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THE QUESTIONS ABOUT RUBY RIDGE

By granting $3.1 million to Randy Weaver and his surviving children, the Justice Department this week took an important first step toward rectifying what was one of the FBI's darkest hours.

But the questions rising out of the 1992 standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho show the bureau has a long way to go toward restoring public trust and confidence.The excessive force, followed by denials and an internal absolution of all involved, fanned the flames of a nationwide anti-government militia movement. It raised doubts in the minds of many mainstream Americans, as well. Only a thorough, open and aggressive investigation could put those doubts to rest.

Among the questions that need answering:

- Who issued the order suspending normal rules of engagement, allowing an agent to shoot and kill Weaver's son and wife, who stood outside armed only with a 10-month-old baby?

- Why did the FBI resist providing papers related to the incident, even when pressed by Weaver's defense lawyers?

- How did some key FBI records concerning the matter disappear?

- Why did officers believe such force was needed against Weaver, who was sought on charges of selling two sawed-off shotguns to a government informant and failing to appear at his trial?

Investigators also should examine the relationship between FBI Director Louis Freeh and his good friend, Larry Potts, who headed the FBI's criminal division and summoned the team to Ruby Ridge. Freeh may have been too eager to trust Potts' version of events, ignoring evidence to the contrary.

The Justice Department decided last week to open a criminal investigation into the matter. The Senate is set to begin an inquiry next month. These are strong indications that the system still works and that no one is above the law.

That's good news. When justice is served, any institutions found negligent tend to be less likely to repeat those mistakes.