In late August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina built into a "Category 5" and was threatening New Orleans, Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, like President Bush, held to his scheduled speaking engagements as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Secretary Chertoff left the disaster planning and rescue duties to his head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, (FEMA), Michael "Brownie" Brown, whose main qualification for being responsible for thousands of lives in a major city was that he had been the "Judges and Stewards Commissioner" for the International Arabian Horse Association.
In December 2004, the U.S. military had supplied water to the victims of the South Asian tsunami within twenty-four hours; in large swathes of New Orleans relief supplies did not appear for a week. When "Brownie" briefly testified before Congress he blamed his own inept response on the lack of resources that his boss, Secretary Chertoff, had given him, saying that Chertoff ignored planning for natural disasters because he was only concerned about terrorism. The new Congress should call back "Brownie" and Mr. Chertoff to testify under oath about their handling of Katrina.
Secretary Chertoff should have known that "Brownie" was not up to the task, and he also should have been a major player alerting our somnambulant Chief Executive about Katrina's dangers. Instead, Mr. Chertoff failed the nation when it needed him most. He should be held accountable for the shameful display of government ineptitude, cronyism, negligence, and corruption that his bungling of the Katrina catastrophe exposed.
When the disaster in New Orleans dominated the mainstream media with heartbreaking images of people begging to be rescued from the rooftops of their homes and from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Chertoff appeared on several news shows. The principal protector of our beloved "homeland," Chertoff, claimed there had been two distinct catastrophes, a hurricane followed by a flood, as if the two events were not connected. At a time when chaos reigned in the city, he told National Public Radio's Robert Siegel "there is a more than adequate law enforcement presence in New Orleans." Chertoff also showed that he was unaware that there were several thousand people stranded at the convention center. When journalists described the conditions of people who were trapped in the squalid building without water, food, or proper sanitation, Chertoff denied the reports saying they were "rumors" and "anecdotal versions" of events. (Chertoff's underling, "Brownie," had also revealed to reporters that he had no idea what was going on at the convention center.)
Secretary Chertoff mismanaged the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, which was a severe blow to the United States' image in the world, and showed our enemies and allies alike that our government is incapable of dealing with mass destruction within our shores. President Bush can project American military power to "remake" the Middle East, but he could not give assistance to his own citizens who were desperately pleading for help and facing death in New Orleans. Michael Chertoff was a central player in this calamity that shamed the nation at home and abroad.
When the media spotlight exposed the weaknesses of the Bush Administration's governing philosophy, Secretary Chertoff went into hyper-spin mode. He claimed publicly to have been in control of the situation when he clearly was not. He had less knowledge about the conditions in New Orleans than did the news media. And he felt it acceptable to lie to the American people about the botched government response. At the very least, Chertoff should have been fired for his carelessness that cost American lives. For his criminal negligence in not rescuing the people of New Orleans, Secretary Chertoff violated his oath of office and his constitutional obligations. Wherefore, Michael Chertoff, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.
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