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Hurricane Katrina; National Failure or Criminal Negligence

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"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach in the levees." George Bush

The senate investigation of Hurricane Katrina is turning out to be another White House whitewash. The senate strategy has been to characterize the Bush administration's response as "a national failure" or "bureaucratic bungling" when in fact the evidence proves that the top officials in the administration, including George Bush himself, are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of New Orleans residents.

Most of the relevant facts are not in dispute. Bush was advised by experts before the hurricane touched ground that even a Force-4 storm would breach the levees. He knew, as the New York Times says, "If the levies breached and flooded a large portion of the city, then the flooded city would have to be completely evacuated".Any delay in confirming the breaches would result in a delay in the post-landfall evacuation of the city". Clearly, the evacuation should have been ordered, unless there was some hidden motive for leaving the city's people in imminent danger.

We know now that Bush was told on Aug 29, the day the storm hit, that "a major section of the 17th Street Canal levee had collapsed" and was flooding the city, although, at the same time, he was still misleading reporters that the levees had held. ("We dodged a bullet")

The media has papered-over Bush's refusal to respond to the disaster by implying the administration was merely "slow to react" or "in a fog" or "not fully involved". But how likely are these assertions?

Bush and his FEMA director, Michael Chertoff, completely grasped the urgency of the catastrophe, and yet, stubbornly refused to disperse funds, deploy troops, or call for an immediate evacuation.


That may be an impossible question to answer without engaging in unproductive conspiracy theories. But, we know that the administration was still pleading ignorance about the broken levees while an 8 ft river was coursing through New Orleans.

The senate investigation attempts to spread the blame equally to state and local officials and excuse the conduct of the Bush administration as a "litany of mistakes, misjudgments, lapses, and absurdities." This theory, of course, conflicts with everything that people remember about the withholding of aid, the willful obstruction of the relief effort, and the racist imprisoning of poor black residents in the squalid-confines of the Superdome.

Once again, we see that the media narrative closely matches the political agenda of the Bush White House obfuscating the widely-acknowledged facts. Katrina was not "a failure of imagination" as the media would have us believe. Rather, it was a blatant act of criminal negligence.

How could it be otherwise?

"FEMA was warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the US (in a 2001 report But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control by 44%". (Sidney Blumenthal: "No one Can Say they didn't see it coming")

Bush consistently chopped funding to the Army Corps of Engineers as well as Federal Flood Control even though he was warned repeatedly that the levees were sinking. As Paul Krugman notes, "In 2002 the Army Corps of Engineers chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending".

FEMA Blocks Relief Effort

The media's "failure of imagination" theory is an interesting bit of revisionism which conflicts with eyewitness testimony. Consider the comments of Mitchel Cohen in "People of the Dome":

"The government, which could have and should have provided water and food to residents of New Orleans, has not done so intentionally to force people to evacuate by staring them out. This is a crime of the gravest sort.

We need to understand that the capability has been there from the start to drive water and food right up to the convention center, as those roads have been clear. It's how the National Guard drove into the city.

On Wednesday a number of Greens tried to bring a large amount of water to the Superdome. They were prevented from doing so, as have many others. Why have food and water been blocked from reaching tens of thousands of poor people?

They even refused to allow voluntary workers who had rescued over 1,000 people in boats over the previous days to continue on Thursday".and had to be "convinced" at gunpoint to "cease and desist". There is something sinister going down".its not just incompetence or negligence."

Cohen's reflections are undoubtedly closer to what most people remember of those first few days following the hurricane than those of the senate. The fantastic claim that the Bush administration was simply "slow to respond" was effectively challenged by Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish LA in his Sept 4, testimony on Meet the Press:

"We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms to ever hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in US history.

We had Wal-Mart deliver 3 trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. FEMA had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come and get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel". Yesterday"yesterday"FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near those lines."

Still think that Katrina was "a failure of imagination"?

Farhad Manjoo of Salon.com reported, "Citing security concerns, the Department of Homeland Security barred the American Red Cross from entering New Orleans with food. 500 Floridian air-boaters were ready to rescue people stranded in inundated homes, but FEMA turned them down".

Still not convinced?

"The Homeland security Department has requested and continues to request that the Red Cross not come back to New Orleans," said Renita Hosler, spokeswoman for the Red Cross. "Right now access is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities. We have been at the table every single day. We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders." (Homeland Security won't let Red Cross deliver Food, Ann Rogers, Pittsburg Post-Gazette)

Bush was not "misinformed" nor was the "White House in a fog" as the media insists. The evidence clearly demonstrates that the warnings were deliberately delayed, aid was deliberately obstructed, rescue-efforts were deliberately sabotaged, and the entire action was part of a broader government operation to achieve an "unknown" objective.

Some have suggested that FEMA has been transformed under Homeland Security and operates as a secret government "spending 12 times more for 'black operations' than for disaster relief. It spent $1.3 billion building secret bunkers throughout the United States in anticipation of government disruption by foreign or domestic upheaval." (FEMA-The Secret Government, by Harry V. Martin)

Under executive orders, in the event of a national emergency, FEMA now has the ability to suspend the constitution, detain American citizens, and declare martial law. It is therefore entirely possible that FEMA no longer functions as a disaster-relief agency at all, but, has been recalibrated to address the problems that may arise from massive civil unrest following a terrorist attack or (more likely) an economic meltdown. (Note: A contract was just issued by Homeland Security to Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, for $385 million to build detention Centers within the United States. Someone in the Bush administration is definitely expecting trouble.)

Whatever the reasons may have been for obstructing the relief-effort, the results are painfully obvious. The unprepared were left to die in the flood, the poor and black were shunted into filthy detention centers, and the city was transformed into a war-zone replete with armored vehicles and 70,000 military personnel roaming the streets.

The men and women who lost their lives in New Orleans were not the victims of a "dysfunctional reaction to the storm" (NY Times) or of a "sluggish response" (Wa Post) from the administration. Rather, they are the blameless victims of a government strategy that is as abstruse as it is lethal.

(Many of the facts for this article were found at "BushCo. Nukes New Orleans" http://crimesofthestate.blogspot.com/2005/09/bushco-nukes-new-orleans.html a great resource for details on Katrina)
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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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