An investigation rigged from the beginning to clear the federal government.

Former Senator John Danforth has just released a preliminary report on the findings of his investigation into Waco. I have read it, and found it to be another whitewash. This is not because, as you might be thinking, the report says that the FBI did not start the fire or shoot at Davidians on the final day, and I believe that the FBI started the fire and shot at Davidians. Despite my Davidian sympathies, I've never been persuaded of those two particular charges. There is more than enough malevolence, malfeasance, abuse of power, deceit, and coverup to be outraged about without them.

Thus, I was dismayed when Danforth announced he would limit his inquiry mainly to those two issues. He claimed to be going into his investigation with an "open mind," but I thought that he might be deliberately narrowing his scope to charges so "extreme" that he believed they couldn't possibly be true, in order to avoid exploring any issues where the government might be guilty.

Indeed, the very bounds of his investigation implied that he had preconceived ideas. For instance, he said that whether the government "fired shots" and "killed people" on April 19 were "dark questions," yet there was no question that government agents "fired shots" and "killed people" on February 28. His refusal to include those matters logically implied that he presumed those killings were justified, a presumption not conceded by government critics. The government's alleged "bad acts" are not limited to a few issues on April 19.

His report gives ample support to the hypothesis that it was meant to be limited to topics that were "safe" for the government. As expected, he declares that the government did not start the fire, shoot at Davidians, or illegally use the military. Despite his announced focus, he does cover some issues from before April 19, but there is a consistent pattern. When he feels he can claim to "absolutely" clear the government, he finds some pretext for including the matter in his investigation. However, whenever the evidence is more ambiguous, or puts the government in a bad light, he declares the subject to be "outside the scope" of his investigation. Thus, his report cherry-picks which issues he is going to cover, in such a manner as to avoid having to condemn federal agents.

This predilection is particularly striking with respect to the ATF raid of February 28. As part of his mandate to explore whether the military was used illegally at Waco, he inquired into whether the ATF acquired military and National Guard support fraudulently, by trumping up charges that a methamphetamine lab might be present at Mt. Carmel. The answers he got back weren't looking good for the ATF, so he abruptly terminated this line of inquiry, with the reasoning that the ATF could have gotten the same military support somehow without the drug charges, so it was beyond the scope of his investigation. Later, he decides that the question of whether anyone fired from the National Guard helicopters on February 28 is within his mandate, and "clears" the government of that charge, despite having decided that whether those helicopters were fraudulently obtained in the first place was not within his mandate.

Similarly, he decides that it's not his business to ask who fired the first shot on February 28 (but that the gun battle was all David Koresh's fault no matter what). But then he finds that Michael Schroeder (a Davidian who was outside Mt. Carmel at the time of the initial gunfight and was killed later that day trying to get back in) was not finished off by ATF agents as he lay wounded, as some have alleged. On what logical grounds does Danforth decide that the question of who fired first does not fall under his mandate, but that whether Michael Schroeder was executed by vengeful ATF agents is? Danforth doesn't even bother to offer any, but simply decides arbitrarily to include the Michael Schroeder matter.

Danforth also investigated whether the government engaged in a coverup of its "bad acts." This would seem to be a vulnerable point for the government, since it has been covering up quite a bit about Waco. Indeed, Danforth found that not only had officials failed to "fully and openly disclose to the American public all that it did," many officials continued to obstruct his own investigation, fighting the turnover of evidence. But since Danforth limited the "scope" of his investigation to whether the government covering up doing the things that he decided they didn't do,

Nearly half of his report consists of a final section called a "Statement of Facts" which "contains the essential background information needed to understand the conclusions of the Special Counselís Interim Report... It does not attempt to chronicle fully the Waco incident." This provides Danforth with another opportunity to make assertions about matters not the subject of his investigation and introduce more pro-government spin under the excuse that it is "essential" and "needed" background information, while relegating information that the government wants swept under the rug to those matters not "fully chonicled."

Besides his selective choice of which issues to cover, there is a selective presentation of evidence. Much of his report reads like a government brief, citing only evidence that supports the conclusions Danforth wants to reach, and ignoring weaknesses in that evidence and contrary evidence. The issue of gunfire from helicopters on February 28 is one example, he simply accepts the say-so of the people on board the helicopters as decisive proof, and doesn't cite contradictory evidence even to refute it. This is a common tactic used in the report. If he were to lay out evidence for and against his conclusions, readers might weigh them and come to a different conclusion, so the report simply omits contrary evidence rather than refute it, so that those with only a casual knowledge of Waco wouldn't even know contradictory evidence exists.

Thus, the rules of the game were rigged from the start to favor the government.

Case Study: Helicopter Gunfire

The issue of whether there was gunfire from the National Guard helicopters on February 28 is a good illustration of the sophistry of the Danforth Report.

The allegation is dealt with in the following passage:

The Office of Special Counsel has concluded that the allegation that National Guard helicopter crews fired at the Davidians on February 28 is without merit. Interviews with each of the crew members indicate that the Davidians fired at the helicopters but that the helicopter crews did not return fire. Instead, the crews immediately terminated the mission and landed their aircraft. [emphasis added]

At first, this sounds like a resounding denial of the charges of helicopter gunfire, but on closer examination, the phrasing is curious. The passage actually only denies that "National Guard helicopter crews" fired on Mt. Carmel. Most of those who believe that there was shooting from the helicopters consider the ATF agents on board the most likely source. Also, this passage mentions interviewing the Guard crewmen, but does not say whether they interviewed the ATF agents who were aboard as well. Why the odd language? Is this meant to be a denial of any gunfire from the helicopters, clumsily phrased? Is it a misleading attempt to appear to be denying all gunfire, while actually not? Is this one of Danforth's contortions, that only gunfire from Guardsmen falls under his purview, and therefore he cannot comment on whether ATF agents fired? Also note the phrase, "return fire," implying that the "crews" only would have fired in response to being shot at; some believe that the first shots at Waco were in fact fired from the helicopters.

The Preliminary Report deals again with the issue in the Statement of Facts section:

22. ...All three Texas National Guard helicopters took fire and were forced to land, but personnel on board suffered no injuries. Witness interviews indicate that the Guard helicopters did not return fire.

Again, there is a disingenuous turn of phrase. Here we are told that "witness interviews" indicate that there was no "return" fire from the helicopters. The neutral term "witness" makes it sound as if all witnesses agree, when in fact the witnesses being cited are the very National Guardsmen whose conduct is under scrutiny! Davidian eyewitnesses say they saw gunfire, and journalists at the scene on February 28 and defense lawyers who went in to Mt. Carmel also give testimony that is problematical for the government account. However, for the Report to say that they simply choose to put absolute trust in what the Guardsmen have to say, and give no credence to the accounts of cop-killing wacko scum,

When the first stories floating John Danforth's name as Janet Reno's leading candidate for a special Waco investigator appeared, official Washington fell over itself to praise him as a good choice. The elites rushed to laud his integrity, fairness, bipartisanship, and distinguished record. I, however, had a different reaction. Danforth struck me as too much of a bland, white-bread Establishment type to challenge the government's story about Waco. Even if he were honest, he lacked the temperament to disbelieve the government.

Danforth's statements at the press conference that announced his appointment confirmed my fears. Two points jumped out at me. First, he said that his investigation would be limited to certain "dark questions" about the events of April 19, and would not cover judgment calls or earlier events. However, the government's misdeeds were not limited to April 19.

Second, Danforth made a point of claiming that he had an open mind and had no "preconceived ideas" about Waco, reassurances that had the opposite of the intended effect, at least for me. Those who are the most confident of their open-mindedness are often those most lacking. But also, I have never met anyone who didn't have

See also "Jack Danforth and the Ghost of Earl Warren"

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