Child Abuse at Wacornby David B. KopelrnLi or the sake of the children” has emerged as one of thernJ. most dangerous phrases in American pohtics. PresidentrnClinton has invoked children’s alleged dependence on the federalrngovernment not just for his putatively child-oriented programsrn(such as the misnamed Department of Education), butrnalso for issues that have only a tenuous connection to children,rnsuch as his prohibition on semiautomatic firearms, or his antiterrorismrnproposals for greater wiretapping and for trials withrnsecret evidence. The most ironic of all the administration’srnclaims about its love for children, however, is its persistent assertionrnthat the BATF and FBI attacks on the home of thernBranch Davidian children in Waco, Texas, were noble efforts tornprotect the children from child abuse. And, it turns out, therernreally was child abuse at Waco, although not exactly as describedrnby the government.rnChild protection was, according to the government, the reasonrnwhy the FBI could not wait to see if Koresh would keep hisrnpromise to surrender after completing a written exposition ofrnthe Seven Seals of the Book of Revelation. In April 1993, AttorneyrnGeneral Reno had repeatedly rejected the FBI’s requestrnfor permission to end the siege by gassing the Branch Davidians’rnhome. But at one of the FBI-Reno meetings, someonernpushed the hottest of Janet Reno’s hot buttons.rnAccording to a later Justice Department report, sometime inrnthe week preceding the April 19 tank assault, “someone maderna comment in one of the meetings that Koresh was beating thernbabies.” Attorney General Reno asked the person who madernthe comment if he was sure. She recalls that she was given “thernclear impression that, at some point since FBI had assumedrncommand and control for the situation, they had learned thatrnthe Branch Da’idians were beating the babies.” Who told thernAttorney General about child abuse? Webster Hubbell, thernsecond-ranking official at Justice at the time, later stated, “I re-rnDavid B. Kopel is an attorney and research director of thernIndependence Institute in Denver, Colorado.rnmember it [the comment] specifically, but I can’t rememberrnwho said it.” A few days later, after all the children had died.rnAttorney General Reno explained that she approved the FBIrnassault because “babies were being beaten.” White Housernspokesman George Stephanopoulos concurred that there wasrn”absolutely no question that there was overwhelming evidencernof child abuse in the Waco compound.”rnNot really. As FBI Director William Sessions acknowledged,rnthere was “no contemporaneous evidence” of child abuse; givenrnthe many FBI listening devices inside the Mount CarmclrnCenter, Sessions’ conclusion appears accurate. As the FBI wellrnknew, Koresh, having been wounded so severely on February 28rnby a BATF sniper that he thought he was going to die soon, wasrnin no position to abuse anyone physically or sexually in the subsequentrnweeks.rnA few months after the fire, Reno said that she might havernmisunderstood the FBI comments, and there was no evidencernof ongoing child abuse in the besieged home. At the publicrnhearings on Waco last summer, Reno offered an entirely differentrnexplanation for her approving the assault. The “first andrnforemost” reason was that “individuals sympathetic to Koreshrnwere threatening to take matters into their own hands to endrnthe stalemate [and] were at various times reportedly on thernway.”rnBut while child abuse had disappeared as a rationale, a childrnwelfare issue remained: “They [the FBI] told me that the conditionsrnwere deteriorating inside. I was concerned about thernsafety of the people inside. The beha’ioral experts were tellingrnme that children—for a siege that could last a year—it wouldrnhave a lasting effect on them.” Here, the FBI was cleariy correct;rnconditions were deteriorating in the besieged home.rnAgainst the advice of government negotiators and behavioralrnexperts, the FBI tactical commanders had in the middle of thernsiege decided to “demonstrate the authority of law enforcement.”rnThey did so by cutting off electricity to the compound,rnshining lights on the compound all night to deprive the resi-rn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn