WASHINGTON -- FBI officials overseeing negotiations with Branch Davidian leader David Koresh were convinced he would never surrender despite an offer to do so communicated by his lawyers days before the assault on Mount Carmel, a congressional hearing was told yesterday.
Jeffrey Jamar, the FBI's on-site commander at Waco, testified that he viewed as "another delaying tactic" Koresh's offer to surrender once he finished writing a religious treatise.
"It was not a serious plan," said Mr. Jamar, the former special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio office. "If there had been serious preparation of the manuscripts, we would've waited. We wouldn't have done what we did on the 19th if we had seen some progress."
The April 19 assault ended a 51-day standoff that began after a botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). But instead of forcing the Davidians to surrender, the tear gas attack led to a fire that consumed the compound.
Koresh and 80 followers, including 22 children, died in the flames or from bullets in what government investigators called a mass suicide.
Members of two House subcommittees are in the second week of hearings investigating law enforcement's actions during the tragedy.
They spent the first week probing the ATF's initial raid Feb. 28, when four agents and six Davidians were killed after ATF agents tried to serve a search warrant.
Yesterday, committee members turned their attention to FBI officials who spent 51 days trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff before deciding to pump tear gas into the compound to force a surrender.
Lawyers for Koresh and another Davidian testified earlier this week that they told the FBI that Koresh had agreed to surrender once he finished writing a religious treatise. The preparation of the manuscript was expected to take 14 to 21 days.
The Houston lawyers, Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, testified that they believed the FBI had "all the time in the world."
But within days, the FBI launched the tear gas assault and the lawyers said they felt they had been deceived by FBI negotiators.
But Mr. Jamar and the FBI's lead negotiator, Byron A. Sage, testified yesterday that the manuscript offer was not new. Koresh had given them no indication that he would keep his word, they said.
"That was about the fourth time he promised to surrender," Mr. Jamar testified. "He constantly made promises he would not keep."
Mr. Sage, who oversees the FBI's Austin office, described the April 14 offer by Koresh as "a hope embraced by the attorneys in good faith."
"It was never an agreement [to surrender]," Mr. Sage testified.
Mr. Jamar said he believed Koresh manipulated his lawyers just as he manipulated FBI negotiators.
To have waited for Koresh without some progress would have given the Davidian leader the chance to dictate the end of the siege.
"The end was going to be the same," Mr. Jamar said. "He was going to have that end in one manner or another."
Mr. Jamar and Mr. Sage testified they did not mention the April 14 surrender offer to Webster L. Hubbell, then a high-ranking Justice Department official who was advising Attorney General Janet Reno.
"There was no credibility to it at that time," Mr. Sage testified.
As the lead negotiator, Mr. Sage testified that he never abandoned negotiations or the hope that he could resolve the standoff peacefully.
The Republican-led House is holding the hearings to answer questions raised by the initial raid, the subsequent standoff and the fiery ending when the FBI used tanks to pump tear gas into the compound to try to force a surrender. Among the issues was the use of a tear gas known as CS.
Some critics have charged that the FBI did not fully know or appreciate the effects of using that gas. But Mr. Jamar said the FBI had relied on information from experts that the gas was the least toxic.
Dr. David Upshall, a scientist with the United Kingdom's Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment, told the committees that the amount of CS gas pumped into the Davidian compound was not excessive.
He said he and a colleague, Dr. Paul Rice, were saddened by the deaths but that "It is our sincere belief that the CS played no direct part in these deaths."
Dr. George Uhlig, a chemist at the College of Eastern Utah, offered a different opinion on the possible effects of the gas. He cited an Amnesty International report that linked excessive use of CS gas with deaths of children and the elderly in the occupied territories of Israel.
The hearings resume today with testimony from the former No. 2 official at the FBI, Larry Potts.