WASHINGTON -- The Republican-led congressional hearings into the 1993 federal assault at Waco opened yesterday with partisan sniping, descriptions of the Branch Davidians' arsenal of weapons and attacks on law enforcement's handling of the 51-day standoff.
Then came Kiri Jewell, a 14-year-old in a long, flowered dress. She told a packed hearing room how the sect's leader, David Koresh, sexually molested her at age 10 when she lived with the Davidians.
She graphically described the encounter and other sexual liaisons between Mr. Koresh and young girls. She recounted the suicide methods preferred when the Davidians' apocalyptic predictions would be realized.
"People need to know the truth," the teen-ager said. "This is my truth. This is what I saw. This is what happened to me."
Miss Jewell's account did not address the stated intent of the hearings -- to examine law enforcement's actions at Waco and to resolve unanswered questions about events surrounding the deaths of four federal agents, Mr. Koresh and more than 80 of his followers. But it was the most striking testimony in the first day of hearings into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' botched Feb. 28, 1993, raid, the FBI's attempts to end the standoff peacefully and the siege's fiery conclusion April 19, 1993.
As many as 90 people are expected to testify over eight days in a joint hearing of two House subcommittees. Yesterday, witnesses explained Mr. Koresh's religious beliefs. They cited missed opportunities to arrest him. They criticized the warrant used to storm the Davidian compound.
Miss Jewell's appearance was reflective of the partisan maneuvering and political posturing that dominated the first day.
The teen-ager testified at the request of Democrats, who want to ensure that Mr. Koresh's sexual liaisons with minors be aired. Attorney General Janet Reno, who is to testify later, cited concerns about child abuse in defending her decision to approve the tear-gas assault that ended the standoff.
The Republicans have hammered away at the actions of federal officials, their heavy-handed tactics and their mishandling of the event.
Last night, the Republicans pressed federal officials about the mistakes and misjudgments associated with the initial raid. Dan Hartnett, ATF's retired deputy director of enforcement, said he could have canceled the raid once the Davidians knew of it but didn't.
Republicans also have questioned why agents chose not to accept Mr. Koresh's invitation to inspect the Davidians' inventory of weapons the summer before the raid. Davy Aguilera, the lead agent on the case, said he declined because the investigation had only recently begun.
As the hearings opened, the panel's co-chairmen, Reps. Bill McCollum of Florida and Bill Zeliff of New Hampshire, dismissed charges by Democrats that the hearings had been tainted by the National Rifle Association. The Democrats accused the Republican staff of agreeing to have the NRA pay for an analysis of weapons seized from the Waco compound. The analysis was never done.
Mr. Zeliff refused a request to subpoena congressional staff members about their alleged dealings with the NRA. "Let us proceed with what we're trying to do here."
But the sniping continued. The Democrats argued about a video used to open the hearing. They contested the format for questioning.
The hearings began with testimony from two authors of Waco-related books, the federal prosecutor in the government's trial against the surviving Davidians, the firearms dealer who sold guns to Mr. Koresh and a former Branch Davidian.
Then they heard from Miss Jewell. With poise and conviction, she told of her early life with Mr. Koresh and the Branch Davidians.
Miss Jewell, who was accompanied by her non-Davidian father, explained Mr. Koresh's teachings and his prediction of a "big battle" between his followers and the world.
"And we would be killed, but we'd come back in a cloud and smite the wicked and retake the world," she read from her statement.
Miss Jewell recalled how Mr. Koresh had twice spanked her -- once for getting candy from a vending machine. She said she slept with the Branch Davidian leader and her mother in one bed. She recalled a childhood friend who, at age 14, "had a baby for" Mr. Koresh.
And she recounted a ride on a ski lift with Mr. Koresh when she was about 7. "That was when David said personally to me that one day I would be one of his wives."
Her first sexual encounter with Mr. Koresh occurred when she and her mother visited Mr. Koresh in Texas during Passover 1991, she said.
One evening, after taking a shower, Mr. Koresh asked her to come sit by him in bed.
"I was wearing a long, white T-shirt and panties," she said. "He kissed me. I just sat there, but then he laid me down." She then said that Mr. Koresh had sexual contact with her.
"I had known this would happen sometime, so I just laid there and stared at the ceiling. I didn't know how to kiss him back," the teen-ager testified. "Anyway, I was kind of freaked out."
In 1992, a judge awarded joint custody to Miss Jewell's father. She was with him when her mother, Mr. Koresh and others died in the fire at the Branch Davidian compound.