Set the Branch Davidians free

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted September 6, 1999

Documentary filmmaker Mike McNulty of Colorado, whose "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" was nominated for an Academy Award, is prepared to release a sequel this fall, presenting evidence that at least six spent incendiary mortar rounds and "flash-bang devices" (the kind that can start fires) were found in the main Mount Carmel church (not just two, and not just in some outbuilding) following the final assault by federal troops in Waco, Texas in April of 1993. The new film will also document the assignment -- illegal without a special presidential order -- of members of the Army's elite Delta Force to be present during that final, deadly government assault, against American civilians on American soil.

What a coincidence that the FBI in the past week has admitted to only as much as Mr. McNulty and the Texas Rangers can apparently now prove -- "spinning" these revelations with the bizarre explanation that (only two) incendiary mortar rounds were fired, only into an outbuilding, hours before the fatal fire which killed 80 people (including scores of innocent women and children.)

Of course, it was Mr. McNulty and his associates who first used the Freedom of Information Act to pry from the federal government the aerial "Forward-Looking Infrared" footage of the final Waco assault -- the real assault, conducted on the back side of the building, out of sight of commercial television cameras -- revealing what several experts have interpreted as fully-automatic rifle fire into the building from positions behind the armored vehicles as those converted tanks moved in to knock down walls and staircases and spray in flammable and disorienting CS gas, effectively making escape impossible for most.

The idea that these are the first "Waco lies" to be revealed is mere wishful thinking. To gain access to military helicopters for the initial assault (by armed tax collectors supposedly investigating reports of an unpaid $200 machine gun tax, but in fact mostly anxious to pull off a dramatic televised raid shortly before their upcoming congressional funding hearings), government agents had to lie on affidavits contending they believed the Rev. David Koresh was running a methamphetamine lab in his church. He was not, and no one ever believed he was.

The government has long insisted there was no gunfire into the building from the helicopters during the initial February raid, though non-Branch Davidian witnesses allowed into the building before it burned saw downward-splintered bullet holes through the ceiling, and eyewitnesses have sworn to me they saw gunfire coming from those helicopters.

Attorney General Janet Reno said the final assault had to be ordered because of new evidence Koresh and others were abusing children in the church, though the Justice Department later admitted there was no such new evidence.

Some might be tempted to dismiss all this as ancient history. But let's recall that most of the Branch Davidian survivors -- not their assailants -- were put on trial following the fiery holocaust at Waco, and seven were sentenced to decades in prison despite being unanimously found innocent on every major, capital charge.

Yes, they're all still in jail, despite being unanimously acquitted of any wrongdoing in the deaths of four federal agents -- agents killed in the initial raid by bullets whose type and caliber the prosecutors were never willing to identify.

And those sentences were meted out over the written objection of jury forewoman Sarah Bain, a Texas schoolteacher, who tells me the jury was shocked at the size of the sentences -- and who wrote to the judge that the jury assumed the defendants would be released for "time served" on the few minor, technical charges on which they were convicted.

Writing in a recent Wall Street Journal, Dr. Alan Stone, who teaches both law and psychiatry at Harvard University and who was brought in by the Justice Department to write an independent review of the handling of the Waco siege, says: "I do not know whether the FBI's pyrotechnic devices, which the bureau has finally acknowledged, actually started the fire. I do know that much of the gas was aimed at the so-called bunker where most of the children suffocated. I do not know whether Delta Force military advisers drove the tanks; I do know the tank drivers departed from the agreed-upon plan and, for reasons never explained, started crushing the compound. As in Vietnam, the government decided to destroy the village in order to save it. ...

"But there is one truth that should be obvious by now; the Branch Davidians were more victims than culprits. ... Mr. Clinton should pardon them. By now he must realize both that the government made reckless mistakes at Waco and that those federal prisoners were motivated by deeply held religious convictions."

Dr. Stone is correct. If Mr. Clinton can justify his recent pardon of a dozen pro-independence Puerto Rican terrorists who set off of bombs -- causing one police officer to lose an eye -- how can he allow breakaway Seventh Day Adventist parishioners who merely tried to defend themselves and their children when illegally attacked in their home to continue serving sentences longer than those which we impose on many a premeditated killer?

Set the Branch Davidians free. Indict their perjury-prone assailants.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $21.95 plus $3 shipping ($6 UPS; $2 shipping each additional copy) through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127. The 500-page trade paperback may also be ordered via web site, or at 1-800-244-2224. Credit cards accepted; volume discounts available.

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