By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 02 March 2006
The video is gut-wrenching.
There they sit, a whole room full of hurricane experts and disaster managers, shouting down a telephone line at George W. Bush, warning him a full day ahead of time that Hurricane Katrina is a catastrophe waiting to happen. There stands Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center, emphatically explaining that Katrina is far larger and more dangerous than Hurricane Andrew, that the levees in New Orleans are in grave danger of being overtopped, and that the loss of life could be extreme.
There sits the much-maligned FEMA Director Michael Brown, joining in the chorus of warnings to Mr. Bush and giving every appearance of a man actually doing his job. “This is, to put it mildly, the big one,” says Brown. “Everyone within FEMA is now virtually on call.” Brown goes on to deliver an eerily accurate prediction of the horrors to come within the Louisiana Superdome. “I don’t know what the heck we’re going to do for that, and I also am concerned about that roof,” says Brown. “Not to be kind of gross here, but I’m concerned about (medical and mortuary disaster team) assets and their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe.”
And there, of course, is Mr. Bush, sitting in a dim conference room while on vacation in Texas, listening to all the pleas for immediate action on the telephone. With an emphatic hand gesture, Bush promises any and all help necessary. “I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm,” says Bush, “but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm.” After the delivery of this promise, however, Bush goes mute. No questions, no comments, no concerns. As if to foreshadow what the people of New Orleans received from their leader, Mr. Bush finishes the conference by delivering a whole lot of nothing.
That’s the video, 19 hours before the bomb struck New Orleans. It is gut-wrenching because everyone now knows what came next. The storm struck, the waters rolled in, and thousands were left to die. Days passed with no help reaching the city. Images of corpses left to rot in the streets were broadcast around the globe.
It is gut-wrenching, more than anything else, because of this: four days later, when questioned about his flaccid response to the catastrophe in Louisiana, Bush stated, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” Right. No one anticipated the breach of the levees except the Director of the National Hurricane Center, the Director of FEMA, and a half-dozen other experts who implored Mr. Bush to take this storm seriously a full day before the hammer dropped.
No one could have anticipated it? That has a familiar ring to it.
No one could have anticipated the failure of the levees.
No one could have anticipated the strength of the insurgency in Iraq.
No one could have anticipated that people would use airplanes as weapons against buildings.
No one could have anticipated these things … except all the people who did. We are forced to get into some very large numbers today to accurately assess the body count from all the things the Bush administration would have us believe no one could have anticipated.
No one could have anticipated the vigorous violence the Iraqi people would greet any invaders with, said the Bush administration, except a roomful of now-unemployed generals, a whole galaxy of military experts, several former weapons inspectors, more than a few now-silenced voices within the administration itself, and millions of average citizens who took to the streets to stop the impending disaster they easily anticipated. Add this to the “No One Could Have Anticipated” body count: nearly 2,300 American soldiers, thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police, and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
No one could have anticipated that people would use airplanes as weapons against buildings, said the Bush administration. Really?
In 1993, a $150,000 study was undertaken by the Pentagon to investigate the possibility of airplanes being used as bombs. A draft document of this was circulated throughout the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 1994, a disgruntled Federal Express employee invaded the cockpit of a DC10 with the intention of crashing it into a company building. Again in 1994, a pilot deliberately crashed a small airplane into the White House grounds, narrowly missing the building itself. Also in 1994, an Air France flight was hijacked by members of a terrorist organization called the Armed Islamic Group, who intended to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower.
The 1993 Pentagon report was followed up in September 1999 by a report titled “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism.” This report was prepared for the American intelligence community by the Federal Research Division, an adjunct of the Library of Congress. The report stated, “Suicide bombers belonging to Al Qaida’s martyrdom battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House.”
On August 6, 2001, George W. Bush received his Presidential Daily Briefing. The briefing described active plots by Osama bin Laden to attack the United States. The word “hijacking” appeared in that briefing. When he received this briefing, George W. Bush was in Texas for a month-long vacation. Again. He did nothing in response. Again.
For the love of God, even the fiction writers saw this coming. Tom Clancy’s book “Debt of Honor,” written in 1994, ends with a commercial aircraft being flown into the Capitol Building during a joint session of Congress, virtually wiping out the entire government. The famous Stephen King novella “The Running Man,” written in 1982, ends in similar fashion. “Heeling over slightly,” reads the ending of the King novella, “the Lockheed struck the Games building dead on, three quarters of the way up. Its tanks were still better than a quarter full. Its speed was slightly over five hundred miles an hour. The explosion was tremendous, lighting up the night like the wrath of God, and it rained fire twenty blocks away.”
Add this to the “No One Could Have Anticipated” body count: more than 3,000 people killed in the Towers, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field, in addition to thousands of Afghani civilians who found themselves collaterally damaged in our attack upon that nation.
Remember the Bush-Gore debate from what seems a thousand years ago? Bush was asked about the responsibilities of an executive in a time of emergency. He said in response, “I remember the floods that swept our state. I remember going down to Del Rio, Texas … that’s the time when you’re tested not only – it’s the time to test your mettle, a time to test your heart when you see people whose lives have been turned upside down. It broke my heart to go to the flood scene in Del Rio where a fellow and his family got completely uprooted. The only thing I knew was to get aid as quickly as possible with state and federal help, and to put my arms around the man and his family and cry with them.”
Thousands in Louisiana and the surrounding states. Thousands in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands in Iraq. Is Mr. Bush crying with them, and their families, because no one could have anticipated this?
There is, perhaps, one aspect to all this that no one could have anticipated. No one could have anticipated that the United States of America would ever be governed by a man so callow, so unconnected, so uncaring, so detached, that tens of thousands of people would die during his time in office because he just didn’t give a damn.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.