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Waco Tragedy

– Texas Essay, Research Paper “All I smelled was rotten bodies,” Texas Ranger, Roy Coffman said during his testimony at the murder and conspiracy trial of 11 Branch Davidians. The dead were found in the rubble of the April 19 fire

– Texas Essay, Research Paper

“All I smelled was rotten bodies,” Texas Ranger, Roy Coffman said during his testimony at the

murder and conspiracy trial of 11 Branch Davidians. 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 and 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 compound 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 civilian 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 prove 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 may 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 disastrous.

“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 other 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…by

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 you 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 should 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 and 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 presence 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.

1. “Agents of Apocalypse.” Editorial. Commonweal 7 May 1993: 3.

2. “Apocalypse Now.” Editorial. New Republic 21 Aug. 1995: 7.

3. Associated Press. “Agents Dismissed in Raid on Sect Say They Were Blamed

Unfairly.” New York Times 13 Nov. 1994: 38.

4. “Clinton & Co.: Koresh’s Children.” Editorial. The Nation 23 May 1994: 689.

5. Hamm, Mark S. Apocalypse in Oklahoma: Waco and Ruby Ridge Revenged. Boston:

Northeastern University Press, 1997.

6. “A Jury Judges Waco.” Editorial. New York Times 1 Mar. 1994: 22.

7. Kopel, David B. and Paul H. Blackman. No More Wacos: What’s Wrong With

Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1997.

8. “The Land of the Free.” Editorial. The Economist 21 Dec. 1996: 29-32.

9. O’meara, Kelly Patricia. “Deadly Force and Individual Rights.” Insight on the News

8 Nov. 1999: 14-15.

10. “Prosecution Completes Case Against 11 Koresh Followers.” New York Times 16

Feb. 1994: 17.

11. Reavis, Dick J. The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation. New York: Simon &

Schuster, 1995.

12. “Redoubled Standards?” Editorial. National Review 1 Nov. 1993: 16.

13. Shafer, Richard. “Terrorism and the Media: From the Iran Hostage Crisis to the

Oklahoma City Bombing.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly

Autumn 1996: 770-72.

14. Stone, Alan. “Burned by Waco.” Editorial. The Nation 28 Aug. 1995: 188.

15. “Team U.S.A.” Editorial. The Nation 1 Nov. 1993: 483.

16. “Texas Officer Recalls Horror in Rubble of Cult Compound.” New York Times 14

Jan. 1994: 24.

17. Verhovek, Sam Howe. “Murder Case Against 11 Cult Members Goes to Jury.” New

York Times 24 Feb. 1994: 14.

18. Verhovek, Sam Howe. “Texas Sect Trial Spurs Scrutiny of Government.” New

York Times 10 Jan. 1994: 10.

19. “Waco Inferno Remembered by Davidians.” New York Times 18 Apr. 1994: 10.

20. “The War in Waco.” Editorial. The Nation 10 May 1993: 615.

21. “With Morbid Ideals.” Editorial. National Review 15 May 1995: 18.

22. Zesch, Lindy. “Hate Wave.” Editorial. American Theater July 1995: 3.

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