Wackos and Leahy

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Orville Tay­lor Dr Orville Tay­lor is se­nior lec­turer in so­ci­ol­ogy at the UWI, a ra­dio talk-show host, and au­thor of ‘Bro­ken Prom­ises, Hearts and Pock­ets’. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and tay­loron­black­line@hot­mail.com.

Some­how, the re­cent news that the US has again given us a red card is dis­ap­point­ing. It has sup­ported, and con­tin­ues to sup­port, many coun­tries that are do­ing less to guar­an­tee hu­man rights. At a time when we are try­ing to do right, it feels like we are be­ing pun­ished.

IT IS as vivid as if it were yes­ter­day. Years later, the footage of the flames, thick smoke, se­cu­rity forces armed to the braces and den­tures in full bat­tle gear and ready for World War IV. As scary as it looked, law en­force­ment was not in a jok­ing mood. Be­decked in body ar­mour and with high-power weapons, noth­ing was go­ing to de­ter the gov­ern­ment troops.

A mod­er­ately sized com­mu­nity had be­come an en­clave and its leader was tak­ing a sta­tus and power that the de jure pres­i­dent could only dream of. He was a demi-god, and his fol­low­ers held him in awe, and many were pre­pared to die with him and some for him.

But on that fate­ful day at the be­gin­ning of the week in spring, the Feds had had enough. Af­ter wait­ing for more than a month to en­ter, it was time to act. This was not an il­le­gal op­er­a­tion. A judge had is­sued a long-awaited war­rant and the cops were go­ing for their man. Ev­ery­one knew that it was go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult ex­trac­tion be­cause ac­cord­ing to po­lice in­tel­li­gence, the com­bat­ants were well armed. One re­port in­di­cated that they had M16 ri­fles that had been il­le­gally retro­fit­ted to fully au­to­matic spec­i­fi­ca­tions. None­the­less, in­tel­li­gence to the cops was that they had caches of am­mu­ni­tion and were pre­pared to de­fend their turf.

There is much dis­pute about how the op­er­a­tion be­gan, and de­spite an in­quiry, lots of ques­tions were left hang­ing. What is in­dis­putable, though, is that more than 70 peo­ple lay dead when the fires went out. A set of com­bat­ants bar­ri­caded them­selves in their com­mu­nity and en­gaged the se­cu­rity forces for more than a month in fierce gun bat­tles. Women and chil­dren, as well as fight­ing-age men, were ei­ther un­will­ing or un­able to leave.

The as­sault on the im­preg­nable com­pound was fierce. In­cen­di­ary de­vices were lit; gun­fire was traded between gun­men and the law­men. Mem­bers of the armed forces were killed as well. And, in­deed, guns were found. But it was a bit­ter af­ter­math. Among the dead were at least 20 chil­dren and more than 40 women. A re­port from a law-en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tor con­cluded “that many of the oc­cu­pants were ei­ther de­nied es­cape from within or re­fused to leave un­til es­cape was not an op­tion”.

By now you might have guessed that this was not Tivoli Gar­dens in 2010. This was 1993 in a Texas town called Waco, pro­nounced ‘Wayko’ and not wacko like the or­ange-faced pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. The Branch Da­vid­i­ans, headed by charis­matic re­li­gious cult fig­ure David Koresh, led a mon­th­plus-long stand­off with fed­eral agents, where their en­clo­sure was un­der siege like an old me­dieval cas­tle. For the record, four agents were also killed, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties to the in­ci­dents in our own Tivoli Gar­dens are macabre.

Many con­tro­ver­sies abound. For ex­am­ple, the agents were specif­i­cally in­structed by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Reno not to use any in­cen­di­ary de­vices. Agents claimed un­der oath that they did not. How­ever, ev­i­dence later re­vealed that they did use grenades and a gas-dis­pens­ing de­vice. It was also found by a spe­cial coun­sel that some agents of the State had in­ten­tion­ally with­held in­for­ma­tion and ob­structed in­ves­ti­ga­tion.


For­mer US At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ram­sey Clark, who rep­re­sented sev­eral of the sur­vivors and ‘vic­tims’ of the Branch Da­vid­ian in­ci­dent, ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that se­ri­ous puni­tive ac­tion was not taken against the State, and in his own words, “His­tory will clearly record, I be­lieve, that these as­saults ... re­main the great­est do­mes­tic law-en­force­ment tragedy in the his­tory of the United States.”

Of course, that is the na­ture of law, and ab­so­lute truth is un­reach­able since there will al­ways be two sides of the same facts in ad­vo­cacy. How­ever, noth­ing in­di­cates to me that any ac­tion has been taken since to limit the power or op­er­a­tions of the tac­ti­cal units who were in­volved in the Waco op­er­a­tion. But you see, the Texan agents are Amer­i­cans and are not the sub­ject of the Leahy Act, which mil­i­tates against armed gov­ern­men­tal units that vi­o­late hu­man rights with im­punity. It only looks out­wards, even when black lives are taken by their cops.

The Da­vid­i­ans were a com­mu­nity of wackos, if you wish. How­ever, there is no ev­i­dence that they were a threat to ex­ter­nal so­ci­ety, and there was no ba­sis for the ini­tial al­le­ga­tions that there was child-abuse and rape be­ing per­pe­trated there. Tivoli, on the other hand, was a com­mu­nity from whence cred­i­ble threats came to the Ja­maican armed forces’ mem­bers, and men acted on them. In­deed, prior to the op­er­a­tion, po­lice sta­tions were burned and ser­vice ve­hi­cles com­man­deered and torched.

More in­ter­est­ingly, the war­rant that was to have been served was for crimes com­mit­ted in the US, not in Ja­maica. Our Ja­maican po­lice and mil­i­tary were risk­ing life and limb to carry out the be­hest of the US gov­ern­ment, and they knew that the only way to have gone in was to have used over­whelm­ing force. That was what was to have been ex­pected, and don’t let the Hal­loween granny dis­guise fool you. Un­cle Sam sent for him and was not re­lent­ing, cause it what it may. It is in­deed ironic that the Amer­i­cans have trig­gered the withdrawal of as­sis­tance and tac­ti­cal sup­port sanc­tion.

Now tell me: When the Gov­ern­ment spends mil­lions on a com­mis­sion of en­quiry to in­ves­ti­gate if any hu­man rights were vi­o­lated and to rec­om­mend ac­tion, what do you say the Gov­ern­ment is do­ing? Con­don­ing wrong? And if there is a process in law for per­sons to be in­ves­ti­gated for pos­si­ble pros­e­cu­tion, can we say that the Ja­maican Gov­ern­ment and le­gal sys­tem are fail­ing to act and are try­ing to pro­tect their agents or block in­ves­ti­ga­tions?

Some­how, the re­cent news that the US has again given us a red card is dis­ap­point­ing. It has sup­ported, and con­tin­ues to sup­port, many coun­tries that are do­ing less to guar­an­tee hu­man rights. At a time when we are try­ing to do right, it feels like we are be­ing pun­ished be­cause we are the skinny kid in the play­ground. When we are play­ing a fair hand at poker, Leahy is like a Trump card.


Pa­trick Leahy, af­ter whom the Leahy Act is named.

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