Branch Davidians Say Report is God’s Vindication of Koresh With PM-Armed Cult, Bjt
WACO, Texas (AP) _ Disciples of David Koresh took the scathing report detailing the botched raid on their cult compound as vindication from the Lord.
It could also be a boost to 11 cultists awaiting trial, their lawyers say.
″If God was trying to show people that David Koresh was a bad person, as many have said, then why is the ATF and FBI in trouble?″ Sheila Martin said Thursday after the release of the Treasury Department report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Ms. Martin, who left the compound before the blaze that killed her husband and four children, added, ″Why did God just make it so plain that the ATF is being brought before everyone to answer for their mistakes?″
Another member of Koresh’s Branch Davidian cult, Annetta Richards, said: ″God keeps his own record. They (ATF) are not fighting against man. They are fighting against a higher power.″
Four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians were killed Feb. 28 when 100 agents raided Koresh’s headquarters to arrest the 33-year-old religious zealot on weapons charges.
Federal agents waited 51 days for the Davidians to surrender before the FBI assaulted the comple with tear gas. A fire blamed on the cultists engulfed the compound, and Koresh and as many as 85 of his followers died.
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen released a highly critical review of the ATF and immediately replaced the agency’s director, Stephen Higgins, and suspended five other top ATF officials. ATF is part of the Treasury.
The report found ″disturbing evidence of flawed decision making, inadequate intelligence gathering, miscommunication, supervisory failures and deliberately misleading post-raid statements about the raid.″
Bentsen said the raid supervisors knew they had lost the element of surprise but went ahead anyway, violating orders from Higgins to abandon the mission if Koresh knew about it.
The two field commanders made false statements to their superiors and Treasury Department investigators and altered their original planning document to conceal their errors in judgment, the report said.
In addition, the report said, those in charge in Texas failed to consider other methods of arresting Koresh, such as capturing him when he was outside the compound.
Any criminal charges that might be filed in the case will be left up to the inspector general and Justice Department, Bentsen said.
Attorneys for 11 Branch Davidians accused of murdering the ATF agents said the report is a boost to their case, which will depend heavily on the defendants’ claim that the agents fired on them first. The trial is set Jan. 10.
Joe Turner, a lawyer for cult member Ruth Ottman Riddle, said, ″It’s been our position all along that the ATF was not without blame in this, and now we have their own people saying it.″
Bentsen contradicted that claim, saying, ″I can say without any question at all that the ATF did not fire first.″
But Dick DeGuerin, Koresh’s lawyer, said the report’s findings will cast enough of a shadow over such assertions to make the defense work.
″What this does is call into question the entire prosecution that is going on now in Waco,″ he said. ″It casts doubt on anything the ATF said.″
Many Waco-area residents said the report had shriveled the affection they had for the ATF. During the standoff, some held barbecues and made T-shirts in support of the agency.
″There will probably be a considerable backlash here,″ said Linda Drake. ″If the ATF wasn’t supposed to go in, and then it did and caused all this carnage to happen here, then you bet there will be some ill feelings.″
Others said they stand behind the ATF.
″The fact that members of the public sector tried to cover up their mistakes is disturbing,″ said John Hatchel, assistant city manager. ″But there were a lot of agents here doing what they were supposed to do. Those agents are good friends of this city.″