More details have emerged depicting the extent of the neglect and irresponsibility of former FEMA Director Michael Brown in his roll in the scandal of the government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. On Thursday, FEMA official Marty Bahamonde testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He was the first official from the agency to arrive in New Orleans ahead of Katrina. In the midst of the chaos and horror of the hurricane’s aftermath, Bahamonde sent a dire e-mail to Michael Brown saying victims had no food and were dying. No response came from Brown. Instead, less than three hours later, an aide to Brown sent an e-mail saying her boss wanted to go on a television program that night. But first, the aide said, Brown needed at least an hour to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant, writing, “He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes.” Some 19 pages of internal FEMA e-mails revealed Thursday show Bahamonde gave regular updates to people in contact with Brown as early as August 28, the day before Katrina hit. They appear to contradict Brown, who has said he was not fully aware of the conditions until days after the storm hit. Bahamonde arrived on Aug. 27 and was the only FEMA official at the scene until August 30. Subsequent e-mails told of an increasingly desperate situation at the New Orleans Superdome, where tens of thousands of evacuees were piled in. Bahamonde spent two nights there with the evacuees. On August 31, he e-mailed Brown saying, “estimates are many will die within hours.” He described the situation as “past critical.” It was just moments after that email that Michael Brown’s press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote colleagues to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner. Worthy wrote, “Restaurants are getting busy…We now have traffic to encounter to go to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you.”
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay turned himself in to the authorities in Houston on Thursday, a day after an arrest warrant was issued for him. Shortly after noon, DeLay walked into the Harris County Sheriff’s Office where he was fingerprinted, photographed and released after posting $10,000 bond. It only took moments for his mug shot to appear on the Internet. In the photo, DeLay sports a big smile. A short time later, DeLay’s attorney blasted prosecutor Ronnie Earle, accusing him of political retribution. In response, Earle’s office said, “We believe that Congressman DeLay should be treated like everyone else.” DeLay already has subpoenaed Earle, claiming prosecutorial misconduct in the case, and a hearing will be held on the legitimacy of the prosecution. Meanwhile, Earle issued a subpoena last week for DeLay’s phone records. DeLay’s booking comes just a day ahead of his first scheduled court appearance Friday in Austin. Three weeks ago, a grand jury indicted Delay and two associates on a conspiracy charge on allegations they steered $190,000 in corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002 and disguised the source by sending the money through national Republican campaign committees. Texas law prohibits corporate donations to political campaigns.
The House of Representatives has handed the gun industry a major victory. On Thursday, lawmakers voted to protect firearms manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits. The bill now goes to President Bush, who has promised to sign it. The Republican-led measure passed with significant Democratic support. The gun liability bill is the number one legislative priority of the National Rifle Association and it has been for years. NRA President Wayne LaPierre called it a “historic piece of legislation.” The NRA exploited the aftermath of Katrina to promote the legislation. A recent statement on the NRA website said, “What we’ve seen in Louisiana–the breakdown of law and order in the aftermath of disaster–is exactly the kind of situation where the Second Amendment was intended to allow citizens to protect themselves.” The bill is aimed at killing lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers and dealers liable for crimes committed with weapons they sold. The chief House sponsor of the bill, Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, said the bill received a boost when Pentagon officials said they supported it as a way to ensure a reliable supply of American-made weapons to the military. This bill is part of a push by Republicans to attack tort law that allows corporations to be sued over the impact of their products. On Wednesday, the House passed the so-called “cheeseburger bill,” which protects the restaurant industry from health-related lawsuits.
An Iraq correspondent for the Guardian newspaper of London has been freed after being held hostage by an armed group for a day. Rory Carroll had been in the Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City when he was snatched by gunmen as he was leaving the home of a person he was interviewing. Carroll says he was placed in the trunk of a car and held in the basement of a home for 36 hours.
Meanwhile, a defense lawyer representing one of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants has been found dead, after being kidnapped from his office a day after he appeared in court with his client and Saddam. His body was reportedly dumped near a Baghdad mosque.
A Fox News reporter has revealed that US Marshals are overseeing security at Saddam’s trial in Baghdad and have conducted interrogations of journalists, asking them a bizarre series of questions. Among the questions correspondent Dana Lewis says he was asked: “Am I friends with insurgents?” “Have I ever experimented with drugs?” “What is my religion?” “Are my teeth real?” At the end of the interview, Lewis says the Marshals asked him if he would be willing to take a polygraph. He was then led to a room for an iris scan and fingerprints, which will be used as a physical identity check entering the courtroom for the trial.
The antiwar group United for Peace and Justice has announced that it is organizing a national day of action planned for the day after the US military death toll in Iraq reaches 2,000. As of October 20, the total was 1,988. UFPJ is calling the action “2000 Too Many.” Demonstrations are already scheduled in cities around the country. Military family members and veterans will be at the forefront of many planned protests.
A Virginia oil trading company pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the so-called oil-for-food scandal. The company, Midway Trading, will pay a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors say the company engaged in a scheme to pay more than $440,000 in kickbacks to Iraqi officials. The charges are the latest to come out. More are expected once the U.N.-backed Independent Inquiry Committee releases its final report, probably later this month. U.N. committee member Richard Goldstone said in August that about half the 4,500 companies that took part in the oil-for-food program are alleged to have paid kickbacks or illegal surcharges.
This comes as a Jordanian man was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in federal prison for his role as the executive director of a charity that sent money to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions. Ayman Jarwan is an associate of Dr. Rafil Dhafir, the founder of the Help The Needy charity who was convicted of violating the sanctions against Iraq. Jarwan cooperated with prosecutors and the FBI and his supporters said he was led to believe that if he cooperated, he wouldn’t go to jail. The American Civil Liberties Union called the sentence “bewildering.” Jarwan likely will be deported to Jordan after serving his sentence. His supporters say they fear he will be tortured in Jordan, citing Amnesty International and other reports documenting the country’s torture of prisoners and political detainees. Dr. Dhafir is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 27. The government has recommended a minimum sentence of 24 years.
A United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has implicated high-ranking Syrian officials, casting suspicion on a brother in law of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and other members of Assad’s inner circle. It also implicates top Lebanese officials. The United States now appears to be intensifying its campaign for economic sanctions against Syria. The United States, France and Britain have discussed a possible U.N. resolution as a follow-up to the report. Diplomats in Lebanon told Reuters news agency that economic sanctions could be on the table when the UN Security Council meets on October 25 to discuss the report. Syria blasted the report, calling it “far from truth.”
Newly published research shows that the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed at double the rate of all previous estimates. The research was published today in the journal Science. A new analysis of satellite images of the Brazilian part of the Amazon basin shows that on average 6,000 square miles of forest is being cut down by selective logging each year. This is in addition to a similar amount clear-cut annually for cattle grazing or farming. As a result, up to 25% more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere every year.