The February 26 acquittal of 11 surviving Branch Davidians of murder and conspiracy to murder federal agents sent a strong message to those in government. The American people will no longer tolerate the use of force out of all proportion to the danger, especially when peaceful means to accomplish the same end had not been tried. They expect those who enforce the law on their behalf to act with restraint and common sense.
The trial, however, did not put an end to questions concerning the propriety and conduct of the February 28, 1993 raid by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol. Tobacco, & Firearms (BATF) and the subsequent 51 day siege by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). If anything, testimony at the trial raised more questions than it answered. We still don't know, for instance, who fired the first shot on February 28 and who set fire to the complex on April 19, important pieces of information in determining culpability.
Another question left unanswered is why Governor Ann Richards continued to allow the use of National Guard assets even after she learned that BATF officials had lied to her about a drug investigation of the Branch Davidians, the only situation short of martial law where military forces can be used in a civilian police operation.
The Treasury and Justice Departments investigations of their respective agencies the BATF by Treasury and the FBI by Justice were a joke. Even The New York Times called the reports a whitewash. Testimony during the trial showed that the investigation of the incident by the Texas Rangers was faulty. Although they controlled the crime scene, the Rangers took no action to prevent its destruction, they failed to consider whether government agents were at fault, they allowed federal agents involved in the incident to help gather evidence, they used federal facilities and employees to analyze the evidence, and they could not account for the disappearance of evidence seen in photographs.
The incident was so horrible and alien to our system of law enforcement that it demands a complete, through, and impartial investigation. The McLennan County District Attorney should ask a local grand jury to look into the entire matter. This is what should have been done in the first place. After all, the deaths and injuries did not occur on federal territory, therefore, they are subject to local jurisdiction. If there is sufficient evidence to indict federal agents, then a trial should determine culpability. Unlike a similar case in Idaho a year and a half ago where county prosecutors are considering murder charges against federal agents after the acquittals of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris, there is no indication that such an investigation is afoot in Waco.
Congress should also conduct it own investigation. It has been very reluctant to do so thus far. Instead, it has allowed the Treasury and Justice Departments reports to stand unchallenged and has used the excuse that it did not want to interfere with the trial. Yet, prominent members of both parties are demanding a Congressional investigation into Whitewater despite objections from the special prosecutor. Why the double standard?
It would be a no win situation for Congress to investigate the Branch Davidian debacle. It is Congress which has given federal agencies broad powers, many say far beyond constitutional limits. Any investigation would implicate Congress itself, a Republican administration which gave the initial orders, and a Democratic one which carried them out. Only a sustained public outcry will force Congress to do its duty. Calls for such an investigation have increased since the February 26 acquittals, but have been overshadowed by public concern over the Whitewater scandal.
Several private organizations have asked President Clinton to appoint a special commission to review the policies of all federal law enforcement agencies. They are rightfully concerned with the growing abuse of power by such agencies as exemplified in the Weaver and Branch Davidian incidents. They believe that these two episodes are part of a pattern of abuse of authority which involve improper use of deadly force and unreliable informants.
Any and all of these investigations are in order. Nothing less is at stake than public confidence in and respect for our elected and appointed officials. The public needs reassurance that such tragedies will not occur again, and that those responsible have been brought to justice.
Next | Previous | LaRosa Reports | Mt. Carmel Page | Commentary Page | Text Version | Home | Constitution Society