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September 14, 2005

Katrina – Who Did What and When?

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The intemperate criticism directed at the Hurricane Katrina response – the rescue and recover efforts – is more polluted than the floodwaters of New Orleans and contributes nothing to a noble American tradition of coming together at a difficult time and helping fellow Americans in a time of need.

Since the scathing rebuke of the Bush Administration for the Katrina response began, information has surfaced that much of the blame leveled at President Bush, may very well belong to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Picking up the Hurricane Katrina story since September 9, “…isn't it time for the U.S. military to occupy the Gulf Coast?”

My brother and sister-in-law are both retired Army colonels. Col. Bill Babylon immediately responded in part: “The military… does well [in disaster response situations the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina] because: their leadership is trained to operate in contingencies… American soldiers are great… [The] military [has] an 18-hour, no-notice mission… Army units are trained to operate in extremely adverse conditions requiring extensive logistics planning and execution – which we practice… and we always put one person in charge.”

As for why don't we use the U.S. military in more of these situations, Bill wrote there are two reasons: “Let's start with what makes America great – we don't use our own soldiers to police our own people in civil actions and an 1878 law passed by Congress called The Posse Comitatus Act…”

According to a September 2, 2005, article in Slate: “On Tuesday, reports began circulating that New Orleans officials had put the flood-ravaged city under martial law. The attorney general's office of Louisiana quickly issued a denial…”

Oh, c’mon! Why didn’t the local authorities bring in the military, at least for humanitarian assistance, before September 2? And didn’t the circumstances in New Orleans warrant going one step further and declaring martial law earlier in the week?

Slate wrote: “Martial law occurs when the military assumes police powers because local authorities and courts aren't functioning. Although the president usually imposes martial law, federal regulation allows for a ‘local commander’ to do so ‘on the spot, if the circumstances demand immediate action…”

“During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and set up military courts in several states… Many at the time felt that Lincoln had superseded his authority, and in 1878 Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the military from performing civilian law enforcement without congressional approval… Additionally, governors can still request that the president immediately dispatch federal troops to assist police during emergencies…”

Why was the Superdome used as a shelter when WWLTV reported on September 23, 2004, “…The Superdome is not a shelter…” Reports indicate that rampant crime was a problem in the Superdome as far back as 1998, when 14,000 people were sent there because of Hurricane George.

As far as the levees are concerned, the Washington Post reported on September 8 that the money was there to reinforce the levees, but it “went to questionable projects.”

Other questions persist. The Washington Post wrote on September 10: “Should there have been a better plan to evacuate those without cars? Was [the New Orleans] police force up to the task? Why weren't there supplies for the legions of people directed to the Superdome? Why were all those city buses left in low-lying areas? Why did so many… officers leave their posts as the city descended into a chaos that left many residents afraid that either thugs or the elements would kill them?”

Governor Blanco didn’t allow buses to be used to evacuate folks until August 31. And then, in an additional stroke of bizarre red tape, the executive order was amended September 2 to let responders without commercial driver’s licenses to save people.

Please understand, while New Orleans descended into complete anarchy with all the requisite reported horrors of looting, rape, murder and mayhem, Governor Blanco reacted by authorizing folks to drive buses without a proper license.

Memo to disaster responders: while citizens face the hell of overwhelming disaster and anarchy, bear in mind, Louisiana takes their motor vehicle laws quite seriously.

If things could get even weirder, local authorities denied the Salvation Army and the Red Cross access to the Superdome and the convention center, because if they provided life saving aid, it would be harder to persuade citizens to obey a “mandatory” evacuation order.

Columnist Deroy Murdock wrote that the Associated Press reported Saturday, August 27, President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana because of the approach of Hurricane Katrina, and his spokesman urged residents… to heed authorities’ advice to evacuate… "We urge residents in the areas that could be impacted to follow the recommendations of local authorities…"

On Sunday August 28, according to AP, President Bush also lit a fire under Governor Blanco while Katrina twirled furiously across the Gulf of Mexico. “Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor [Nagin] at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding.”

As the floodwaters recede, many are finding themselves high and dry defending criticism, which in hindsight was misdirected and way too precipitous.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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