Exposing the Web of Deceit
For most Americans, it seems, the important questions concerning the 1993 Waco tragedy have been adequately answered by various government investigations and media reports which followed the disastrous event. The 51-day standoff at the complex of the Branch Davidians and the deadly inferno which took the lives of more than 70 of its residents on April 19th were the result of the hell-bent intransigence of its evil, megalomaniacal leader, David Koresh.
That is what we have been told in one official report after another, and in most of the press accounts. In September 1993, the U.S. Treasury Department, which is in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), weighed in with its massive report, Investigation of Vernon Wayne Howell, also known as David Koresh. The following month, the Department of Justice published its Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas. These were followed by congressional hearings, which in many ways criticized and challenged the ATF's and FBI's conduct during, and accounts of, the deadly operation, but in the end appeared to vindicate the actions and decisions of the federal agents and agencies involved. Henceforth, only the totally irrational and irresponsible "fringies" and extremists would continue to concern themselves about alleged government abuses, impropriety, excessive force, and cover-up at Waco.
Not anymore. With the release of Waco: The Rules of Engagement, a powerful two-and-a-half hour documentary, a whole new chapter has been opened in this still-unfolding story. And it is a very disturbing chapter that is unsettling a great many people who thought that this matter had been laid to rest including many "liberal" folks who had bought the pacifying explanations of Janet Reno, Bill Clinton, and the parade of ATF and FBI witnesses who traipsed up to the witness stands of various hearings.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement is not the first credible challenge to the official "Koresh is totally to blame" line. Investigative reporter Dick Reavis' excellent book, The Ashes of Waco, skewers government officials with many of their own lies, distortions, discrepancies, and misrepresentations. And an important new work, No More Wacos, greatly amplifies Reavis' earlier research. Numerous articles by a wide variety of authors have also pointed out many troubling facts which dispute the government's story.
However, the producers of Waco: The Rules of Engagement have raised the challenge to a whole new level, both with the startling evidence they have gathered and the powerfully effective manner of their presentation. This is not another flimsy video effort like Waco: The Big Lie by Linda Thompson, nor does it resemble any of the other misbegotten, misinformed, amateurish Waco videos of the past. Executive producers Dan Gifford and Amy Sommer-Gifford, together with co-producer William Gazecki, are veteran news and movie professionals. Dan Gifford combines years as a news correspondent at ABC, PBS, and CNN with his experience as a television and movie actor (he has roles in the current movies Contact and Mad City) and management of SomFord Entertainment, a Los Angeles company representing actors, directors, and writers. Amy Sommer-Gifford and William Gazecki are also experienced Hollywood hands, and it shows in the final product.
In Waco: The Rules of Engagement, the Giffords and their researchers have assembled some very heavy artillery to demolish many of the falsehoods and much of the demonizing propaganda spread by government officials and the compliant, prostitute press concerning Koresh and his followers. In so doing, they have actually composed a masterful expose of the two major events and cover-ups at Waco: the initial ATF "search" attempt on February 28, 1993 which precipitated the siege and the FBI's final assault on April 19th. They have adroitly combined news footage of the Waco standoff and conflagration with excerpts of congressional hearings, interviews with numerous experts and witnesses, previously unseen video interviews with the Davidians taken inside the compound before the fire, documents, and crime scene exhibits.
One of the most sensational segments of this documentary involves aerial Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) movie footage taken by the FBI's own observation plane over the Waco compound. The FLIR footage looks like black-and-white television camera footage, but registers heat sources. It is the same technology used by U.S. forces during Desert Storm. Sandwiched between the FLIR movie clips are the repeated claims by FBI officials and their congressional supporters that the FBI "did not fire a single shot" during the entire siege. We see, for instance, Representative Gene Taylor (D-MS) asking, "Did the FBI fire one shot even one shot at the Davidian compound?" To which senior FBI official Larry Potts (of Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City bombing infamy) replies, "No sir, not throughout the entire standoff." The problem is that those claims according to the FBI's own FLIR footage are obviously blatant lies. The Gif-fords' Waco takes us step by step through the most important segments of the FLIR film, often using freeze frames or slow motion, accompanied by commentary from Dr. Edward F. Allard, one of the top authorities on FLIR technology.
Dr. Allard, a former deputy director of the U.S. Defense Department's Night Vision Laboratory, helped pioneer much of the infrared thermal imaging technology now in use and holds patents on FLIR-re-lated inventions. In a calm, scientific manner, Allard authoritatively explains the significance of various heat sources seen on the film, including what he asserts are clearly muzzle flashes from automatic weapons fire from outside the building being fired into the building. Much of this shooting into the building follows what Allard describes as the FBI's "infantry/ tank maneuver" in which federal officers on foot apparently are using the armored tank for cover as it punches through the walls of the complex.
Dr. Allard's assessment is backed up by an analysis conducted by the Infraspection Institute for CBS' 60 Minutes. (The CBS newshounds never broadcast their blockbuster findings, of course, which is what one would expect from the network that aptly has been dubbed the "Clintonista Broadcast Service.") In addition to his video testimony, we have reviewed Dr. Allard's sworn affidavit concerning the FLIR footage, which adds even more compelling weight to his charge.
If the Allard and Infraspection analyses of the FLIR film are correct and to the (admittedly untrained) eyes of this viewer their expert analyses very convincingly match what is actually seen on the film then this one segment alone from Waco: The Rules of Engagement is sufficient to completely demolish one of the government's central contentions and to justify officially reopening this case. It not only demonstrates that FBI and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, lied repeatedly under oath when they claimed that no shots were fired by the FBI, but may also mean that the same federal officers who fired into the building are guilty of murdering Davidians who were trying to flee the burning building.
Who Set the Blaze?
But the FLIR footage also appears to hold the answer to another (literally) burning question: Who or what started the fatal fire that ripped through the Davidian complex with such lightning speed? We see Janet Reno straight-facedly testifying that she has "absolutely no doubt at all that the cult members set it." However, the FLIR footage shows flashes right after the FBI tank punched holes through the complex's walls and inserted the highly flammable and toxic CS gas/mist into the residence. Within three minutes, three separate fires erupted in the three separate locations where the gas had been inserted. Spent cartridges from two 40 millimeter pyrotechnic military devices were found where two of the fires started. But FBI official Bob Ricks is seen insisting that only "non-pyrotechnic delivery systems were used to insert the CS gas."
The received wisdom is that Koresh and his followers set the fire themselves in a fiendish mass-suicide scheme. As "proof," the FBI has cited taped comments (from FBI "bugs") by Koresh and others inside the complex concerning pouring and lighting fuel. However, these intercepted comments had been ripped out of context and out of time. They had actually been spoken hours before the fire started and were comments concerning the making of "molotov cocktails" to use as defensive weapons against the tank. There appears to be no evidence that the David-ians ever used any of the cocktails, perhaps because they realized that doing so would present a greater danger to themselves.
If the FBI did not intentionally set the fire, it must, at the very least, be held criminally negligent for failing to anticipate the logical outcome of its irresponsible actions. The documentary quotes Joseph Perino, former chief of the Houston Fire Department, and Eric R. Larsen, a Dow Chemical expert, who both explain that in punching the gaping holes in the sides of the buildings and saturating the complex with highly flammable chemicals, the FBI "experts" were creating conditions which would allow the Texas winds to turn a spark into a fireball.
The incredible decision to use the deadly CS "tear gas" in the first place is yet another matter that was never adequately examined in official investigations. The gas attack actually involved enormous quantities of CS powder dissolved in methylene chloride (paint thinner) pumped into the Davidian complex through a long pipe protruding from an armored tank. The concentrations the Davidians including many elderly people, women, and small children were subjected to were many times higher than would normally be used by police or military units. As FBI spokesman Bob Ricks stated in a press conference as the attack got underway, "We put massive gas in there." Indeed, and as various experts testified, these were lethal levels, especially for the babies, who could not be fitted with gas masks.
And when the toxic, flammable mixture burned, it produced even deadlier hydrogen cyanide gas, the same substance used in prison gas chambers. William Marcus, an inhalant toxicologist for the federal EPA who is interviewed on the effects of hydrogen cyanide, explains that it makes the muscles contract so violently that they actually bend and break one's bones. A photo of the body of one of the Davidian children shows the small corpse with the spine bent severely backward, the obvious result of the cyanide gas.
For anyone who watched the televised 1995 Waco hearings conducted by the Joint Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, surely one of the most gratingly memorable characters must be the snide, sneering, sanctimonious, acid-tongued Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY). Fortunately, Waco: The Rules of Engagement allows the ever-obnoxious Schumer repeatedly to discredit himself with his own words. In one segment of the hearings Schumer is shown upbraiding defense attorney Dick DeGuerin for referring to the FBI's "flash-bangs" as grenades. Schumer fulminates: "This idea of the FBI having hand grenades, not flash-bangs, but hand grenades And then the coup de grace, Mr. DeGuerin says flash-bangs can kill, injure, maim. Anyone who knows anything about these things knows they can't."
The documentary then cuts to Congressman Bob Barr (R-CA) questioning ATF agent Jim Cavanaugh. Barr asks if the flash-bangs used by the ATF and referred to by Schumer are classified as destructive devices under 26 USC Section 6845 (f), to which Cavanaugh answers in the affirmative. Barr then asks if it is true that they can kill people, to which Cavanaugh replies, "Certainly. Yes sir." So much for the self-anointed know-it-all, Mr. Schumer.
But let's drop back to Mr. Cavanaugh. Over and over again, Cavanaugh is caught on audio and video tape in one lie after another. One outstanding example is a recording of his telephone negotiations with Koresh while federal agents are firing on the Davidian complex from helicopters. Cavanaugh begins by asserting, "Well, I think we need to first set the record straight, and that is that there was [sic] no guns on those helicopters." To which Koresh heatedly retorts, "That's a lie ... Jim, you're a damn liar!" Cavanaugh then says, "I said they didn't shoot. There's no guns on " to which Koresh repeatedly responds: "YOU'RE A DAMN LIAR!" Cavanaugh pauses, knowing he's caught in a lie, then comes back with this weasel-worded response intended to pacify Koresh: "What I'm saying is that those helicopters didn't have mounted guns. OK? I'm not disputing that there may have been fire from the helicopters...."
At the House hearings, Cavanaugh nearly broke into tears as he described how the ATF agents were outgunned by the big, bad Davidians. "They were throwing everything at us .... They were hitting us with .223s, AK-47s, .50 calibers," he blurted emotionally. But he was contradicted by retired ATF Deputy Director Dan Hartnett, who told the House investigation, "We weren't outgunned at Waco, that's for sure."
Cavanaugh was also refuted by the ATF's own videotapes, which show a heavily armed force of ATF agents, and by the local 911 tapes, on which the Davidians are pleading with the operator for help from someone anyone to get the ATF to stop the shooting. The ATF agents finally stopped shooting after they ran out of ammo. As various witnesses pointed out, if the Koresh disciples were truly intent on killing the ATF agents, they could have mowed them down as they retreated helpless across the open fields. But they allowed the ATF to flee unmolested.
The Human Side
Without embracing or defending the odd, apocalyptic theology and practices of the Branch Davidians, Waco: The Rules of Engagement effectively humanizes Koresh and his followers, which is no small task, considering the massive vilification campaign to which they were subjected. Jack Harwell, sheriff of McClennan County, is one who helps in this respect. A calm, soft-spoken, grandfatherly man, Sheriff Harwell is no redneck cracker. He knew David Koresh and the Davidians better than did any of the federal officials and media "experts." He didn't agree with or approve of the Branch Davidians' religion and lifestyle, but respected their right to live and worship as they pleased. "They had different beliefs than others, different beliefs than I have, maybe different beliefs than you have in their way of life and especially in their religious beliefs, but basically they were good people," the sheriff noted sadly after the fire. "I was around them quite a lot. They were always nice and mannerly."
Some of the other important witnesses who appear in the film include:
· Farris Rookstool. As the FBI's forensic photographer who photographed nearly all of the bodies of the Branch Davidians, he was alarmed by what he saw: "I'm left with the overall disturbing, haunting opinion that many of the victims were homicide victims." And it was the FBI whom he felt was implicated.
· Dr. Nizan Peerawani. Peerawani, the medical examiner for Tarrant County, allowed his videographer to turn over his videotape of the crime scene, which especially focused on the bodies of the victims, to the FBI. The feds promised they would return it the next day. When he requested the tape be returned, he was treated to a series of delaying excuses. Finally he was told the tape was "lost."
· Texas Rangers David Byrnes and Maurice Cook. Captain Cook says point blank that "we were lied to" by the FBI. And according to Captain Byrnes, the FBI destroyed much valuable evidence at the scene and violated standard investigative procedures unlike "any crime scene I've ever been on."
· Robert Rodriguez. As the ATF's undercover agent at the Davidian compound, Rodriguez warned his superiors to abort the February 28th attack on the Davidians, because Koresh had already been tipped off (thanks to the ATF' s own publicity effort) and the ATF had lost the element of surprise. Rodriguez accused his superiors of lying to the House subcommittee.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement has the potential to awaken millions of soporific Americans from their deadly lethargy and ignorance. Unfortunately, to date it has seen only limited exposure in a few select movie theaters across the country. Amy Sommer-Gifford told The New American that while the film is scheduled for several more theater dates, there are plans to make it available on videotape later this year. ·
WILLIAM F. JASPER
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