ST. LOUIS -- Following are excerpts from the preface to the interim report of John C. Danforth, the special counsel, which cleared the government of any wrongdoing in the deaths of 80 people at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Tex., in 1993.
The bad acts alleged in this case are among the most serious charges that can be leveled against a government -- that its agents deliberately set fire to a building full of people, that they pinned children in the burning building with gunfire, that they illegally employed the armed forces in these actions and that they then lied about their conduct. I took such charges very seriously and began this investigation with my own mind totally open as to the issues before me.
. . . This interim report summarizes the exhaustive efforts undertaken to date to investigate every lead and to test every theory. There is no doubt in my mind about the conclusions of this report. Government agents did not start or spread the tragic fire of April 19, 1993, did not direct gunfire at the Branch Davidians, and did not unlawfully employ the armed forces of the United States.
In fact, what is remarkable is the overwhelming evidence exonerating the government from the charges made against it, and the lack of any real evidence to support the charges of bad acts. This lack of evidence is particularly remarkable in light of the widespread and persistent public belief that the government engaged in bad acts at Waco. On Aug. 26, 1999, for example, a Time magazine poll indicated that 61 percent of the public believed that federal law enforcement officials started the fire at the Branch Davidian complex.
This is a matter of grave concern. Our country was founded on the belief that government derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed." When 61 percent of the people believe that the government not only fails to ensure "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" but also intentionally murders people by fire, the existence of public consent, the very basis of government, is imperiled. . . .
We all carry the horror of the Waco tragedy with us. We have reviewed the events of Feb. 28 and April 19, 1993, so many times, and they will not leave us alone: the sight of A.T.F. agents carrying their dead and wounded from the Branch Davidian complex, the image of that same complex burning against the sky and the sound of the wind whipping the flames. In the face of such calamity, we have a need to affix blame. Things like this can't just happen; they must be the government's fault. We are somehow able to ignore the contrary evidence -- never mind that the F.B.I. waited for 51 days without firing a shot, never mind the evidence that Davidians started the fire, never mind that F.B.I. agents risked their own lives in their efforts to rescue the Davidians -- and we buy into the notion that the government would deliberately kill 80 people in a burning building. . . .
The only antidote to this public distrust is government openness and candor. Instead, and
tragically, just the opposite occurred after Waco. Although the government did nothing evil on April
19, 1993, its failure to fully and openly disclose to the American public all that it did has fueled
speculation that it actually committed bad acts on that day. Even in their dealings with this
investigation, some government officials have struggled to keep a close hold on information. More
important, the government did not disclose to the public its use of pyrotechnic devices at Waco
until August 1999 -- six years after the fact. This nondisclosure is especially puzzling because the
use of these pyrotechnics had nothing to do with the fire. They were used four hours before the fire
began, 75 feet from the Branch Davidian residence, and in a manner that could cause no harm. Yet the
failure to disclose this information, more than anything else, is responsible for the loss of the
public faith in the government's actions, and it led directly to this investigation.