Waco controversy will not die.
A reenactment of the final FBI assault on the Branch Davidian
compound was staged on Sunday, March 20, court ordered to
determine whether government agents fired into the compound
on April 19, 1993. The Branch Davidians are seeking a wrongful
death claim in civil court against the Federal government.
The FBI filmed the final assault with Forward Looking Infra
Red (FLIR) video cameras. This original FLIR footage shows
flashes of light which the Branch Davidians claim are gunfire.
The Davidians attest that these flashes show the government
firing at the back of the compound--the only avenue of escape
during the fire. The reenactment, March 20, was filmed with
two FLIR cameras--a new model operated by the FBI and an
older one operated by British soldiers.
Just before the reenactment began, U.S. District Judge Walter
Smith unexpectedly ordered that the new videos could not
be released to the public. But this did not prevent lawyers
from both sides claiming victory. Davidian lawyer Mike Caddell
said the new tests clearly showed that the FBI fired into
the compound during the final assault. U.S. Attorney Mike
Bradford said they did not.
How can that be?
Here's what the government says: Two large weapons (a tripod-mounted
M-60 machine gun and a Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher)
produced flashes detected by both FBI and British infrared
cameras. Other weapons (including a CAR-15 assault rifle,
9 mm pistol and 9 mm machine guns) produced no flashes.
Bradford claims the FBI had no Mark 19's at Waco, and their
M-60 was never fired. He says the lack of flashes from the
smaller weapons proves they didn't fire them, either.
Here's what the Davidian's lawyer says: Both test cameras
recorded flashes not only from the M-60 and Mark 19, but
also from the CAR-15, which FBI agents say they had in Waco.
Test cameras also recorded explosions of "flash-bang" distraction
devices, which looked similar to flashes recorded by the
FBI on April 19. The two sides also argue over whether people
can be seen on the new videos. No people are evident in
the original tape on the final assault. Bradford says people
are clearly visible at all times on both of the new tapes.
Caddell disputes that, saying that the people sometimes
vanish from view on the British tape. (The infra red evidence
of people is necessary to confirm gunfire. No people, no
And the two sides disagree over whether broken glass, tin
foil and other debris reflect sunlight which shows up as
flashes on the tapes. Bradford says the debris produces
numerous flashes which look like the flashes on the original
tapes. But Caddell says "debris flashes" only appear on
the video made by the FBI, not the British camera.
So who's right? We may never know. Smith has ordered the
tapes be withheld until they are analyzed by court appointed
independent experts--at least 30 days. He has retained the
Vector Data Systems, a British company, to study the tapes
and release a report on them by late April. But Smith has
not promised that all of the raw video footage will have
to be released, meaning the public may never know what the
tapes reveal for sure.
In the meantime, two important witnesses suffered serious
heart problems just before the reenactment was conducted.
McClennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell died of a heart attack
on March 16. His jurisdiction included Waco, and he had
been highly critical of the government's handling of the
crisis. Waco siege survivor Clive Doyle says Harwell contacted
him shortly before he died to say "the death of all the
children [killed during the final assault] was starting
to weigh on him."
Around the same time, FLIR expert Dr. Edward Allard suffered
a serious stroke which has left him hospitalized in critical
condition. Allard is the expert who identified the mysterious
flashes as gunfire in the Oscar-nominated documentary film,
Waco: The Rules of Engagement. After analyzing the
original video, Allard said "this type of behavior--men
running up and down the building, firing automatic weapons
into a church--is disgusting."
Texas radio talk show host Alex Jones finds the timing of
the heart attacks suspicious. "Both Harwell and Allard were
to be key in proving that the Federal Government premeditatedly
murdered the Branch Davidians and then systematically obstructed
justice and engaged in huge cover-ups," says Jones.