Page 27


VOLUME 91, NO. 17 A JOURNAL OF FREE VOICES SINCE 1954 Editors: Louis Dubose, Michael King Assistant Editor: Mimi Bardagjy Managing Publisher: Charlotte McCann Development Director: Susan Morris Office Manager: Ayelet Hines Production: Harrison Saunders Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Staff Writer: Nate Blakeslee Interns: Julie Hollar, Carol Huggins Contributing Writers: Barbara Belejack, Robert Bryce, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Paul Jennings, Steven G. Kellman, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, John Ross. Staff Photographer: Alan Pogue Contributing Photographers: Jana Birchum, Vic Hinterlang, Patricia Moore, Jack Rehm. Contributing Artists: Jeff Danziger, Beth Epstein, Valerie Fowler, Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Ben Sargent, Gail Woods. Special Projects: Jere Locke, Nancy Williams Webmaster: Mike Smith Editorial Advisory Board: David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Bob Eckhardt, Sissy Farenthold, John K. Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr., Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: Ronnie Dugger, Liz Faulk, D’Ann Johnson Geoffrey Rips, Gilberto Ocatias. The Texas Observer \(ISSN 0040righted, 1999, is published biweekly except for a four-week interval between issues in January and July \(24 issues per 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page: . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes: The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. people within it, but they and their superiors remain criminally responsible for taking military action in a situation that demanded continuing negotiation. Despite several investigations as well as closer to an admission of any culpability by the authorities. What has brought the case back into mainstream discussion is a combination of agency infighting and partisan politics: the F.B.I. has been forced to admit that its agents used at least some incendiary devices in the course of the assault \(occasioning a face-saving outrage and Republican politicians \(notably those paragons of objectivity, Bob Barr, Dan the blame at Reno’ s feet and call for her resignation. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Reno. But not quite. It was Reno who by her own admission was ultimately responsible for the decision to attack Mount Carmel, it was Reno who permitted internationally outlawed CS gas to be used on the people in the compound, and it was Reno who fell for wild F.B.I. allegations of “child abuse” as an excuse to launch a military attack against a building full of children. Despite the horrible outcome of the attack and continuing revelations that she was misled by her own subordinates, she has continued to defend her decision and to reject any gov ernment responsibility for the deaths. It’s useful to recall the unsensational but damning conclusions of the 1996 House committee report on its investigation of the Mount Carmel episode: “The attorney general should have known that the plan to end the standoff would endanger the lives of the Davidians inside the residence, including the children. The attorney general “THE ATTORNEY GENERAL SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT THE PLAN TO END THE STANDOFF WOULD ENDANGER THE LIVES OF THE DAVIDIANS INSIDE THE RESIDENCE, INCLUDING THE CHILDREN. knew or should have known that there was little risk to the F.B.I. agents, society as a whole, or to the Davidians from continuing this standoff, and that the possibility of a peaceful resolution continued to exist…. The final assault put the children at the greatest risk.” Any serious new investigation should come to the same conclusion. Perhaps the renewed furor will at least lead to wider knowledge of what really happened now largely lost in the mainstream consensus of self-destructive fanaticism. But the current headline issues have more to do with interagency fingerpointing, and the revelations that the F.B.I. had apparently been concealing or at least ignoring evidence that might cast doubt on its own ac tions. That’s why the grandstanding call by Louis Freeh for an “independent” investigation rings more than a little hollow. If the F.B.I. were seriously interested in discovering what really happened, Freeh could have performed his own investigation long ago. Whatever the outcome of renewed Congressional hearings or other inquiries, it remains important that the larger context not be lost in forensic minutiae about flashbang grenades and infrared photography. The outcome of the assault on Mount Carmel was not a consequence of technical or tactical decisions, but the inevitable result of an increasingly remote and militarized U.S. government which, long accustomed to murderous methods abroad, has more recently applied the same approach at home: on the border, on the police beat, in everybody’s neighborhoods. There is scarcely an urban community in the country that has not seen the deadly effects of military-style police attitudes and exaggerated firepower. The Mount Carmel disaster was an extreme version of arrogant, unthinking authority and pseudo-military bureaucracy in action, and unless these institutions are brought under truly democratic control, the pattern will be repeated. “I will never forget Waco,” declared Janet Reno. “The ghost of Waco will be with me all my life.” May the rest of us long remember Mount Carmel as well. M.K. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 17, 1999