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"All I smelled was rotten bodies," Texas Ranger, Roy Coffman said during his testimony at the
murder and conspiracy trial of 11 Branch Davidians. The dead were found in the rubble of the April 19 fire
that destroyed the compound, killing more than 75 Branch Davidians, including the sect\'s leader, David
Koresh, and 17 children. Perhaps the worst case of the federal government\'s overreaching in American
history, the 1993 Waco tragedy has caused Americans to ask the question of how much military involvement
will citizens allow in their everyday lives before they lose their rights as individuals.
In February, 1993, 4 federal agents were killed in an assault on the compound of the Branch
Davidians, a cult group just outside of Waco, Texas. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (the
ATF), a unit of the Treasury Department implemented the operation on the grounds that members of the
Branch Davidians possessed illegal firearms and explosives and committed physical and sexual abuse,
especially against children. Their goal was to arrest David Koresh, a self-proclaimed apocalyptic prophet and
the leader of the cult, and seize the group\'s weapons.
After this disaster, in which about a half-dozen cult members died and several federal agents were
wounded, the ATF was replaced by the FBI, whose reputation for professionalism promised a quick resolution
of the conflict and an end to the siege. It seemed as if America could breathe a sigh of relief.
Negotiations began, and soon some of the Branch Davidians left the compound. Yet the talks
ultimately ended up breaking down and finally ended. All utilities including water, electricity, and telephone
were cut off. Davidians were then bombarded with a psychological attack which included 24 hours of glaring
from high powered lamps that kept the compound lit all night, and 24 hours of blaring music that included
sounds ranging from Buddhist monks chanting to rabbits being killed. This barrage was intended to weaken
the will of those inside the compound who were now largely cut off from contact with the outside world.
On April 19, the FBI, in what appears to have been a terrible decision, began another assault. It
included knocking holes in the outer walls of the compound\'s buildings with a tank and spraying tear gas into
the interiors. Of course, the FBI did not describe this as an assault, but as closing the periphery and increasing
the pressure on cult members to surrender. In particular, the FBI hoped that the women would pack up and
leave with their children--that their maternal insticts would take over . Instead the compound went up in
flames. Over 75 cult members were burnt alive in a blaze that the FBI says was started by cult members.
Some factors point to this being a mass suicide, yet surviving Branch Davidians have said that the fires started
when the assault on the walls of the compound spilled fuel from kerosene lamps.
Six years after the Waco siege came to its violent end, citizens are angry and shocked about details
just recently unfolding concerning the raid that left more than 75 dead. Allegations that military personnel
were present and participated in the raid on the Davidian compound raise serious questions about mingling of
military and civilian forces in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids such
deployment.
Just one day after the siege ended in flaming terror, President Clinton gave the American people a
glimpse of what to expect from the government. The government could not be responsible for, "the fact that a
bunch of fanatics decided to kill themselves," he said. He then warned that "there is, unfortunately, a rise in
this sort of fanaticism across the world. And we may have to confront this again."
The tragedy at Waco by no means is the first or only example of violations of Posse Comitatus, but
it does prove the volatility that can result from mixing special- operations troops and civilian law enforcement.
Separation of civilian and military forces has long been an American tradition but under the guise of the "war
on drugs" and "war on terrorism," Congress in the last two decades has enacted legislation allowing military
intervention in civilian law enforcement, which many believe violates the law.
The distinction between military and civilian forces can rarely be identified. Every law
enforcement officer, office, agency or department in the United States lives by the same use-of-force policy.
Police may use force only to the level necessary to neutralize a situation and may use deadly