Reno denies Waco raid was botched
The burned-out Branch Davidian cult centre was still too hot for the FBI post-mortem teams to examine last night as the questions began, and the Clinton administration and Justice Department officials began defending themselves from charges of a badly botched operation. Attorney-General Janet Reno said that fire engines had not been on hand because of fear that the 0.5in calibre anti-tank rifles the cult held could have posed a threat to softskinned vehicles. But the first fire engines must have been much farther away, not appearing on the scene for 40 minutes after the fires began.
The biggest weakness in the authorities’ case so far is the lack of contingency planning. The second is their failure to take seriously the possibility of a mass suicide. The third question is Ms Reno’s statement that the decision was taken to force a decision yesterday with the use of gas because hostage rescue teams needed to be stood down.
“I have absolutely no doubt at all that the cult members set the fire,” Ms Reno told a Washington press conference. “We were presented with a range of options: to pull back, to build walls, to go in, or to use gas. The plan we chose was the best option. Nobody ever accused me of running from a decision based on the best information I had. President Clinton feels as bad as I do.” The siege ended with the deaths by fire of over 80 people in the charred tomb with the grimly apt name of Camp Apocalypse.
Could the FBI have planned for a mass suicide attempt, and had fire engines to hand or blanketed the compound with fire-suppressant foam? An FBI spokesman, Bob Ricks, said in interviews with cult members not inside the compound, all agreed a mass suicide was not likely. “There had been a plan for the cult leader, David Koresh, to give himself up on March 2, but to come out wrapped in grenades and blow himself up as he surrendered. At the last minute, he chickened out,” the FBI spokesman said. “Everybody knew that was the plan. There had been a meeting in the chapel. He kissed all the kids goodbye. We took that into account as we considered the prospect of a mass suicide.”
The FBI search of the rubble was hampered by still-exploding rounds of ammunition. As dusk fell, few bodies had been found. Martin Walker in Washington