The Associated Press has obtained confidential video footage of President Bush’s final briefing before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. It shows the President was given dire warnings the storm could breach levees and threaten the lives of residents of New Orleans. The briefing occurred on August 28th — one day before Katrina hit. On the video, President Bush is seen watching the briefing via a videoconference from his Texas ranch. The President does not ask one single question throughout the briefing, yet concludes that the government is: “fully prepared.”
The video shows several federal, state and local officials issuing the warnings. Then-FEMA head Michael Brown tells the President and Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff: “My gut tells me … this is a bad one and a big one.” At another point in the briefing, , a weather expert says he has “grave concerns” on the levees in New Orleans. The video casts further doubt over the White House’s claim it wasn’t adequately warned about Katrina’s possible magnitude. On September 1st, President Bush said: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm but these levees got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and now we’re having to deal with it and will.”
After viewing the video, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said: “I have kind of a sinking feeling in my gut right now… From this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware.” The White House is already trying to downplay the video. Presidential spokesperson Trent Duffy said: “I hope people don’t draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Associated Press, former FEMA head Michael Brown dismissed Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff’s assertion that the Bush administration’s response was hampered by the “fog of war.” Brown said: “It was a fog of bureaucracy…My entreaties to the White House about the problems that FEMA was having were falling on deaf ears.”
In Pakistan, four people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a vehicle near the US consulate in Karachi. One US diplomat was among the dead. Another 50 people were reported injured. The attack comes ahead of President Bush’s visit to Pakistan later this week.
In India, tens of thousands of people continued their massive protests against the visit of President Bush. In one of several rallies, victims of the 1984 gas leak from the US-owned Union Carbide pesticide factory demonstrated in Bhopal. Over 20,000 died in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy, while another 100,000 people suffered lasting health problems.
In Nigeria, six foreign oil workers, including one US citizen, have been released after a two-week kidnapping ordeal. Their captors, members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, are demanding more local control over oil resources and the release of political prisoners. Three other hostages — two Americans and a Britain — remain in captivity. The released American worker, Maco Hawkins, said he sympathized with his captors and harbored no ill will towards them.
In other news, the State Department quietly announced this week it has requested $100 million dollars for Iraqi reconstruction — all of it for prisons. The Bush administration initially promised $20 billion dollars to reconstruct Iraqi infrastructure. But much of the money has been diverted to security. State Department Iraq coordinator James Jeffrey said the $100 million dollar prison project was the lone new reconstruction effort the US government will undertake over the next year.
Back in the United States, the city of New York has reached a settlement with 22 prisoners that includes new city-wide measures controlling the use of force by prison guards. The city agreed to pay a total of $2.2 million dollars to 22 prisoners who suffered serious injuries at the hands of city prison guards. Under the agreement, the city will also modify its rules on the use of force, place hundreds of new video cameras to monitor guard behavior and overhaul its mechanisms to investigate abuses.
In mining news, the New York Times is reporting the Bush administration has decreased the fines for major mining companies and failed to collect fines on nearly half of the mine safety violations issued under its watch. Mine safety regulation has come under increased scrutiny with the deaths of 24 miners this year alone. Tony Oppegard, a former top official at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said: “The Bush administration ushered in this desire to develop cooperative ties between regulators and the mining industry. Safety has certainly suffered as a result.”
In other news, Europe’s top human rights watchdog urged member states Wednesday to better monitor the CIA’s practice of transferring detainees on European soil. The Council of Europe’s secretary-general Terry Davis said Europe has become “a happy hunting ground” for foreign intelligence activities. Davis said: “Very few countries seem to have adopted an adequate and effective way to monitor who and what is transiting through their airports and airspace… [What] has allegedly happened is illegal under the internal law of all our member states.”
And in New York, a group of protesters stood up and held signs as UN Ambassador John Bolton gave a speech at New York University Wednesday. One sign read: “US interests — torture, illegal war, secret abductions, racial profiling, war crimes,” among others, and quoted Bolton’s infamous statement that: “Diplomacy is not an end [in] itself if it does not advance U.S. interests.”
During the speech, Bolton appeared to go further than the Bush administration’s previous stated position on India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Bolton said the countries had acquired the weapons “legitimately.”