The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Friday, July 21, 1995                  TAG: 9507210030
SECTION: FRONT                    PAGE: A12  EDITION: FINAL 
TYPE: Editorial 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   57 lines


Nobody doubts the initial ATF raid on the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians was fatally flawed. The final government assault to end a 51-day siege was an even worse mistake, climaxing in a holocaust.

But in all the recriminations, an essential point has often been lost. David Koresh was not a lamblike religious leader but a heavily armed madman subjecting children to physical and sexual abuse. Ordered by law-enforcement officers to lay down his weapons and come out, he chose armed resistance and self-immolation that caused the death of scores of his followers.

The testimony of Kiri Jewell on Wednesday offered an unforgettable reminder that Waco didn't begin with government bungling but with a criminal-cult leader.

Now 14, Jewell told how she was initiated into sex at the age of 1O by Koresh who then read her the Bible. She told how he taught children to commit suicide by placing the barrel of a gun in their mouths and pulling the trigger.

This fanatic had to be stopped. That the government failed to apprehend him cleanly is undisputed and what went wrong is worth investigating. The catastrophe has already been the subject of two previous inquiries.

The danger in congressional hearings is the opportunity for political grandstanding and irresponsibility. Partisans will be tempted to portray Waco as a symbol of government incompetence, to pander to anti-government zealots and Second Amendment hysterics and to demonize law-enforcement personnel for arrogance and abuse of power.

Incompetence and arrogance there undoubtedly were, but this was not a case of government oppression versus religious free expression. It wasn't a plot to disarm law-abiding citizens but to bring a pervert to justice. Conspiracy nuts who argue otherwise are as crazy as Koresh.

With any luck, the somber and graphic testimony of Kiri Jewell will set the tone for what follows and impose some restraint on pols anxious to treat this tragedy as a chance to score points.

Jewell was an American citizen who was the victim of unspeakable crimes. Her government was right to try to rescue people like her from Koresh and to bring the criminal to justice. It's tragic that it botched the assignment. Maybe something can be learned to help law enforcement personnel do a more competent job next time.

But as long as evil people exist, there will be a next time. That means law enforcement personnel will have to risk their lives to confront the perpetrators, disarm them, arrest them and prosecute them. When they do it badly, they deserve to be second-guessed and held accountable. But they don't deserve to be treated as if they are the criminals and the David Koreshes of the world are somehow innocent victims and poster boys for the Bill of Rights. That's truly perverse. by CNB