WASHINGTON – An Army division commanded by Wesley Clark (search) supplied some of the military equipment for the government's 51-day standoff with a religious sect in Waco, Texas, and Clark's deputy, now the Army Chief of Staff, took part in a crucial Justice Department meeting five days before the siege ended in disaster, according to military records.
Clark's involvement in support of the Waco operation a decade ago was indirect and fleeting, according to his former commanding officer. But the assistance to civilian law enforcement agencies by military officers around Clark and soldiers under his command has prompted a flurry of questions to his presidential campaign.
Internet chat rooms and several news stories speculate that Clark played a role in the tactical planning for the operation that ended with the deaths of about 80 followers of the Branch Davidian religious sect (search) and its leader, David Koresh.
Clark's campaign flatly denies any planning role by Clark in Waco. And an investigation by a Justice Department special counsel, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth (search), R-Mo., bears out that assertion. Danforth found no improper actions by anyone in the U.S. military regarding Waco and concluded that the fiery end to the siege resulted from the Davidians setting fires inside the building compound where they were holed up.
Federal law restricts the role of the military in civilian law enforcement operations and "we weren't involved in the planning or execution of the Waco operation in any way, shape, form or fashion," says retired Army Lt. Gen. Horace Grady "Pete" Taylor, who ran the Fort Hood (search) military base 60 miles from the site of the Waco siege.
Waco "was a civilian operation that the military provided some support to" and "any decisions about where the support came from were my decisions, not General Clark's," Taylor said this week.
"Clark's totally innocent in this regardless of what anybody thinks about him," says Taylor, Clark's former commander. "He played no direct role in this activity nor did any of us."
Regarding Taylor's comments, Clark campaign spokeswoman Mary Jacoby said "this is exactly what we've said all along; Gen. Clark had no involvement."
But critics such as documentary filmmaker Michael McNulty say there are many unanswered questions about the deaths at Waco, including the nature of the military equipment that came out of Clark's division and whether it was used.
Taylor said the FBI sent requests for assistance to the Department of Defense, which forwarded them to the Department of the Army and "ultimately some of these requests came down to me," said Taylor.
Much of the military equipment for Waco came from the Texas National Guard, including 10 Bradley fighting vehicles (search). It is unclear from the public record precisely what military gear Clark's 1st Cavalry Division (search) supplied to civilian law enforcement agents at Waco. One government list of "reimbursable costs" for the 1st Cavalry Division specifies sand bags, fuel for generators and two M1A1 Abrams tanks.
However, the list specifies that the tanks were "not used" and stipulates that no reimbursement for them was to be sought from the FBI. The list also specifies reimbursable costs of nearly $3,500 for 250 rounds of high explosive grenade launcher ammunition. However, the list doesn't specify whether Clark's division or some other Army unit supplied the ammo.
Regardless of who supplied the military items, Danforth's investigation concluded that no one from the government fired a gunshot - despite being fired upon - at the Branch Davidian complex on the final day of the siege.
Clark's assistant division commander at the time, Peter J. Schoomaker, met with Attorney General Janet Reno and other officials from the Justice Department and FBI five days before the siege ended with the fatal fire.
Taylor says that "anything Schoomaker did, he wasn't doing for Clark." Internal Army documents support Taylor's position.
The Justice Department and the FBI requested Schoomaker and William Boykin "by name to meet with the attorney general," states one internal Army document created before the meeting. "These soldiers have extensive special operations experience and have worked with the FBI on previous occasions. Schoomaker "told my watch NCO ... that the FBI plans to pick him up at Fort Hood and fly him first to Waco to assess the situation, and then on to Washington D.C.," states the internal Army document. Schoomaker, currently the Army Chief of Staff, has a background in Army Special Forces. Boykin, who has similar experience, is the Army general whose controversial church speeches cast the war on terrorism in religious terms, prompting recent calls from some in Congress for him to step down.
At the meeting with Reno, Schoomaker and Boykin refused an invitation to assess the plan to inject tear gas into the buildings, a move designed to force the Davidians to flee the compound, an internal Army document states.
"We can't grade your paper," one of the two Special Forces officers was quoted as telling the Justice Department and the FBI. The comment referred to the legal restrictions prohibiting direct participation in civilian law enforcement operations.
McNulty, whose documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" won an Emmy in 1998, provided The AP with several internal Army documents referring to the meeting and obtained from the military under the Freedom of Information Act (search).