Saturday, September 17, 2005

Why key military units weren't mobilized early

UPDATED - scroll down

Actually, I don't know why. And neither do Knight Ridder Newspapers reporters Drew Brown, Seth Borenstein and Alison Young. In their report appearing today in The Seattle Times, their headline is Why key military units weren't mobilized early. That caught my attention as I am very interested in knowing why key military units weren't mobilized early. Well, after reading this report, I know no more now than I did before. The reporters say, " . . . federal response to Katrina lacked organization and leadership." Well, thanks, but we already knew that.

And, "And it raises further questions about the government's ability to mobilize . . ." Ok, what further questions? We are all, from the president down to the evacuee in Houston's Reliant Center, asking that question. What are the further questions?

And this, "Several emergency-response experts, however, questioned . . ."

And this, "Greenberger, the Maryland homeland-security expert, said he wonders . . ."

And for further enlightenment, there is this, "Everything he did and everything he has said strongly suggests . . ."

I also wonder, have questions and see evidence that strongly suggests. But I don't see any answers in this report, in spite of the tantalizing headline.

UPDATE: And this makes me wonder also. The same story appears on the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau page as Key military help for victims of Hurricane Katrina was delayed. In the Washington Bureau version, the first 12 paragraphs are identical, at least as far as I can tell. But in paragraph 13, the Seattle Times version reads,
"For such disasters, DOD is the only organization capable of providing, transporting and distributing sufficient quantities of items needed," the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, wrote in a 1993 report.
The K-R Washington Bureau version reads,
"For such disasters, DOD is the only organization capable of providing, transporting and distributing sufficient quantities of items needed," the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, wrote in a 1993 report. It noted that the military has storehouses of food and temporary shelters, contingency planning skills, command capability - as well as the helicopters and other transportation needed to get them to a disaster scene fast.
Paragraphs 14 thru 20 are identical and here the report ends for The Seattle Times. However, the K-R Washington Bureau adds the following 11 paragraphs to the report that do not appear in the Seattle Times version:
Also on Friday, Bush said he thinks Congress should examine what role the military can and should play in natural disasters.

"It's important for us to learn from the storm what could have been done better," Bush said during a question-and-answer session with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "This storm will give us an opportunity to review all different types of circumstances to make sure that, you know, the president has the capacity to react."

Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who served under President Clinton, believes that the Bush administration is mistaken if it thinks there are impediments to using the military for non-policing help in a disaster.

"When we were there and FEMA was intact, the military was a resource to us," said Witt. "We pulled them in very quickly. I don't know what rule he (Bush) talked about. ... We used military assets a lot."

Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration who also was a member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terror attacks, said clear legal guidelines have been in place for using the military on U.S. soil since at least 1996, when the Justice Department was planning for the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

"It's not like people hadn't thought about this," Gorelick said. "This is not new. We've had riots. We've had floods. We've had the loss of police control over communities.

"I'm puzzled as to what happened here," she said.

Scott Silliman, a former judge advocate general who's now the executive director of Duke University Law School's Center for Law, Ethics and National Security, said he was surprised that military forces weren't on the scene more quickly after Hurricane Katrina.

"I see no impediment in law or in policy to getting them there," Silliman said. "We could have sent in helicopters. We could have sent in forces to do search and rescue and to provide humanitarian aid. Everything but law enforcement."

He said someone failed to pull the trigger, but he added that an investigation is needed by an independent commission to determine who's to blame.

"They're trying to say that greater federal authority would have made a difference," said George Haddow, a former FEMA deputy chief of staff and the co-author of a textbook on emergency management. "The reality is that the feds are the ones that screwed up in the first place. It's not about authority. It's about leadership. ... They've got all the authority already."
It would appear that the Seattle Times decided not to use the full report as provided by K-R but also made the unfortunate change to the headline. K-R's version is much more explicit in placing blame for the slow response on Chertoff and Brown. However, it does quote Jamie Gorelock, whom no one should trust or believe any further than they could throw Janet Reno, which is just about 2 or 3 inches, if at all.

All very confusing to me. I do not understand the two versions unless the Seattle Times got cold feet about quoting Gorelock and Witt. So why change the headline to one that was so obviously incorrect? Or is the Seattle Times headline the original and someone very shrewd at Knight Ridder is reading my blog?

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