Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Tragedy after Waco - Public Response the Actions Taken to Bring David Koresh to Justice Require Closer Scrutiny

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Tragedy after Waco - Public Response the Actions Taken to Bring David Koresh to Justice Require Closer Scrutiny

Article excerpt

OF all the troubling questions raised by the tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, perhaps the most disturbing arose a few days after some 90 cult members met their firey death. It was then that several national public opinion polls reported that an overwhelming majority of Americans found no fault with the way law-enforcement authorities had brought the standoff to a head last Monday.

This was not the initial response: The Justice Department said that among the thousands who reacted immediately by telephone and fax when they saw television images of the Davidian inferno, sentiment ran 10 to 1 against Attorney General Janet Reno and the FBI. But by Tuesday, when the government's spin doctors had gone on the offensive, 8 out of 10 messages to the Justice Department were conveying approval, and by Wednesday the polls showed that a clear majority of Americans gave their blessings to the operation and its outcome.

Such enthusiasm for an exercise that was botched from the beginning, that ended in a horrible blood bath, and that continues to pose agonizing questions, ought to dismay all of us: We have allowed our national zeal for "law and order" to carry us beyond the bounds of reason.

Last week when the FBI, using tanks borrowed from the armed forces, smashed through walls at the Davidian compound and lobbed in tear gas canisters, I was still trying to understand how the confrontation had begun on Feb. 28.

Why the initial assault by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), an arm of the Treasury Department? We were told that cult members led by David Koresh had acquired a substantial arsenal of illegal automatic weapons. But such arsenals are to be found in many communities all over our country, usually in the possession of respectable citizens who claim the protection of the Second Amendment. They are rarely subjected to raids by armed federal agents. Mr. Koresh had bought his weapons openly and had threatened no one with them. So what was ATF doing there in the first place?

We were also told there were "reports" of possible child abuse within the compound. …

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