WACO, Texas -- FBI employees dispute the government's official explanation for ripping apart the Branch Davidians' gym as detailed in the Department of Justice's 1993 report on Mount Carmel, according to depositions taken for the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving members of the group.
In its report, the Justice Department gave two reasons why a Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV) -- described as a modified Patton tank -- tore through the back of the Davidian compound, causing the gym to partially collapse.
Escape routes were being opened for Davidians to flee Mount Carmel and the gym was being opened for the eventual insertion of tear gas, according to the "Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: February 28 to April 19, 1993."
But an FBI agent riding in the CEV that plowed through the gym said in a recent deposition the crew was ordered to try to find a way to get to a tower at the back of the compound, where supervisors apparently believed the Davidians had retreated to escape the tear gas.
"You were not ordered to breach the rear side of the building to create escape openings," plaintiffs' attorney Mike Caddell of Houston asked in the deposition.
"You were ordered to clear this path to the tower, correct?"
"Correct," said the CEV passenger, identified only as FBI witness No. 7 to comply with the order by U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco not to divulge the identities of government witnesses. "What was the purpose of this path if it was cleared, or when it was cleared?" Caddell asked.
"To effectively deliver gas to that tower area of the building where it was believed we were not getting gas," the CEV passenger said. The Justice Department did not answer the Waco Tribune-Herald's request for an explanation of the discrepancy between the testimony of FBI agents and its report.
In the 1993 report on Mount Carmel, the Justice Department emphasized the purported forging of escape routes on the compound's backside. In one instance, the report noted that after the CEV toppled a wall in the gym, FBI negotiators broadcast: "David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door. ... Leave the building now."
An FBI agent piloting a surveillance plane over Mount Carmel testified in his deposition that the people flying with him remarked that the Davidians would have to flee their compound because it was being demolished. "I recall some remarks that were made while, you know, 'People were going to have to get out pretty soon because it's going to, you know, the things are being kind of, during the penetrations, being taken away from them ...'," the FBI pilot said.
Caddell accused the FBI of speeding up its plan to demolish the Davidian compound.
The Justice Department report stated that if after 48 hours the FBI's tear-gas assault failed to drive the Davidians out of Mount Carmel, a modified CEV was to begin demolishing the building. The demolition would continue until all the Branch Davidians had been located, the report stated. "You were systematically demolishing the gym bit by bit," Caddell said to the CEV passenger. "You were tearing it down, weren't you?"
"No, we were not destroying the building," the CEV passenger said. "We were very ..."
"You don't call that building destroyed?" Caddell asked.
"Portions of it," the CEV passenger said. FBI witness No. 13, who drove the CEV, testified in his deposition about the modified CEV that he said the FBI had rigged up to demolish Mount Carmel. "It was another CEV that had basically, what had been done was a railroad, a stanchion of railroad was welded to the blade itself, extending three feet on either side of the blade, and it was going to be used to drive along the side of the building, basically cutting the studs away and the sheetrock away, so we could actually see into the front sides of the building in hopes that they would come out when they were in plain view at that point," the CEV driver said.
Caddell asked, "How would the gym have looked any different if you had attacked it with the railroad CEV as opposed to the CEV you had?" "I have no idea," the CEV driver said. "We never got to that part of the plan. I mean, in hindsight, it could have very well been the exact same result. But my plan at that point was not to destroy the gymnasium." The agent riding in the CEV said the FBI could have quickly destroyed the entire compound if that was its plan. "I think in no time at all the collateral destruction that you see on the empty gymnasium area would be the entire compound," the CEV passenger. "I mean these are large powerful vehicles." Caddell asked the agent if he remembered advising the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, "CEV working black (or back) side. It's coming down."
The CEV passenger said no.
Caddell asked if that transmission wasn't more consistent with "disassembling" the building rather than clearing a path to the tower. "I would say if somebody was talking about a structure that was in their path, the fact that it was coming down would indicate that it was no longer being an obstacle to the forward movement, so I don't think it necessarily follows what you are saying," the CEV passenger said. Caddell asked the agents why the CEV eventually backed off trying to muscle its way to the tower.
The CEV driver said he could see the tops of 55-gallon drums at the end of the gym, indicating a drop-off to him. He testified that he didn't approach the drums for fear of getting stuck. Saying there was no drop-off, Caddell asked if the CEV driver had not known that. "I don't know that for a fact because I never got back there," the CEV driver said.
He denied Caddell's assertion that the holes made by the CEVs could have served as openings for agents on foot to enter the compound. "They had told them we weren't going to make entry into the building, and we didn't," the CEV driver said.
Caddell asked if the CEV entered the building.
"The vehicle did," the CEV driver said. "Absolutely."
"Well, you were inside the vehicle, weren't you?" Caddell asked. The passenger in the CEV told Caddell that he didn't think the Davidians would see the FBI's actions as hostile and start firing weapons _ which led to the FBI escalating its insertion of tear gas into Mount Carmel. "I was actually very surprised when we were shot at," the CEV passenger said. "I mean, you've got to keep in mind we were here 50 some days and there had been no exchanges and no shooting. And I especially felt with the notification and the negotiators talking to them and explaining what was going on, that they would not shoot. Didn't see where that would be the logical step."
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