Amongst The Ashes

Waco's aftermath yields a bitter taste in Texas and Washington

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SUCCESS HAS MANY FATHERS, AND FAILURE IS AN orphan. That is clear as the long process of fixing responsibility for the Waco tragedy has begun. In Texas, arson investigators discounted the idea that the FBI started the April 19 blaze, since it flared up in at least two places at once and too late to have been caused by a government tank toppling a kerosene lamp. Working the same grisly ground, other experts said 72 people died that day, 14 fewer than suggested by figures Koresh provided before the fire. Autopsies performed so far were reported to reveal that bullets to the head killed 12, indicating either suicide or murder.

It was in Washington that the progression from shock to anger was most obvious. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen admitted to being "deeply troubled" at conflicting statements on whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms knew Koresh had been tipped off before its initial February raid; ATF head Stephen Higgins promptly expressed a willingness to resign. And during a hearing in the House, Michigan Congressman John Conyers Jr. exploded at Attorney General Janet Reno, calling the government's actions "a profound disgrace to law enforcement" and implying she was trying to "rationalize" the deaths. With emotion, Reno responded, "I feel more strongly about ((them)) than you will ever know."