Military help in Waco raid legally gained, Army says

July 21, 1995|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Federal agents legally acquired military assistance for their 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, a panel of Army officials told a congressional hearing investigating the botched assault.

And yesterday, President Clinton continued to support the law enforcement community and tried to keep the focus on Davidian leader David Koresh.

In the second day of hearings, Republicans turned to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' use of the military. But they were rebuffed in their attempt to show that the ATF misled the military in order to receive the training, helicopter assistance and medical support provided for the execution of the raid.

The bureau needed to show the alleged drug activity at the Davidian compound to receive some of the military aid, specifically help from a special forces unit. Federal authorities have since acknowledged that no evidence of drug activity was found there.

Two House subcommittees are conducting eight days of hearings into the Feb. 28, 1993, raid, the resulting 51-day standoff and the event's fiery end. Four ATF agents were killed in the initial raid. Mr. Koresh and 80 of his followers died in the fire that erupted during the FBI's tear gas assault on the compound April 19, 1993.

The Waco fiasco has been cited as a source of anti-government sentiment in the country. It became a rallying cry for citizen militias and other extremist groups.

The Republican-led Congress wants answers to lingering questions about the government's actions. The hearings also have been viewed as a GOP vehicle to embarrass a Democratic administration.

Mr. Clinton made a point yesterday of reminding the public of Mr. Koresh's sexual liaisons with young girls, the "depravity" found at the Mount Carmel compound and the issues facing law enforcement authorities during the siege and standoff.

"Here was a man who was molesting young girls and paddling children with boat oars, a man who was laying up supplies and illegal weapons for Armageddon. A man who was instructing women and children about how to commit suicide," Mr. Clinton said during a speech to law enforcement officials.

"There is no moral equivalency between the disgusting acts which took place inside that compound in Waco and the efforts that law enforcement officers made to enforce the law and protect the lives of innocent people. There is no real equivalency. That is the point that has to be hammered home, over and over," the president said.

The second day of House hearings focused on the lingering questions surrounding the ATF's use of the military. Federal law prohibits military intervention in civilian affairs with few exceptions. The military is permitted to help local and federal authorities combat drug trafficking.

Critics have charged that ATF falsely accused the Branch Davidians of operating a methamphetamine lab to gain military support.

While a drug connection was necessary for federal agents to receive some specialized military aid, it was not required for other assistance the ATF received, according to yesterday's testimony. An allegation of drug activity also enabled the bureau to receive the military assistance at no charge, testimony showed.

Several law enforcement experts testified yesterday that the ATF's allegation about drug activity was based on outdated information and poor intelligence.

After reviewing the information, all but one of the experts testified that they did not believe a methamphetamine lab existed at Mount Carmel at the time of the raid.

A Treasury Department review of the raid had found the ATF allegations of drug activity at the Davidian compound to be weak.

The second panel called to testify included an assistant secretary of defense and three high-ranking Army officials who had reviewed the bureau's request for military assistance.

Army Maj. Gen. John M. Pickler, who commands a special forces group in the Southwest, told the committees that he relied on the ATF's information.

"It's not their role to second-guess any connection with drugs," added H. Allen Holmes, an assistant secretary of defense who oversees military assistance in law enforcement.

When asked if he would be concerned to learn that the military had received false information, General Pickler replied: "It would be of concern to me, but I had no reason to doubt it."

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