Who did what at Waco?; Also: Who knew what afterward? They are separate questions that two investigations must answer.


CONGRESS' second investigation of the 1993 Waco tragedy, and the second by the Justice Department, under an independent leader, must focus on two questions, and keep them separate.

First: Who started the fire that engulfed the Branch Davidian compound and killed some 80 people, and who fired the bullets that killed leader David Koresh and his lieutenants at the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Tex.?

Second: Who lied about details of the operation, that day and later?

We know some answers to the second question. Special Agent Richard M. Rogers, heading the 50-member hostage rescue team at Waco, told his superiors that no incendiary devices had been used. He testified in detail to Congress in 1995 without mentioning any.

Based on his report and FBI materials, a voluminous Justice Department report repeated the line. Experts from the University of Maryland and elsewhere were told it while concluding that the Branch Davidians started the fire.

But the FBI all along possessed a tape recording of Mr. Rogers authorizing use of two canisters of tear gas, which create heat and can start fires. Those canisters were fired four hours before the final raid and fire. The public owes this information to the persistence of a lawyer and a film maker who appear intent on showing that the FBI or the army mowed those people down.

So far, nothing shows that. What did come out is damning evidence that bureaucrats were protecting their backsides. Also, powerful suggestions that the FBI is restive under Justice Department control, and may been patronizing toward the first woman attorney general.

This aspect blew up so badly that Attorney General Janet Reno sent U.S. marshals with subpoenas to get the tape and other records from the FBI. She has supported the bureau director, Louis J. Freeh, who replaced William S. Sessions six months after Waco. The trust between them, which the nation requires, appears frayed from both directions.

The role of soldiers at the operation, which borrowed military equipment, must be explored. The law forbade their participation. Congress must explore this fully.

Everyone's credibility is at stake. The chips should fall where they may. But the two questions must be kept separate. A lie in answer to one does not prove a truth in answer to the other.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad