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White House considered invoking Insurrection Act in Louisiana

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  • Greg Cannon
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 9, 2005

      September 9, 2005
      Political Issues Snarled Plans for Military Help After
      and THOM SHANKER

      WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - As New Orleans descended into
      chaos last week and Louisiana's governor asked for
      40,000 soldiers, President Bush's senior advisers
      debated whether the president should speed the arrival
      of active-duty troops by seizing control of the
      hurricane relief mission from the governor.

      For reasons of practicality and politics, officials at
      the Justice Department and the Pentagon, and then at
      the White House, decided not to urge Mr. Bush to take
      command of the effort. Instead, the Washington
      officials decided to rely on the growing number of
      National Guard personnel flowing into Louisiana, who
      were under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's control.

      The debate began after officials realized that
      Hurricane Katrina had exposed a critical flaw in the
      national disaster response plans created after the
      Sept. 11 attacks. According to the administration's
      senior domestic security officials, the plan failed to
      recognize that local police, fire and medical
      personnel might be incapacitated.

      As criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina has
      mounted, one of the most pointed questions has been
      why more troops were not available more quickly to
      restore order and offer aid. Interviews with officials
      in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation
      grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of
      federal/state authority, weighing the realities of
      military logistics and perhaps talking past each other
      in the crisis.

      To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have
      had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the
      president in times of unrest to command active-duty
      forces into the states to perform law enforcement
      duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain
      that Ms. Blanco would have resisted surrendering
      control, as Bush administration officials believe
      would have been required to deploy active-duty combat
      forces before law and order had been re-established.

      While combat troops can conduct relief missions
      without the legal authority of the Insurrection Act,
      Pentagon and military officials say that no
      active-duty forces could have been sent into the chaos
      of New Orleans on Wednesday or Thursday without
      confronting law-and-order challenges.

      But just as important to the administration were
      worries about the message that would have been sent by
      a president ousting a Southern governor of another
      party from command of her National Guard, according to
      administration, Pentagon and Justice Department

      "Can you imagine how it would have been perceived if a
      president of the United States of one party had
      pre-emptively taken from the female governor of
      another party the command and control of her forces,
      unless the security situation made it completely clear
      that she was unable to effectively execute her command
      authority and that lawlessness was the inevitable
      result?" asked one senior administration official, who
      spoke anonymously because the talks were confidential.

      Officials in Louisiana agree that the governor would
      not have given up control over National Guard troops
      in her state as would have been required to send large
      numbers of active-duty soldiers into the area. But
      they also say they were desperate and would have
      welcomed assistance by active-duty soldiers.

      "I need everything you have got," Ms. Blanco said she
      told Mr. Bush last Monday, after the storm hit.

      In an interview, she acknowledged that she did not
      specify what sorts of soldiers. "Nobody told me that I
      had to request that," Ms. Blanco said. "I thought that
      I had requested everything they had. We were living in
      a war zone by then."

      By Wednesday, she had asked for 40,000 soldiers.

      In the discussions in Washington, also at issue was
      whether active-duty troops could respond faster and in
      larger numbers than the Guard.

      By last Wednesday, Pentagon officials said even the
      82nd Airborne, which has a brigade on standby to move
      out within 18 hours, could not arrive any faster than
      7,000 National Guard troops, which are specially
      trained and equipped for civilian law enforcement

      In the end, the flow of thousands of National Guard
      soldiers, especially military police, was accelerated
      from other states.

      "I was there. I saw what needed to be done," Lt. Gen.
      H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau,
      said in an interview. "They were the fastest,
      best-capable, most appropriate force to get there in
      the time allowed. And that's what it's all about."

      But one senior Army officer expressed puzzlement that
      active-duty troops were not summoned sooner, saying
      82nd Airborne troops were ready to move out from Fort
      Bragg, N.C., on Sunday, the day before the hurricane

      The call never came, administration officials said, in
      part because military officials believed Guard troops
      would get to the stricken region faster and because
      administration civilians worried that there could be
      political fallout if federal troops were forced to
      shoot looters.

      Louisiana officials were furious that there was not
      more of a show of force, in terms of relief supplies
      and troops, from the federal government in the middle
      of last week. As the water was rising in New Orleans,
      the governor repeatedly questioned whether Washington
      had started its promised surge of federal resources.

      "We needed equipment," Ms. Blanco said in an
      interview. "Helicopters. We got isolated."

      Aides to Ms. Blanco said she was prepared to accept
      the deployment of active-duty military officials in
      her state. But she and other state officials balked at
      giving up control of the Guard as Justice Department
      officials said would have been required by the
      Insurrection Act if those combat troops were to be
      sent in before order was restored.

      In a separate discussion last weekend, the governor
      also rejected a more modest proposal for a hybrid
      command structure in which both the Guard and
      active-duty troops would be under the command of an
      active-duty, three-star general - but only after he
      had been sworn into the Louisiana National Guard.

      Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for
      the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the
      Pentagon in August streamlined a rigid, decades-old
      system of deployment orders to allow the military's
      Northern Command to dispatch liaisons to work with
      local officials before an approaching hurricane.

      The Pentagon is reviewing events from the time
      Hurricane Katrina reached full strength and bore down
      on New Orleans and five days later when Mr. Bush
      ordered 7,200 active-duty soldiers and marines to the

      After the hurricane passed New Orleans and the levees
      broke, flooding the city, it became increasingly
      evident that disaster-response efforts were badly
      bogged down.

      Justice Department lawyers, who were receiving
      harrowing reports from the area, considered whether
      active-duty military units could be brought into
      relief operations even if state authorities gave their
      consent - or even if they refused.

      The issue of federalizing the response was one of
      several legal issues considered in a flurry of
      meetings at the Justice Department, the White House
      and other agencies, administration officials said.

      Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales urged Justice
      Department lawyers to interpret the federal law
      creatively to help local authorities, those officials
      said. For example, federal prosecutors prepared to
      expand their enforcement of some criminal statutes
      like anti-carjacking laws that can be prosecuted by
      either state or federal authorities.

      On the issue of whether the military could be deployed
      without the invitation of state officials, the Office
      of Legal Counsel, the unit within the Justice
      Department that provides legal advice to federal
      agencies, concluded that the federal government had
      authority to move in even over the objection of local

      This act was last invoked in 1992 for the Los Angeles
      riots, but at the request of Gov. Pete Wilson of
      California, and has not been invoked over a governor's
      objections since the civil rights era - and before
      that, to the time of the Civil War, administration
      officials said. Bush administration, Pentagon and
      senior military officials warned that such an extreme
      measure would have serious legal and political

      Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said
      deployment of National Guard soldiers to Iraq,
      including a brigade from Louisiana, did not affect the
      relief mission, but Ms. Blanco disagreed.

      "Over the last year, we have had about 5,000 out, at
      one time," she said. "They are on active duty, serving
      in Iraq and Afghanistan. That certainly is a factor."

      By Friday, National Guard reinforcements had arrived,
      and a truck convoy of 1,000 Guard soldiers brought
      relief supplies - and order - to the convention center

      Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say
      the experience with Hurricane Katrina has demonstrated
      flaws in the nation's plans to handle disaster.

      "This event has exposed, perhaps ultimately to our
      benefit, a deficiency in terms of replacing first
      responders who tragically may be the first
      casualties," Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of
      defense for domestic security, said.

      Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security,
      has suggested that active-duty troops be trained and
      equipped to intervene if front-line emergency
      personnel are stricken. But the Pentagon's leadership
      remains unconvinced that this plan is sound,
      suggesting instead that the national emergency
      response plans be revised to draw reinforcements
      initially from civilian police, firefighters, medical
      personnel and hazardous-waste experts in other states
      not affected by a disaster.

      The federal government rewrote its national emergency
      response plan after the Sept. 11 attacks, but it
      relied on local officials to manage any crisis in its
      opening days. But Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed local
      "first responders," including civilian police and the
      National Guard.

      At a news conference on Saturday, Mr. Chertoff said,
      "The unusual set of challenges of conducting a massive
      evacuation in the context of a still dangerous flood
      requires us to basically break the traditional model
      and create a new model, one for what you might call
      kind of an ultra-catastrophe.""

      Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker reported from Washington
      for this article, and Eric Lipton from Baton Rouge,
      La. David Johnston contributed reporting.
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