Wesley Clark and Waco

Rumors are re-surfacing that Ret. General Wesley Clark played a direct or indirect role in the Waco disaster because his army division supplied some military equipment to the siege effort and his deputy attended a high-level meeting five days prior to the fiery end. Response has been swift that the allegations of his playing a role are not true:

Federal law restricts the role of the military in civilian law enforcement operations and "we weren't involved in the planning or execution of the Waco operation in any way, shape, form or fashion," says retired Army Lt. Gen. Horace Grady "Pete" Taylor, who ran the Fort Hood military base 60 miles from the site of the Waco siege. Waco "was a civilian operation that the military provided some support to" and "any decisions about where the support came from were my decisions, not General Clark's," Taylor said this week.

"Clark's totally innocent in this regardless of what anybody thinks about him," says Taylor, Clark's former commander. "He played no direct role in this activity nor did any of us." Regarding Taylor's comments, Clark campaign spokeswoman Mary Jacoby said "this is exactly what we've said all along; Gen. Clark had no involvement."

Between August 1992 and April 1994, Clark was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Army's III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas. We don't think Clark played a direct role. We say this even though, contrary to the Justice Department's conclusions from its official investigation headed by John Danforth (R-Mo), we don't believe the evidence shows the Branch Davidians started the fire, and we do think it shows the government shot weapons, used pyrotechnics and bad judgment and was otherwise at fault.

We agree with filmmaker Michael McNulty who says there are many unanswered questions about the deaths at Waco. We were fortunate to have worked with him some around that time (1997), and we've seen his award-winning movie, "Waco: The Rules of Engagement." It was very persuasive to us. The film earned an Emmy award for investigative journalism and an Academy Award nomination for best documentary.

In "Waco: A New Revelation", a 1999 film about Waco, McNulty presented evidence that federal agents used an explosive device to blast a huge hole in the roof of a bunker occupied by women and children. McNulty also alleged that on the final day of the siege, government agents fired bullets at the back of Mount Carmel as it burned, making it impossible for the residents to escape. As a result of McNulty finding a spent incendiary device in the Waco evidence room, the FBI and Justice eventually recanted their long-standing claim that only nonincendiary tear gas was used.

McNulty had been allowed into the Waco evidence room by one of the prosecutors where he discovered the spent pyrotechnics. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Johnston, was later indicted for obstruction of justice, making false statements, and allegedly withholding evidence from Danforth's probe. Johnston claimed the charges were retaliation for his whistle-blowing and assistance to McNulty.

As to the high-level meeting five days prior to the end, available information shows that an assistant to Clark, as opposed to Clark himself, met with Reno or others five days before the deadly fire:

Clark's assistant division commander at the time, Peter J. Schoomaker, met with Attorney General Janet Reno and other officials from the Justice Department and FBI five days before the siege ended with the fatal fire. Taylor says that "anything Schoomaker did, he wasn't doing for Clark." Internal Army documents support Taylor's position.

The Justice Department and the FBI requested Schoomaker and William Boykin "by name to meet with the attorney general," states one internal Army document created before the meeting. At the meeting with Reno, Schoomaker and Boykin refused an invitation to assess the plan to inject tear gas into the buildings, a move designed to force the Davidians to flee the compound, an internal Army document states.

"We can't grade your paper," one of the two Special Forces officers was quoted as telling the Justice Department and the FBI. The comment referred to the legal restrictions prohibiting direct participation in civilian law enforcement operations.

As to the military equipment, the FBI did request the Department of Defense to send in equipment. Some came from the Texas National Guard and some from the 1st Calvalry, which was headed by Clark:

It is unclear from the public record precisely what military gear Clark's 1st Cavalry Division supplied to civilian law enforcement agents at Waco. One government list of "reimbursable costs" for the 1st Cavalry Division specifies sand bags, fuel for generators and two M1A1 Abrams tanks.

However, the list specifies that the tanks were "not used" and stipulates that no reimbursement for them was to be sought from the FBI. The list also specifies reimbursable costs of nearly $3,500 for 250 rounds of high explosive grenade launcher ammunition. However, the list doesn't specify whether Clark's division or some other Army unit supplied the ammo.

In our opinion, the blame for Waco rests with the Justice Department, the FBI and the ATF. We do think there were violations of the Posse Comitatus Act. But we haven't seen any evidence that Wesley Clark had any direct role.

The far right has always blasted the Government over Waco (rightfully, in our view.) But its new attempt (See the Nov. 10 article in Insight Magazine, available here) to bring Clark into it now smacks of just another smear campaign tactic.

This recent article in the Village Voice provides some perspective. Many are calling on Clark now to make a formal statement about the extent of his knowledge of the Government's plan and any authorization he made for equipment being sent from the First Cavalry. We have no problem with that--we'd like to know too. But we're predicting the answers will be a let-down for the far right.

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