In deposition, ex-FBI agent disputes Waco allegations

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 4, 2000
By Terry Ganey And William H. Freivogel

A former FBI agent who was in command during the final siege on the Branch Davidians said Friday that no agents fired guns or fire-causing rounds at the sect's complex near Waco, Texas, in 1993.

The agent, Richard Rogers, also said he had not deviated from a plan approved by Attorney General Janet Reno when he ordered tank-driving FBI agents to ram deep into the complex during a tear gas attack.

Rogers said one converted tank had plowed into the back of the structure to clear a path for another that was to insert tear gas in an area where the sect's members had taken refuge. In the process, the gymnasium was destroyed, but Rogers said he did not order that to happen.

Rogers made his statements during an eight-hour deposition in Washington, D.C. He was questioned by three lawyers for Branch Davidian survivors, who say his conduct contributed to the deaths at Waco. Rogers was represented by two of his own lawyers and six others from the Justice Department and the FBI.

Informed sources have described Rogers as a key focus of John C. Danforth's investigation of Waco.

Although the deposition was closed, Branch Davidian lawyers and Justice Department sources described what Rogers said. They said his demeanor was calm and confident. Rogers has rejected previous requests for interviews, saying he wanted to wait until the trial of the Branch Davidians' wrongful death suit is over. It is set for May.

Rogers, 56, was the commander of the FBI's hostage rescue team, an elite 50-member unit trained to handle volatile police situations. The unit had surrounded the Branch Davidian complex known as Mount Carmel and was supposed to use tanks and tear gas to force the sect's members to surrender on April 19.

Shortly after noon, about six hours after the gas attack began, the complex caught fire. About 80 people died, some from gunshots but most from the fire.

Branch Davidian lawyers say Rogers should be an individual defendant in their suit because they say he made an on-the-scene decision to accelerate the forced eviction plan that Reno had approved.

Witnesses to the deposition quoted Rogers as saying that an operations plan cannot cover every contingency and that people in the field have to be able to react to conditions.

The plan Reno approved called for a gradual insertion of tear gas into Mount Carmel over a two-day period. Converted tanks equipped with gas pumping booms were to punch holes into the structure. If no one surrendered, then the tanks were to begin dismantling the building.

According to depositions of some tank-driving FBI agents, Rogers ordered that tanks penetrate the building less than six hours after the gas attack began. In an after-action report two days later, Rogers said that was to create openings for people to exit.

In his deposition Friday, Rogers said using tanks to penetrate to insert gas was part of the operations plan. He said he had authority to issue orders that a converted tank penetrate the structure to reach the base of a tower to clear a path for another tank to insert gas there. In the process, one of the tanks destroyed the gymnasium, which was located on the back side of the complex.

Rogers, a former U.S. Army tank officer, commanded the operation from an Abrams tank about 240 yards in front of the structure. He said he could not see the gym.

A former top FBI official, Danny Coulson, said in a previous deposition that Rogers' orders were "inconsistent" with the plan Reno had approved. A memo Coulson wrote was critical of Rogers' conduct, and compared it to the 1992 siege on Randy Weaver's cabin at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, when an FBI sniper killed Weaver's wife.

According to the memo, Rogers convinced the special FBI agent in charge of that operation that Weaver would not come out, although he later did. During Friday's deposition, Mike Caddell, lead attorney for the Branch Davidians, asked Rogers if he had pushed the special agent in charge at Waco, Jeff Jamar, into more aggressive tactics. Rogers replied that he didn't talk anybody into anything at Ruby Ridge or at Waco.

Asked about a firefighting plan, Rogers said someone had checked with the Defense Department about the availability of armored firefighting equipment and that there was none.

Jim Brannon, one of the lawyers for the Branch Davidians, contended that Rogers' testimony showed there had been no "sincere effort" to come up with a firefighting plan.

"They didn't even think about putting out a fire," said Brannon, who represents the estates of three deceased children of the sect's leader, David Koresh, who also died.

Brannon also disputed Rogers' claim that FBI agents were not demolishing the gym. He pointed out that FBI documents proposing to give medals to the hostage rescue team participants said they were being decorated for, among other things, demolishing the gym.

Brannon said although the medals were not awarded, another FBI agent who was deposed on Thursday said that most of the FBI agents were given cash awards for their work at Waco.

Media object to secrecy

In another development, four news organizations challenged Danforth's attempt to close this month's test to determine if government agents fired at Waco. In court papers filed in federal court in Waco, the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Associated Press and St. Louis Post-Dispatch stressed that neither the Branch Davidians nor the Justice Department had objected to a media presence. The test is being conducted as part of the Branch Davidians' wrongful death suit against the government.

"Having elected to involve his investigation in this lawsuit, the special counsel should not be allowed to shroud in secrecy civil proceedings that otherwise would be open to the public," the news organizations said. Allowing the media to observe the test will "enhance the public's confidence" in the Danforth investigation," they said.

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