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BOOKS & THE CULTURE illuminating Mount Carmel A New Film Raises Unanswered Questions BY DICK REAVIS WACO: The Rules of Engagement. A film by William Gazecki and Dan Gifford. 1\\/1 ore than a year has passed since the Justice Department admitted that its troops had been trigger-happy at Ruby Ridge, but the Feds’ position on Waco hasn’t changed. “We looked at the entire situation and we made the best judgment we could,” Attorney General Janet Reno maintains. Today’s “best judgment,” however, doesn’t call for assault on civilians by tanks. Using radically different tactics, the FBI patiently resolved the Freeman standoff in Montana last year, and now, even Peruvian cops are showing the world that macho military options are bush-league solutions to standoffs. Waco: The Rules of Engagement is a critical look at the 1993 assault on the religious group led by David Koresh, and it’s unlikely that anyone who sees the nearly three-hour documentary will agree with the Attorney General. The film is playing to unexpectedly large audiences. It opened at Utah’s Sundance Festival in January, played at A&M’s Texas Film Festival in February, and will be at the Houston Film Festival in April. \(It won’t be seen at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin because its one print is currently held over appeal has something to say about the shifting linesor groundlessnessof traditional political labels. The film couldn’t have a more dubious lineage. Its most prominent predecessors are a made-for-television movie and a home video. that are dismally alike in their intent. In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco, a 1993 NBC television special, was the first dramatic treatment of the subject. It was a pro-government hatchet job, admits veteran From Waco: the Rules of Engagement TV writer Phil Penningrothwho scripted the piece and now suffers some pangs of conscience. On the other side of the fence, Waco: The Big Lie, an -anti-government home video by Indianapolis lawyer. Linda Thompson, told a whopper of its ownthat the FBI had used flame-throwing tanks to set Mount Carmel ablaze. Rules of Engagement doesn’t use drama for polemical purposes or make claims it can’t sustain. It is not the child of a garage or attic studio: its makers say it has cost nearly a million dollars, and as documentaries go, it has the feel of a real flick: dramatic, structure, soundtrack, tear-jerking conclusion, the works. Director William Gazecki and executive producer and writer Dan Gifford, are not Hollywood big names, but that, after all, is the point of film festivals. The film’s summary of the issues surrounding the Waco affair demonstrates newsman Gifford’s belief in “balanced reporting.” The documentary includes Congressional testimony by Kiri Jewellthe teen-ager who claims she was sexually molested by David Koreshand the stinging critiques of New York Congressman and gun foe Charles Schumer, the charging bull of the 1995 Congressional hearings on Waco. Even Janet Reno mutters her story, saying, among other things, that the tanks that the FBI deployed at Mount Carmel were “like a good rent-a-car.” The film presents a half-dozen sources that print journalistsmyself included couldn’t tap in the years immediately following the events. The prize catch, brought in by researcher Mike McNulty, a Colorado insurance man turned Waco sleuth, is leathery McClennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell, who had little to say during the fifty-one-day siege in 1993. In the film, Harwell doesn’t exactly call federal lawmen flatfeet or murderers, but what he does say raises some important questions about the sanctioned version of the Mount Carmel story. “We had a bunch of women, children, elderly people, they were all good, good people,” the sheriff says. “I was around them quite a lot. They were always . nice, married, they minded their own business, they were never overbearing.” Harwell admits that there were plenty of rumors. But, he says, “To this day we don’t have a case that we can make against Vernon Howell or anyone else for child abuse, even though the news media and other people were saying this is .what happened.” Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin’s angry complaints about the intensity and durability of unfounded accusations are on point here. And Richard Jewell, falsely indicted by the press and FBI for planting a bomb at the Summer Olympic Games, might see in this film the mirror of his vindication. Unlike many documentaries, Rules of Engagement is not merely words on film. Its most strident propositions are based on visual, if unfortunately technical, evidence: aerial infrared footage of Mount Carmel’s final hour. The film’s makers hired Edward Allard, a physics Ph.D. and former Defense Department night-vision expert, to examine tapes of the events of April 19, 1993. These are the same tapes that government examiners, in a suspect and cursory review, cited when arguing that the residents of Mount 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 14, 1997