Waco: The Aftermath: America asks whom to blame: Washington is horrified but promises an inquest, writes Rupert Cornwell

AFTER the Apocalypse, the inquest. As a shocked Washington sought to come to terms with the gruesome climax to the Waco siege in which up to 86 people may have died, both the White House and Congress announced plans for investigations into the FBI's botched handling of the affair.

A House subcommittee will begin its own probe on Friday into what both Republican and Democratic legislators called 'the worst possible' outcome of the 51-day stand-off. President Bill Clinton meanwhile, acknowledging 'full responsibility for implementation of the decision,' announced a joint Justice Department-Treasury investigation.

But critics warned instantly this could merely produce an in- house whitewash, despite the President's promise that outside specialists would be brought in. Mr Clinton himself placed the ultimate blame for the Waco tragedy on cult leader David Koresh, who 'destroyed himself and murdered the others. He killed those he controlled'.

But the focus, inevitably, will fall on the FBI. On the basis of available evidence, the chain of command seems to have worked as normal. Attorney-General Janet Reno, as head of the Justice Department which oversees the Bureau, took copious expert advice before giving her blessing to the FBI plan. She in turn informed President Clinton, who after asking his own questions, raised no objection.

The flaws, as even Mr Clinton implicitly admitted, were in that plan itself. How did the Bureau's criminal psychologists so completely misread the suicidal, fire- obsessed mind of David Koresh - not to mention a string of belligerent messages from the compound? How could its strategists believe that sending in battering rams might be interpreted as merely 'an escalation' of pressure and, as FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks put it, 'not D-Day itself'?

Why were no fire-engines ready at hand? How was it that America's law enforcement agencies possessed only one hostage rescue team?

These issues will be at the heart of the inquiries both within the Administration and on Capitol Hill itself. There seems no question of the resignation of Ms Reno, whose forthright acceptance of responsibility for the botched attack has won wide sympathy.

The President, said a White House spokesman yesterday, 'supports her 1,000 per cent. He supports the decision made by the Justice Department and the FBI'.

Nor was there any sign that William Sessions, the FBI director already under fire for alleged ethics abuses, would immediately step down.

Indeed the Waco tragedy raises questions far beyond the competence of the FBI. America's lunatic laxity over gun control allowed David Koresh to amass an arsenal that held off an elite government assault force for more than seven weeks.

Meanwhile Justice Department officials said yesterday the nine Branch Davidians known to have survived may face criminal charges for the original shoot-out on 28 February.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn