The dead were found in the rubble of the April 19 fire that destroyed the compound, killing more than 75 Branch Davidians, including the sect’s leader, David Koresh, and 17 children. Perhaps the worst case of the federal government’s overreaching in American history, the 1993 Waco tragedy has caused Americans to ask the question of how much military involvement will citizens allow in their everyday lives before they lose their rights as individuals.
In February, 1993, 4 federal agents were killed in an assault on the compound of the Branch Davidians, a cult group just outside of Waco, Texas. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (the ATF), a unit of the Treasury Department implemented the operation on the grounds that members of the Branch Davidians possessed illegal firearms and explosives and committed physical and sexual abuse, especially against children. Their goal was to arrest David Koresh, a self-proclaimed apocalyptic prophet and the leader of the cult, and seize the group’s weapons.
After this disaster, in which about a half-dozen cult members died and several federal agents were wounded, the ATF was replaced by the FBI, whose reputation for professionalism promised a quick resolution of the conflict nd an end to the siege. It seemed as if America could breathe a sigh of relief. Negotiations began, and soon some of the Branch Davidians left the compound. Yet the talks ultimately ended up breaking down and finally ended. All utilities including water, electricity, and telephone were cut off.
Davidians were then bombarded with a psychological attack which included 24 hours of glaring from high powered lamps that kept the compound lit all night, and 24 hours of blaring music that included sounds ranging from Buddhist monks chanting to rabbits being killed. This barrage was intended to weaken the will of those inside the ompound who were now largely cut off from contact with the outside world. On April 19, the FBI, in what appears to have been a terrible decision, began another assault.
It included knocking holes in the outer walls of the compound’s buildings with a tank and spraying tear gas into the interiors. Of course, the FBI did not describe this as an assault, but as closing the periphery and increasing the pressure on cult members to surrender. In particular, the FBI hoped that the women would pack up and leave with their children–that their maternal insticts would take over . Instead the compound went up in flames. Over 75 cult members were burnt alive in a blaze that the FBI says was started by cult members.
Some factors point to this being a mass suicide, yet surviving Branch Davidians have said that the fires started when the assault on the walls of the compound spilled fuel from kerosene lamps. Six years after the Waco siege came to its violent end, citizens are angry and shocked about details just recently unfolding concerning the raid that left more than 75 dead. Allegations that military personnel were present and participated in the raid on the Davidian compound raise serious questions about mingling of military and ivilian forces in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids such deployment.
Just one day after the siege ended in flaming terror, President Clinton gave the American people a glimpse of what to expect from the government. The government could not be responsible for, “the fact that a bunch of fanatics decided to kill themselves,” he said. He then warned that “there is, unfortunately, a rise in this sort of fanaticism across the world. And we may have to confront this again. ” The tragedy at Waco by no means is the first or only example of violations of Posse Comitatus, but it does rove the volatility that can result from mixing special- operations troops and civilian law enforcement.
Separation of civilian and military forces has long been an American tradition but under the guise of the “war on drugs” and “war on terrorism,” Congress in the last two decades has enacted legislation allowing military intervention in civilian law enforcement, which many believe violates the law. The distinction between military and civilian forces can rarely be identified. Every law enforcement officer, office, agency or department in the United States lives by the same use-of-force policy. Police ay use force only to the level necessary to neutralize a situation and may use deadly force only to protect themselves or the lives of others.
They are trained to consider individual rights of the citizen, regardless of the severity of the crime. On the other hand, the mission of the military is national security. Soldiers are trained to use deadly force on an enemy. Whatever term is applied, the fact remains that United States troops are participating in civilian law-enforcement activities inside the United States. Often the outcome is frightening and, as in the case of the raid on the Branch Davidians, can be isastrous.
“It’s a slippery slope,” GOP Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia warned recently, toward the militarization of civilian law enforcement. There isn’t a more fundamental issue in our society than keeping civilian law enforcement separate from military. The line was completely blurred at Waco, and because Posse Comitatus has never been prosecuted, this will be one of the most important areas of the upcoming hearings in Waco. ” Right wing Conservatives such as the Christian Coalition and members of the NRA agree with Liberals on a rare occasion that the government did more than just overstep its bounds in the
Waco siege but murdered over 75 people for reasons yet to be concretely established. They believe that the more the military begins to intervene in every day life the faster people’s individual right’s are removed. These rights are included in these amendments which bear particular importance to this issue: 1st Amendment (freedom of Speech); 2nd Amendment (right to Bear Arms); 10th Amendment (all powers not delegated to the United States are reserved to the states or to the people); and the 14th ( no man can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process).
The Clinton Administration and most ther lawmakers tend to lean more towards the middle and to agree with the government on the issue of the Waco siege. Their philosophy: the government is always right. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin was quoted in a 1995 article in The New Republic as painting the critics of the government’s action’s as “opponent’s of law enforcement. ”
“I fear some may try to use (the waco) hearings,” he wrote, “to serve another agenda: to erode public support for federal firearms laws… y undermining public confidence in the men and women who enforce those laws. ” Member of the Clinton Administration, Attorney General Janet Reno, took full responsibility for the operation and it’s disastrous outcome. According to Attorney David B. Kopel and Criminologist Paul H. Blackman, authors of No More Wacos… , the day after Reno made this statement she received a call from the president who told her, “That-a-girl,” to show his support. Perhaps she did her best in approving what now appears to be a senseless assault.
It is a reminder that you try to make the best judgment and you take the consequences,” Reno was quoted in a 1994 New York Times article, “you accept responsibility and ou move ahead, trying always to figure out what you can do better,” Subcommittees in the investigation into the activities of federal law enforcement agencies found Reno’s decision to approve the FBI’s plan to end the Waco standoff on April 19, 1993 “premature, wrong, and highly irresponsible. ” The subcommittees also sighted her negligence in authorizing the assault to proceed.
According to them, Reno knew or should have known that the plan to end the standoff would endanger the lives of the Davidians inside the residence, including the children. She was also aware or hould have been aware that there was a risk to the FBI agents, society as a whole, or to the Davidians from continuing this standoff and at the possibility of a peaceful resolution continued to exist. The attorney general knew or should have known that the reasons cited for ending the standoff on April 19 lacked merit.
The negotiations had not reached impasse. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team did not need to stand down for rest and retraining for at least 2 more weeks after April 19, and if and when it did stand down FBI and local law enforcement SWAT teams could have been brought in to maintain the perimeter. And while physical nd sexual abuse of minors had occurred, there was no basis to conclude that minors were being subjected to any greater risk of sexual abuse during the stand-off than prior to February 28.
The final assault put the children at the greatest risk. } There is no doubt that law enforcement is a noble and necessary element to government, but at Waco the Clinton Administration acted coarsely, thoughtlessly and lethally, and then refused to consider critically what it had done. A perfect example of this callousness is reflected in Attorney General Janet Reno’s decision use C. S. gas (tear gas) for forty-eight hours despite the resence of babies who cannot be protected by the masks.
According to Alan Stone a professor of law and psychiatry at Harvard Law School, the attorney general maintained that she had been assured that the gas would not cause permanent harm to the babies, but medical literature contains convincing evidence of the life threatening risk. The overreaching of government and military in the Waco siege resulted in a situation comparable to those of Nazi germany during World war II, and it is clear that in order for America to remain a free society our country must do everything in its power to prevent events such as thus from ever happening again.