Keep DOJ and the FBI Out of the Waco Probe
Washington, D.C. (August 31, 1999) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) questioned Attorney General Janet Reno's willingness to involve the FBI in the investigation of the April 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, in the face of recent revelations that the FBI lied about the use of flammable tear-gas canisters.
In a letter to Reno, NACDL President William Moffitt pointed out that the FBI has exhibited a pattern of distortion and egregious professional misconduct in several matters--not just Waco. He said Reno is staking her credibility and that of the Department of Justice on "the FBI's unenviable track record of deception and half-truths."
Moffitt urged Reno to appoint an independent blue-ribbon Commission of experts familiar with the Waco siege but not connected in any way either to the DOJ or the FBI to determine what went wrong both at Waco and in the institutional reporting of the incident and related events. Moffitt's letter follows:
Dear Madame Attorney General:
We at NACDL are greatly concerned about the FBI’s recent reversal concerning their use of canisters with incendiary capabilities at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in April 1993.
More deeply troubling to us is your reported willingness -- in the face of the apparent duplicity -- to allow it a role in the investigation of this matter and thus permit yet another opportunity for manipulating the truth.
Having been deceived once, you are again staking your own credibility and that of the entire Justice Department -- which you accurately noted has been damaged by these revelations -- on the FBI's unenviable track record of deception and half-truths. Throughout the Waco standoff, the FBI displayed multiple examples of egregious professional misconduct.
For instance, during the standoff, when Branch Davidian Michael Schroder was shot and killed, the FBI would not allow the Texas Rangers to investigate the scene. Instead, they left Schroder's body to rot for five days in the field where he was gunned down.
Five years after Waco, in September 1997, NACDL exposed additional examples of FBI misfeasance and malfeasance when we testified before Congress about wholesale abuses and distortions at the FBI lab facilities caused by bad science, sloppy record-keeping and even more professional misconduct.
The truth behind Waco can only be sorted out through a non-partisan independent investigation where truth is more important than the politics.
We strongly urge you to appoint a blue-ribbon Commission of independent experts composed of individuals who are familiar with the Waco siege but not connected in any way either to the DOJ or the FBI. This Commission should report directly to you, thereby providing the information that you will need to determine what went wrong both at Waco and in the institutional reporting of this incident and related events which led to the immolation of so many innocent citizens.
While the explanations surrounding the use of these incendiary canisters and their role in the tragic conflagration continues, it is important that we do not lose sight of the real issue before us. When former Deputy Assistant FBI Director Danny Coulson revealed last week that pyrotechnic projectiles were used at Waco, he rendered null and void the repeated assurances you have received since 1993 that such canisters were not used. His statement clearly raises concerns of a FBI cover-up, or at a minimum, a consummate break-down in reporting and oversight mechanisms at both the FBI and within the Department.
The trust of the American public in our law enforcement institutions cannot stand to be further eroded. Citizens needs to be assured that the authorities are addressing this problem in a fair and objective manner. An intensive and forthright inquiry needs to be carried out with all deliberate speed. It should address not just the facts related to the devastating events of April 19th but also the factors which that contributed to this critical information not reaching you, the congress or the American people.
NACDL stands ready to assist you or the Commission in recruiting the experts who will ensure an honest, comprehensive inquiry into this tragic occurrence. And we are prepared to assist in any way possible to uncover the truth.
William B. Moffitt
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.