Monday, November 07, 2016

Author of Waco Massacre, Janet Reno, Dead

By Douglas V. Gibbs

Former U.S. Attorney Genral Janet Reno died during the morning hours of November 7, 2016.  She was 78.  The cause is being attributed to complications from Parkinson’s disease, of which she was diagnosed with in 1995, while she was still attorney general.

During the presidency of Bill Clinton, Janet Reno was his U.S. Attorney General and prior to joining the federal government when she was a Florida prosecutor.  During that time period she was an integral part of shaping Clinton's decisions.  She was the first woman to hold the post, and made the decision regarding an armed confrontation that ended in civilian fatalities in Waco, Texas, in 1993.  The Waco incident followed another event where federal agents used deadly force in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. Also, Ms. Reno received criticism after she resisted weeks of pressure to arrest Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, waiting until she thought agents had sufficient legal justification to tie him to the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. He was later convicted.

She was also heavily criticized for her handling of the espionage case against former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee.  He was held in solitary confinement for nine months after being charged with mishandling nuclear secrets, only to be released on a lesser charge.  Ms. Reno refused to apologize.

Ms. Reno refused, to the dismay of her critics, to launch an independent investigation into whether Vice President Al Gore illegally fundraised from the White House during the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection campaign.

Occasionally, Democrats had a beef with her, as well.  Ms. Reno said first lady Hillary Clinton never forgave her for authorizing an investigation into the Lewinsky affair.

While she claimed to separate her job from politics, Reno's critics in the Republican Party constantly accused her of pandering to Bill Clinton's administration.  Nonetheless, she held her position as Attorney General longer than any other attorney general of the 20th century.

Some also complimented her for her "folksiness," and her plain-spoken manner.  She kayaked on the Potomac River.  She told the elites during cocktail parties of her childhood stories from the Everglades, with a mother who wrestled alligators; and her home in Florida with a family of peacocks, all named Horace.

Ms. Reno earned her education at Cornell University in 1960 and in 1963 from Harvard Law School.  She began her legal career at a small Miami law firm, and slowly advanced in private practice.  She became active in local Democratic Party politics during that time, and was eventually hired by the Dade County State Attorney’s Office in the early 1970s.  She was appointed Dade County state attorney in 1978 and won five straight elections running as a Democrat.

She was the one that, as Clinton's attorney general, gave the go-ahead for federal agents to storm the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas with tear gas, after, she later said, she was convinced that children were being abused inside. During the raid, a fire broke out and engulfed the compound, killing all 80 or so people inside. Reno on television took full blame.

“I made the decision,” Ms. Reno said. “I’m accountable. The buck stops with me.”

She later stood her ground during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, when Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) told her she was right to offer her resignation, saying, “I’d like you to know that there is at least one member of Congress that isn’t going to rationalize the death of two dozen children.”

“I haven’t tried to rationalize the death of children, Congressman,” she responded, glaring, her voice quavering. “I feel more strongly about it than you will ever know. But I have neither tried to rationalize the death of four agents, and I will not walk away from a compound where ATF agents had been killed by people who knew they were agents and leave them unsurrounded. . . . Most of all, Congressman, I will not engage in recrimination.”

Reno's critics held on to Waco for the remainder of her time in Washington, calling he incident evidence of the deadly misuse of federal force. Timothy McVeigh, responsible for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured scores more, reportedly saw Waco as inspiration for his terrorism.

Then, there was the case of Elian Gonzalez, a young Cuban refugee whose mother had drowned and died on the way to America.  He was with relatives in Miami who refused to return the child to his father, who wanted to take him back to Cuba.  The early 2000 saga saw the Miami Cuban expatriate community demanding that the boy be allowed to stay in the United States.  A federal judge ordered they return the boy to his father.  Ms. Reno flew to Florida herself to resolve the situation.  The Miami family members ignored Ms. Reno’s deadline for them to comply with the judge’s order, so she authorized federal agents to enter their home and seize the 6-year-old.  A photo of a SWAT-equipped border-patrol agent appearing to point a gun at the young Gonzales in a closet became a much-reproduced image that we still see circulating the internet today as an example of the unfeeling force of an authoritarian federal government.

After stepping down from the attorney general’s office in 2001, Ms. Reno returned to Florida and the next year ran for governor.  The Democrat Party did not put their support behind her, and she lost the nomination.  The Democrat that beat her, Bill McBride, wound up losing to Jeb Bush, the son of George Herbert Walker Bush and the brother of George W. Bush.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

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