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Latest Waco report criticizes government silence

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Jul 28, 2000    

Latest Waco report criticizes government silence

  • Government secrecy about the use of pyrotechnic devices at Waco has cost the country $12 million and an immeasurable amount of damage to the public’s confidence in the U.S. government, Special Counsel John Danforth said in a July report.

Special Counsel John Danforth wrote in a July report that the government erred in its subsequent secrecy, not in its actions the day of the raid, related to the standoff at the Branch Davidian complex at Waco, Texas. Government secrecy — the failure of the government to be candid with the public — is a matter of grave concern, he said.

He said that government secrecy about the use of pyrotechnic devices cost the country $12 million in investigations and an immeasurable amount of damage to the public’s confidence in its government.

When the public persistently believes that the government intentionally murdered people by fire, “the existence of public consent, the very basis of government, is imperilled,” Danforth wrote in an interim report July 21.

In September the former Missouri senator was appointed as a special counsel by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate allegations of government wrongdoing in the 1993 raid. His 10-month investigation has consumed two million pages of documents, 849 interviews, thousands of pounds of physical evidence, he reported..

Earlier investigations into the allegations, particularly the 1993 inquiries by U.S. Attorney Richard Scruggs, actually encouraged nondisclosure, Danforth said. In a report issued six months after the Davidian complex burned, Scruggs said that tear gas used by the FBI was non-incendiary. That finding, or rather that assumption, as Danforth found it, was refuted last year when Reno announced her discovery that the FBI had used pyrotechnic devices.

Danforth said one late disclosure was not enough to restore the public’s confidence. “The natural public reaction was that, if the government lied about one thing, it lied about everything,” he wrote.

The devices were detonated four hours before the complex burned and 75 feet from the building, and had not caused or promoted the blaze that burned the complex, Danforth found. Furthermore, Danforth concluded, the government did not direct gunfire at the complex or improperly employ the military.

No response from Scruggs was available through the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs or through Scruggs’ Miami office.

Most of the withholdings of information uncovered will not lead to prosecutions, Danforth said. The goal of the investigation, he emphasized, was not to determine if the government had exercised bad judgment in the handling or aftermath of the siege, but only to determine whether it had committed “bad acts” in the siege.

The interim report can be found at:

(Interim Report to the Deputy Attorney General Concerning the 1993 Standoff at the Mt. Carmel Complex, Waco, Texas) DB

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