Search for Truth in Texas

THOSE facing the task of trying to ascertain the truth of what happened April 19, 1993, in the Branch Davidian fiasco near Waco, Texas, should not be hurried, harassed, or second-guessed as they go about their task.

At the same time, they owe it to those affected by the events and to the rest of us to meticulously and thoroughly sift through every bit of evidence they can find and deliver an exhaustive report. The hope is that such an investigation will produce insights that could prevent other such situations from developing.

But recent reports hint that the initial United States Department of Justice investigation might not be as thorough as many citizens and government officials deem justified.

In fact, Philip Heymann, nominated by President Clinton to be deputy US attorney general and who faces confirmation hearings in the Senate this week, already has made statements that make his task sound shallow or at best preliminary.

Surely Attorney General Janet Reno, who shouldered responsibility for approving the final assault on the cult compound, doesn't expect that act, gallant as it was, to relieve her of further responsibility in pursuing the the investigation. All the resources of the attorney general's office should be marshaled in the task of getting as close to the truth as possible - a goal that obviously will not be quickly fulfilled. The White House, Congress, and the public will expect findings and recommendations in at least two areas:

1. The attack on Feb. 28 by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms on the Branch Davidian compound, in which four of the bureau's agents were killed - an event that has so far not been anywhere near satisfactorily explained or justified.

2. The storming and tear-gassing of the cult's stronghold, which resulted in a debacle the like of which Americans have seldom witnessed before on their own country's soil outside of outright war.

Attorney General Reno's declaration of responsibility at the time did much to calm public concern. It did not, however, satisfy the requirement for a thorough public explanation of the handling of these related events.

Americans applauded this first female US attorney general, whose combination of forthrightness and compassion already had made her a tremendously popular new figure in Washington. But personal candor is not enough. Now Reno must confirm her ability and toughness by seeing that this shocking event is fully explained and its lessons applied.

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