[Mb-civic] Stonewalling the critics - Derrick Z. Jackson - Boston
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Sat Jan 28 05:36:04 PST 2006
Stonewalling the critics
By Derrick Z. Jackson | January 28, 2006 | The Boston Globe
PRESIDENT BUSH assured us full information about the government's
response to Hurricane Katrina.
On Sept. 6, a week after the storm destroyed much of New Orleans and the
Gulf Coast, Bush vowed that he would ''lead an investigation to find out
what went right and what went wrong."
On Sept. 15, Bush reaffirmed that ''Congress is preparing an
investigation, and I will work with members of both parties to make sure
this effort is thorough."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan repeated this pledge in at least
five press briefings between Sept. 7 and Oct. 12. In his Sept. 19
briefing, McClellan said: ''We're going to work closely with Congress to
make sure that they conduct a thorough investigation so that we can
apply those lessons to future response efforts . . . There's going to be
a bipartisan investigation by Congress. They're going to do a thorough
investigation . . . The president's made it very clear that he accepts
responsibility for the federal government's role."
The flood of promises have receded behind the White House's recovery and
reconstruction efforts. This does not refer to the rebuilding of New
Orleans. This is about the new stone walls at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Bush's reflex on every controversy, from energy policy to handling of
intelligence, is to invoke executive privilege. Katrina is no different.
He is refusing to provide Congress documents that might show how
seriously Chief of Staff Andrew Card and other top advisers took Katrina.
The refusal is galling in light of this week's revelations that gut
Bush's most famous statement on Katrina. Three days after Katrina hit,
Bush told ABC-TV, ''I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the
levees. They did anticipate a serious storm, but these levees got
breached, and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded."
But several major print news organizations reported that two days before
Katrina hit on Aug. 29, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a
computer slide presentation that warned Katrina could be worse than a
fictional Category 3 hurricane in its mock preparedness exercises.
Katrina roared into a Category 5 storm over the Gulf of Mexico
(sustained winds of over 155 miles an hour) before hitting the coast as
a Category 3 (sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph).
The FEMA report said Katrina's storm surge ''could greatly overtop
levees and protective systems." It also said that mock projections of
destruction ''is exceeded by Hurricane Katrina real-life impacts."
At 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29 and hours before the storm hit, the Department
of Homeland Security sent an e-mail to the White House situation room.
The e-mail, which the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported was written
when Katrina was a Category 4, said, ''The potential for severe storm
surge to overwhelm Lake Pontchartrain levees is the greatest concern for
New Orleans." The report said any Category 4 storm ''will likely lead to
severe flooding and/or levee breaching. This could leave the New Orleans
metro area submerged for weeks or months."
And yet the White House responded like a deer caught staring at a tidal
wave. Under criticism for saying no one could have anticipated the
breach of the levees, Bush tried on Sept. 12 to retrofit his statement
into the context that ''a lot of people said we dodged a bullet. When
that storm came through, at first people said, 'Whew!' There was a sense
of relaxation . . . I was listening to people, probably over the air
waves, say, 'The bullet has been dodged.' "
The problem for Bush is that the contradictions go beyond him. On Sept.
3, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also said the
combination of a Category 4 hurricane and the breach of the levees was a
combination that was ''unreasonably foreseeable." He said, ''This major
breach of the levee, while something itself that might have been
anticipated, coming together (with the Category 4 storm) I think, was
outside the scope of what people I think reasonably foresaw."
At that time, we did not know that there was a report from Chertoff's
own storm analysts that warned, ''Any storm rated Category 4 or greater
will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching." At a press
conference Thursday, Bush defended his executive privilege on Katrina.
He said he needs to protect the right to get ''sound" and ''unvarnished"
advice in private. But his sound advice told him that Katrina's
destruction was reasonably foreseeable. Despite Bush's stone walls, the
truth has breached the levees.
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