Waco Inquest: Confusion over fate of Ranch Apocalypse: The White House is struggling to explain the FBI decision to tear-gas the headquarters of the Branch Davidian cult

US GOVERNMENT officials yesterday offered increasingly confused and contradictory explanations for the decision to send tanks with tear-gas into the Branch Davidians' fortified compound, as they sought to distance themselves from the disaster.

As the bodies of cult members were removed from the smouldering remains of David Koresh's 'Ranch Apocalypse' in Texas, the world was treated to the spectacle of federal departments struggling to explain the circumstances leading to a tragedy many feel could have been avoided.

Evidence that the decision to launch a tear-gas attack on the compound was poorly thought out is deepening as the main participants - Janet Reno, the US Attorney-General, President Clinton and the Federal Bureau of Investigation - offer differing reasons for attacking the compound. It is becoming apparent that the operation went ahead before all parties were clear about the rationale.

President Clinton has said he gave his approval on Sunday after Ms Reno told him that she wanted to go ahead with the operation, ending a 51-day stand-off, because there was evidence that children inside the compound were 'still being abused and were increasingly unsafe'.

But Williams Sessions, the director of the FBI, and his commanders have denied that child abuse was a primary motive. 'There is nothing in any of the information which we got in recent days that there was a a greater physical threat to the children, other than disease or the general conditions inside the compound,' said Jeffrey Jamar, a Special Agent. Yesterday the White House added to the confusion by saying that the 'mountains of evidence' of abuse went back over some time - prompting speculation over why the FBI did not go in seven weeks ago, when the siege began.

If child abuse was not the reason for sending tanks in to tear-gas the compound in an attempt to end the siege, what was? The FBI has emphasised the risk of disease to the Branch Davidian children, caused by the insanitary conditions inside Koresh's heavily armed headquarters. But it is hard to believe that the highly disciplined cult members, who had access to water, were any more at risk than millions of America's urban poor. They included a registered nurse.

The FBI's other theme is a little more plausible, although it raises other disturbing questions. It says its highly trained hostage negotiating team, which has between 50 and 60 agents, was getting tired, as negotiations with the erratic and deceitful Koresh and his lieutenants dragged on fruitlessly.

A second question remains. Who started the fire that destroyed the fortified compound? The one common theme from the White House and the FBI is that Koresh was responsible for the blaze, and the ensuing slaughter. The FBI yesterday again said that the fire was set in at least three places, and denied a survivor's claim that it started because a military vehicle knocked over a lantern.

Jeff Kearney, a lawyer representing one of the nine survivors, said that the Davidians had no plans to burn down 'Ranch Apocalypse' or to commit mass suicide. They were waiting for Koresh to complete 'de-coding' a religious tract (the Seven Seals). 'I think it was clear to him and everybody else that as soon as Koresh had finished the manuscript they were all coming out,' he said. 'I think this intrusion into their residence was an unwarranted, vulgar abuse of power.'

Mr Kearney also said cult members were under instructions not to shoot - contradicting FBI statements that scores of rounds were fired at its forces as they pumped in tear-gas.

A third question is emerging from the ashes of the Waco tragedy. An unnamed federal official told the Dallas Morning News that FBI listening devices picked up the voices of cult members giving instructions about setting the fires. There is little doubt that the agency had bugged the compound. Why, then, did its agents not storm into the compound - which the FBI admits was a 'tinderbox' - as soon as they knew a fire was about to be lit?

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Recruitment Genius: Business / Operations Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well-established and growi...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive - Major Sporting Venue

£29500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible