Janet Reno, US Attorney General from 1993 to 2001, died today and is being eulogized as a wonderful public servant. But libertarians remember her rather for her aggressive use of force and disregard for Constitutional rights, an unhappy legacy that is forever recorded in three films.
Most damning of all is the PBS documentary The Child Terror, which focuses on Reno’s groundbreaking efforts to incarcerate child care workers who were accused of child molestation and animal sacrifice, accusations that spurred a media frenzy. As PBS tells it, Janet Reno bent the rules to make convictions easier, creating a legal hell for perfectly innocent people, including a 14-year-old babysitter who Reno tried as an adult warning him that if convicted he would be “on every inmate’s dance card.” Her success at getting convictions (many of which were later quietly overturned) catapulted her to the US Attorney General spot.
In that role, she ordered the raid on a religious commune in Waco, Texas, resulting in the fiery death of 73 people, including children, burned alive. The Academy Award-nominated documentary Waco: Rules of Engagement was made about the tragedy. Reviewing it, Roger Ebert wrote: “Whatever happened at Waco, these facts remain: It is not against the law to hold irregular religious beliefs. It is not illegal to hold and trade firearms. It is legal to defend your own home against armed assault, if that assault is illegal. It is impossible to see this film without reflecting that the federal government, from the top down, treated the Branch Davidians as if those rights did not apply.”
And finally, there was the Elián González affair. Elián’ was a small child, whose mother had died getting him out of communist Cuba. He was living with his mother’s family in Miami, when Janet Reno decided he should be sent back to Cuba and staged a raid to take him by force. That became the subject of a South Park episode, Season 4, Episode 3, entitled HAND OVER THE CHILDREN, Happy Easter! Here’s the clip where Reno grabs Elián.
The trailer from Waco:Rules of Engagement…