September 19, 2005

The military was ready to help on the Gulf Coast.

But Dubya's administration didn't tell them to start moving.

Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush went on national television to announce a massive federal rescue and relief effort.

But orders to move didn't reach key active military units for another three days.

Once they received them, it took just eight hours for 3,600 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi with vital search-and-rescue helicopters. Another 2,500 soon followed from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

"If the 1st Cav and 82nd Airborne had gotten there on time, I think we would have saved some lives," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1989. "We recognized we had to get people out, and they had helicopters to do that."

Since the feds started taking heat for their slow and inept response to Hurricane Katrina, one of the most frequently given excuse reason for that response has been that the legal barriers that supposedly make it difficult to use the military for disaster relief inside the US. Because of those barriers, say Dubya and FEMA, troops couldn't be moved into the disaster area until all the proper legal steps were followed. And that, they say, slowed the federal relief effort.

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.

One of the few positive results of the the Katrina disaster is that it's given the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau to show what a fine group of journalists work there. The bureau's stories on the disaster have consistently been among the best being done by any media outlet. And we include big guns like the BBC in that assessment.

There's a lot more in the story we've been citing in this post. We suggest taking a look at the rest.

Posted by Magpie at September 19, 2005 10:05 AM | US News | Technorati links |