Report: Military a reluctant participant in Branch Davidian siege

AP, October 31, 1999

WACO, Texas (AP) -- U.S. military leaders were reluctant to assist in the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian headquarters near Waco and questioned the legality of their role, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported Saturday.

Federal law prohibits the military from becoming actively involved in domestic law enforcement matters unless directed to do so by the president.

Citing federal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper reported that at one point, a top Army officer questioned the legality of military support for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The military previously has acknowledged that it provided assistance to federal law officers. In August, the General Accounting Office, an investigatory arm of Congress, reported that military personnel were called to the scene after the ATF "cited possible drug-related activity" at the Davidian compound.

A senior Pentagon official then said no consideration was given to requesting a presidential waiver of the law that prohibits military involvement in domestic law enforcement because it wasn't deemed necessary or applicable.

According to the Tribune-Herald, the military role began before Feb. 28, 1993, the day ATF agents tried to serve members of the Davidians with search and arrest warrants. A gunfight ensued; four agents and six Davidians died.

The ATF had contacted Operation Alliance, an agency that coordinates law-enforcement requests for military help in fighting drugs, the newspaper said.

In a Jan. 22, 1993 letter to Operation Alliance, ATF officials requested training by special-forces troops, instruction in driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the loan of seven Bradleys.

Operation Alliance forwarded ATF's request to Fort Bliss and Joint Task Force-6, the military's headquarters for domestic anti-drug efforts. Officials there were told that assistance was "in direct support of interdiction activities along the Southwest border," the newspaper said.

But Maj. Mark Petree, commander of the Army's special forces, questioned the legality of the request. Maj. Phillip Lindley, his legal adviser, wrote in a Feb. 3, 1993 memo that the ATF request would make the military an active, illegal partner in a domestic police action.

After Joint Task Force-6 accused Lindley of trying to undermine the mission, he consulted his boss, Lt. Col. Douglas Andrews, the deputy staff judge advocate, the newspaper reported.

Andrews told Lindley that the military could probably evaluate the ATF plan, but could not intervene to cancel it or revise it for the agency, the paper reported.

There have been allegations that members of the Army's Delta Force squad engaged in a shootout with the Davidians on the day of the April 19, 1993 fire in which sect leader David Koresh and about 80 followers died.

However, military officials insist three Delta Force members were present that day as observers only.

Delta Force officers did meet with Attorney General Janet Reno to discuss proposals to flush the Davidians from the compound.

The newspaper cites a document in which an unidentified Delta Force officer reported that Reno was only offered limited advice -- including the military's belief that inserting tear gas into the residence might cause mothers to panic and "run off and leave infants."

Reno had been on the job less than five weeks when she approved the FBI's proposal to use tear gas to break the siege. She has said she made clear to the FBI that nothing be used that could ignite a fire.

But in August this year, the FBI acknowledged that a "very limited number" of pyrotechnic gas canisters were fired at a concrete shelter. The agency said the canisters did not cause the fire that consumed the compound.

Reno has appointed former Missouri Sen. John Danforth to examine the FBI's conduct at Waco.

No Army official familiar with the situation was available for comment Saturday, said Gerry Gilmore, a Pentagon Army spokesman.

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