Both Sides Tout Results of Davidian Siege Tests
An elaborate field test to determine whether FBI agents fired at Branch Davidians in the last hour of the 1993 siege near Waco, Texas, left more questions than answers on Monday when attorneys for both the government and the religious sect said the results vindicated their opposing cases.
The government said videotapes of Sunday’s simulation, which included the use of weapons, tanks and aircraft carrying infrared cameras, showed that the FBI did not shoot, but the sect lawyer who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit said the tapes proved they did.
About 80 Branch Davidians died when their central Texas compound erupted in flames on April 19, 1993, during an FBI assault to end a 51-day siege that began with the attempted arrest of sect leader David Koresh on federal weapons charges.
The lawsuit charges that the FBI prevented the Davidians from fleeing the burning compound by firing at them while tanks punched holes in the building and pumped in tear gas. The FBI has denied any shooting that day and says the Davidians torched the compound as part of a suicide plan.
“Our initial review indicates to us that the tape is supportive of our position that there was no gunfire on April 19 by the FBI,” U.S. Atty. Mike Bradford, one of the government’s lead lawyers in the case, said Monday.
But Davidians’ attorney Michael Caddell said just the opposite in a Houston news conference.
“It clearly demonstrates there was government gunfire in the back of Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993,” he said, referring to the Davidians’ name for their compound.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who is presiding over the case, barred the film from being shown to the public.
At issue in Sunday’s test, conducted at the U.S. Army’s Ft. Hood near Killeen, Texas, 50 miles southwest of Waco, was verification of an FBI aerial videotape taken through an infrared camera during the final assault.
It showed flashes of light that the Davidians say were gunshots from FBI agents. The FBI said the flashes were probably reflections of sunlight from debris and pools of water on the site.
During the three-hour test, eight shooters wearing combat gear similar to that used by the FBI agents fired weapons into a target range while tanks and armored personnel carriers crunched over a debris field of broken glass and metal to replicate conditions at the Davidian compound during the siege.
A British Royal Navy helicopter equipped with an infrared camera like the one the FBI used in 1993 and an FBI plane with an updated version of the camera videotaped the test while circling overhead.
Bradford said Sunday’s videotapes show flashes of gunfire, but only from larger guns that the FBI agents would not have used during the assault. He also said both cameras picked up reflections from the debris field.
“We haven’t done enough analysis to be able to take it a step further and say that proves the flashes on the 19th are debris, but at least there are flashes there that we think are consistent with and do make it possible that that could be one explanation for what the flashes are,” he said.
Caddell disagreed, telling reporters the tapes appeared to show gun flashes from smaller-caliber weapons that FBI agents would have carried. He said the older model camera on the British helicopter showed no debris glints, while the newer model on the FBI plane did.