid, BATF intelligence chief David Troy had the gall to tell the Associated Press: “The reason we did not assault this compound with fully automatic machine guns ... is that we are a law enforcement agency.” The television clips from the raid clearly show BATF agents firing H&K MP-5, H&K MP-5SD and M-16 weapons in the full automatic mode with a total lack of fire discipline.
David Troy’s prevarication about machine guns later became the basis for the BATF’s claim that the raid failed — and resulted in a 20% casualty rate among the attacking agents — because they were outgunned at Waco. Many of the BATF casualties were the result of “friendly fire” because agents were using a special 9x19mm cartridge (the “Cyclone 9” cartridge developed at Aberdeen Proving Ground) specifically designed to cut through Kevlar “bulletproof” vests. David Troy’s assertion is a disingenuous attempt to conceal BATF negligence that allowed agents to use ammunition capable of penetrating their own protective vests. Not surprisingly, the BATF has refused to disclose how many of their casualties at Waco resulted from self-inflicted wounds and “friendly fire.”
The Elusive Truth
We will probably never know whether the Branch Davidians set the fire that destroyed their Waco compound because the entire U.S. government joined in the BATF festival of lies after the initial raid. The FBI’s “suicide pact” hypothesis regarding the fire at the Branch Davidian compound is little more than self-serving conjecture intended to buy time until public attention subsides. Then they can rely on a protracted “independent” investigation to obfuscate events and the FBI decision-making process.
The “independent” fire investigation at Waco was conducted for the FBI by a former BATF agent whose wife still works for the BATF Houston office, which is administered by Senior Agent Phil Chojnacki. The three individuals appointed by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentson to investigate the BATF role in Waco are from Philadelphia. All three Bentson appointees participated in Philadelphia’s damage control operation after the bungled police weapons raid and fire bombing of the MOVE compound there. And congressional investigators such as Jack Brooks of Texas (chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) hardly inspire confidence when they say, “I would have bombed the Branch Davidian compound on the day after the [BATF] raid” during their inquiry.
After taking charge of the Waco siege, FBI Director Williams Sessions said that they wouldn’t use tear gas because it might be fatal to the children inside the compound. Then on April 19 the FBI went ahead and used tear gas. Attorney General Janet Reno said that the FBI had evidence of increasing child abuse in the compound, but FBI Director Sessions said they had no such evidence. Then Attorney General Janet Reno said that the FBI hostage rescue team was overextended and fatigued, but FBI Director Sessions replied that they could have continued in place indefinitely.
After the Branch Davidian compound burned, the FBI spokesman in Waco said that it was the result of a “suicide pact” and indicated that two of the surviving Branch Davidians had confessed to starting the fires. Later on April 19, the FBI retracted this statement and said that their sharpshooters had seen two Branch Davidians cupping their hands (whatever that means). Then the FBI spokesman in Waco said that there were at least three fire initiation sites and this proved that the Waco compound fire was started by Branch Davidians. Several days later the FBI said that there were only two fire initiation sites.
The only credible evidence (as this is written) supporting the FBI’s “suicide pact” hypothesis is the existence of multiple fire initiation sites, the limited number of Branch Davidians to escape, and gunshot wounds in some of the Branch Davidians. But this isn’t conclusive evidence because:
1) The FBI’s analysis of fire initiation at the Branch Davidian compound is critically flawed because they did not consider the ability of transverse waves, induced in the exterior walls of the compound as they were breached with the armored vehicles’ tear gas nozzles, to knock down the kerosene lanterns attached to the walls at locations far removed from the breach sites.
2) The structure of the Branch Davidian compound may have been so badly damaged by the armored vehicles that avenues of escape were effectively barricaded. Most of the bodies in the Waco compound were found in its interior, where the Branch Davidians presumably sought refuge from the tear gas.
3) Many of the Branch Davidians may have preferred suicide by gunshot to immolation.
The FBI’s chosen experts are not engineers and they are clearly ignorant of the effects of transverse waves in large structures. But there are plenty of architects and engineers quite knowledgeable about wave mechanics in structures because this is the basis for developing earthquake resistant structures. An earthquake isn’t a bad analogy to use in the case of the FBI actions on April 19 either, because the 58-ton armored vehicles delivered blows with kinetic energy levels quite comparable those suffered by a structure during an earthquake. This kind of energy transfer to a flimsy wooden structure like the Branch Davidian compound could have easily knocked down kerosene lanterns and collapsed passageways.
No one should place credence in the FBI’s self-serving conjecture about the end of the Branch Davidian compound until there is a genuinely independent, impartial and technically competent inquiry. Unfortunately, no such inquiry seems to be forthcoming.
Uncertainty about the FBI’s responsibility for the tragic ending in Waco should not absolve the BATF for their actions at the beginning. The BATF shouldn’t be permitted to whitewash their actions in Waco or they will do it again somewhere else and more people will die. Bureaucratic bungling, political grandstanding and brazen lying may be tolerable in the civil agencies of government that only place money and time at risk, but they are totally unacceptable in law enforcement agencies that place human lives at risk.
Here are links to additional information about the BATF and FBI assaults on the Branch Davidians:Share