- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

Congress has questions about Katrina. The Congress wants their questions answered — now. To satisfy the insatiable curiosity of people like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, congressional hearings are being scheduled. Various administration officials engaged in Katrina rescue and recovery efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi therefore have to stop what they are doing to answer these very important questions from very important members of Congress.

Requiring rescue and recovery officials to stop rescuing and recovering to answer questions is akin to demanding a fireman stop pouring water on a fire to respond to an inquiry about how he is fighting the blaze. Apparently that doesn’t matter to the likes of Mr. Reid or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. They have their questions — and they want answers.

Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi have already given us a taste of their line of inquiry. “How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation?” asked Mr. Reid in a salient observation on the storm and its consequences. Mrs. Pelosi apparently prefers to cast her queries in the form of aspersions: “Mr. President, you should have taken charge, and you should have taken responsibility,” she said as President Bush toured the carnage. Mrs. Pelosi has since rejected the administration’s suggestion that a bicameral, bipartisan commissionany conduct any investigation of the response to Katrina — an idea endorsed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

In fairness, there may be some — like Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat — who want to use a congressional inquiry to determine how to better respond to an extraordinary disaster, manmade or natural. If so, it will be important to question others besides administration officials. Here’s a short list of questions for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin:

When the National Weather Service warned Hurricane Katrina could be catastrophic, what emergency preparations and announcements were made to New Orleans residents? When and how were they made?

The Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan for New Orleans says, “The person responsible for recognition of hurricane-related preparation needs and for the issuance of an evacuation order is the mayor of the city of New Orleans.” Yet in a radio interview, after the storm hit, you said: “I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain’t talking about — you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here. I’m like, ‘You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.’ ” How and when was your evacuation order promulgated? If you needed buses to move the population, why were hundreds of government-owned municipal transportation and public school busses left to be inundated and destroyed in parking lots around the city?

In December 1995, the New Orleans Levee Board told the local Times-Picayune newspaper it had an “arsenal” of federal money to improve and maintain New Orleans flood control measures. Yet, a year later, the same newspaper reported the Levee Board was near bankruptcy. Where did that money go?

On Wednesday after the hurricane passed, news networks broadcast footage of criminals shooting at rescuers, looters carrying off stolen property and what seem to be police officers stealing DVDs. The faces of many of those engaged in this lawless behavior are clearly visible. How many perpetrators of these crimes have been apprehended?

Who ordered use of the Superdome as an evacuation center? How many law officers were assigned to “protect and serve” the tens of thousands who gathered there?

When you told an Associated Press reporter the “CIA might take me out,” what did you mean? When you subsequently said, “If the CIA slips me something and next week you don’t see me, you’ll all know what happened,” what were you talking about? Do you feel threatened by the CIA?

The American Red Cross says it was ordered to stay out of New Orleans and not to bring in food and water to the victims. “The state Homeland Security Department had requested — and continues to request — that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city,” reads a statement on the Red Cross Web site. Did you confer with Louisiana Gov. Blanco over this statement? Do you agree with it?

The Headquarters of the Marine Corps Reserve is in New Orleans. Before President Bush dispatched U.S. military ships, aircraft, equipment and units to Louisiana, did you or, to your knowledge, Mrs. Blanco ever request that U.S. Marines, under federal control, be used to restore law and order in New Orleans? If not, why not?

When the vice president visited Thursday, did you thank him for the extraordinary response by 18,000 military personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, the USS Harry S. Truman; USS Iwo Jima, the USS Bataan and the Navy doctors, nurses and medical corpsmen aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort? Are you aware the U.S. Coast Guard — the smallest of our Armed Forces — rescued more than 23,000 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane?

Have you called Rudy Giuliani for advice on how to handle a crisis? If not, why not?

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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