NO MORE WACOS - What's Wrong With Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It by David B Kopel & Paul H Blackman. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY 1997, 524 pages.

WACO: The Rules of Engagement, Film & Video Documentary, by Dan Gifford, Amy Gifford, and William Gazecki. Somford Entertainment, Los Angeles, 1997, 136 minutes.

Review by Del Meyer, MD

No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.
                                                                                                            Magna Carta, para. 39

You're probably wondering what these titles are doing in a medical review section. Unfortunately, government is an increasing presence in medicine. The federal, and state governments, have increasingly become our adversaries. This adversarial relationship can be illuminated by studying a nonmedical branch government. The quasi-medical branches, such as Medicare, and State Medical Boards, are essentially run by lawyers, administrators, and a coterie of police officers. Their medical directors are generally in an advisory role and have little administrative control. Hence, they have very limited ability to protect us from governmental intrusion and elimination of basic principles of freedom.

Kopel & Blackman use their expertise in law and criminology to outline with meticulous care the evidence in WACO, Ruby Ridge, and dozens of other cases of over-zealous police activity by several branches of the government including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF). Many chapters have 100 to 300 references of documentation that the victims were not a threat to society. Each incident forces us to rethink the role of federal law enforcement agencies and the risks that their enormous powers pose to individual rights, judicial authority, and arrest procedures in the name of public safety. Increasingly, there is no safety issue.

A new film, recently released on video, WACO: The Rules of Engagement was nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary category. This 136-minute film with a million-dollar budget (about what a network spends on one sitcom episode) is not a polemical amateur film but a professional production which relies heavily on interviews, on-the-scene footage, and Congressional testimony. (Siskel & Ebert gave it a "Two Thumbs Up!" )

The most devastating part of the film is the surveillance tape made by the FBI from a plane equipped with Forward Looking Infrared Radar [FLIR] technology. The producers and outside experts are convinced that the flashes on the film come from automatic weapons wielded by the FBI fire teams. This evidence has led to speculation that FBI snipers posted at the rear of the Mount Carmel compound, out of the media's sight , fired into the building through its single rear exit door during the final siege to prevent the people within from fleeing to safety. If true, the government and media assertion of a mass suicide becomes an out-and-out multiple homicide. Why was it necessary for the government to kill some 80 men and women, including 25 children at WACO?

A subsequent interview with Sheriff Jack Harwell indicates he had dealt with David Koresh and his Davidians for years. "We had a bunch of women, children, elderly people, they were all good, good people. I was around them quite a bit. They were always nice, married, they minded their own business, they were never overbearing." Although Harwell had heard rumors, nonetheless, "To this day, we don't have a case that we can make against Koresh or anyone else for child abuse. . ." Although we may not understand apocalyptic religious fervor, the video shows Koresh leading an intense Bible study with passion, even while the officers are firing at his home.

Dr Alan Stone, professor of psychiatry and law at Harvard, was one of 10 experts retained by the Justice Department to review the FBI's performance. His paper was so harsh that the Department of Justice did not include it in its initial formal review. Stone thought the FBI's tactics were doomed to failure. He says in Rules of Engagement, "When I started looking into this... I thought that the problem would be in fathoming the psychology inside the compounds... but the psychology of the people outside the compound was more important... to an understanding of what happened."

Don't dismiss the question of government abuse out of hand--it's already happening in medicine. A physician was arrested by university police and handcuffed for the temerity of cleaning out his desk when the university HMO fired him. Our own AAPS newsletter reported that Dr Danny Westmoreland of West Virginia suffered from an armed raid during which agents pointed guns at patients and the doctor's nine-year-old son before the judge dismissed the case as "outrageous" after two years of legal abuse. With guns drawn, four Medical Licensing Board agents arrested a mild-mannered internist, handcuffed him, ripped his license off the wall, and marched him through his own waiting room while another contingent of MB police officers broke into his home and arrested his wife in her underclothing, allegedly with guns drawn. Even if there was cause, a matronly grandmother could have accomplished the same result without the need to resort to police violence. An official letter would also have sufficed.

The retaliation documented against physicians and non-violent citizens made me rethink even writing this review. All of us can become felons when the AMA & HCFA guidelines become active in July, unless our sole remaining advocate, the AAPS is successful in protecting us. If they aren't, 450 FBI agents will descend on doctor offices with weapons ready to be drawn.

Kopel and Blackman make over 100 recommendations, one of which is to demilitarize federal law enforcement. We certainly don't need armed police officers in Medicare or in our state medical licensing boards. Every physician needs to read a few chapters from No More Wacos or review Rules of Engagement to grasp how tenuous his own practice, family, and life is. I can assure you it will then be difficult to think we live in a free society.