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  • Friday, September 16, 2005


    Fear and Loathing in NOLA Securityland

    It's easy to note how much the later coverage of NOLA has been dominated by "security" and "restoring order." After the excruciatingly slow federal response to the results of Hurricane Katrina, the military (and others) moved in. Two weeks after the hurricane, footage I saw of the city was dominated by patrols of armed men.

    I'm not saying that some of it wasn't necessary but, like Iraq, it appeared the response was one of using overwhelming force to control the situation. I was particularly impressed by how the armed response seemed to massively overshadow aid and relief efforts.

    The appearance of Blackwater mercenaries in the French Quarter is worrisome.
    JEREMY SCAHILL: One of the Blackwater guys said that when he heard New Orleans, he asked, "“What country is that in?"” And he was bragging to me about how he drives around Iraq in what he called a State Department issued level five explosion-proof BMW. This, as U.S. soldiers don't even have proper armor on their Humvees and other vehicles. And so, we also overheard one of the Blackwater guys talking to, we presume, a colleague, complaining that he was only being paid $350 a day plus his per diem, and that other firms were paying much more. And we're seeing many of these Blackwater mercenaries and other private security agents roaming the streets of New Orleans.

    And what's significant is that the way it's being reported and the way the company is presenting it is that they are here to help with the hurricane relief efforts, but they told us clearly that they are engaged in quote, "“stopping criminals"” and that they're actually patrolling the streets. In fact, we saw them take over a building on Bourbon Street when we were walking around with them. And now they have set up shop there on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. So this is very, very disturbing, I think, for anyone who knows the record of Blackwater. Of course, they do not ask questions first. They shoot first, and that is their reputation in Iraq. And so, Americans should be asking right now what these kinds of trained killers are doing on the streets of New Orleans, apparently on contract from the Department of Homeland Security.

    AMY GOODMAN: And Jeremy, as we went around, saw other figures, we didn't know who they worked for, like those in front of Hibernia Bank, as we were driving by and John Hamilton was filming. They flagged down our car. They said, "“Stop the filming."” And we said, "“Why?"” And they said, "“We just said '‘stop the filming.'"” They said, "“These are our streets,"” and made clear next to their sports shirt, you could see clearly that they were carrying guns.

    Now it's coming out that, while Michael Brown of FEMA has taken the fall for the response problems, Michael Chertoff, head of the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) was actually the only one with direct authority to mobilize the response.

    But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

    But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

    Suggestions that the levees were deliberately blown in order to carry out military occupation and bizarre urban renewal through devastation are undoubtedly false. And that the delays in aid were in order, not to save people, but to assure the destruction of parts of the city. Obviously these are just rumors. There is not a shred of proof that I am aware of. Yet the appearance of the rumors shows how much distrust and suspicion there is of the weak, delayed and incompetent government response.

    So the answer seems to be lots of security. Sweeping all things up. Related and not.

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