Former Missouri Sen. John C. Danforth issued a blistering rebuke of charges by a Washington-based think tank that he botched his investigation of the FBI's 1993 attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and that the attack was "criminally reckless" in its use of force against the sect.
In a statement issued by his office, Danforth said the study — published by the libertarian Cato Institute and written by Thomas Lynch, director of the institute's Project on Criminal Justice — offered no new information. Danforth reiterated his initial conclusion exonerating the government and placing the blame for the incident on sect leader David Koresh.
"Based on a 14-month investigation, I am 100 percent certain that on April 19, 1993, the government did not set fire to the Branch Davidian complex, did not direct gunfire at the Branch Davidians and did not illegally use the military in a civilian law enforcement operation," Danforth said in the statement.
But the Cato study calls Danforth's investigation "soft and incomplete" and says his "sweeping exoneration of federal officials is not supported by the factual record."
The study alleges that a series of crimes and possible crimes by federal agents were never seriously investigated or prosecuted, and that the government was "criminally reckless" in its use of force against the sect.
"I was hopeful that when Sen. Danforth was appointed Special Counsel he would do a thorough investigation," Lynch said. But the report contained too many "lapses and things glossed over," he said.
The study also disputes Danforth's conclusion that Koresh, who died in a fire inside the group's Mt. Carmel compound along with 75 others during the 51-day standoff, was wholly to blame.
According to Danforth's investigation, Koresh shot and killed four federal agents and wounded 20 others; directed gunfire at FBI agents; spread fuel and set fire to the complex; and shot to death five children and stabbed to death one more.
"I do not agree with Mr. Lynch that the shooting of federal agents, the setting fire to the complex and the shooting and stabbing [of] children constitutes only a 'share' of the responsibility," Danforth said.
Lynch claims agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assaulted a television cameraman and lied to federal investigators, and that FBI agents recklessly endangered human life when they fired tear gas and drove tanks into the Davidians' compound during the final day of a 51-day standoff.
Additionally, the report lists "conduct that warrants further investigation," which Lynch says could be the basis for criminal charges against federal agents and officials.
Among those charges, the report cites witness accounts and evidence that the Davidians were fired upon by National Guard helicopters which the FBI says were used only to distract the sect members during the April 19 advance on the compound. The report also claims that FBI agents fired on the Davidians on April 19. The FBI, and Danforth's report, have maintained that while agents fired hundreds of rounds of tear gas into the compound that day, they did not direct gunfire at the sect members.
The study says Danforth ignored independent expert analysis of the FBI's infrared aerial film of the incident that concluded flashes of light on the film were FBI gunfire. Experts hired by Danforth to examine the film concluded the flashes were reflections off debris on the ground. In his report, Danforth said he was "100 percent" certain that his experts were correct.
"What is disturbing to me is that the experts disagree on this and Danforth says 100-percent certainty," Lynch said. "That's a gross mistatement of the evidence, and another piece that casts doubt on his report."
Lynch also cites evidence suggesting that FBI recording devices planted inside Mt. Carmel had provided the FBI with advance warning of the Davidians' plans to start fires. The FBI has used these tapes since the incident as evidence that the Davidians, and not the FBI, started the fires. However, the FBI claims it did not have this evidence until after the siege when the quality of the tapes could be technologically enhanced. At the time of the assault, the FBI said it could not make out the audio on the tapes and did not know of the Davidians' plans to start fires.
But according to an interview given to the Dallas Morning News by U.S. Army Col. Rodney L. Rawlings, who was assisting the FBI during the raid, the voices of Koresh and other Davidians planning the fires could be clearly heard on the FBI bugging devices.
"You would think Danforth would be discussing [Rawlings'] allegations. It is an obvious lapse," Lynch said.
Finally, Lynch questions whether federal employees, including Attorney General Janet Reno, obstructed justice during various investigations into the incident.
After 51 days of the standoff, Reno approved an assault on the compound to force the Davidians from Mt. Carmel. Agents approached the compound in tanks, smashed holes in the walls and fired tear gas into the building. Hours later, fires said to have been set by the sect members broke out inside the compound and 76 Davidians, including 27 children and Koresh, died in the fires. Nine survived.
Lynch said that of all his allegations, the most serious were that the tear gas and tank assault against the compound — actions not in dispute by the FBI — were conducted without first identifying where the children were being held.
"It wasn't just David Koresh in the building. The government ... glosses over the fact that there were more than 70 people in there," Lynch said. "It amounts to criminally reckless conduct."