Accountability is not a blame game

7 September 2005

Accountability is not, as President Bush has described it, a “blame game”. It is a fundamental requirement of a functioning democracy. With his announcement that he himself would lead the investigation into Hurricane Katrina, President Bush moved this week’s events from tragedy to farce. To investigate a set of events in which his own administration has received more criticism than followed either 9/11 or the war in Iraq, given this administration’s track record on deflecting criticism and distorting public truth, is to add mockery to the misery of the victims.

Katrina has exposed so many questions about the US state, the condition of its government and the hidden costs of ideological hostility to the idea of government responsibility, that it is hard to know where to begin. But begin the US must, with an independent inquiry that has the powers to demand evidence and reach firm conclusions.

If the many allegations about budget cuts, lack of preparedness and slow and chaotic response are accurate, then work must begin now to protect potential victims of future catastrophic events. Events of the scale of Hurricane Katrina are mercifully rare, but catastrophes are not all that unusual. Regardless of the party affiliation of those responsible for the appalling story of New Orleans, the administration has a clear public duty to ensure such bungling never happens again. George W Bush is not the man to lead that effort.

In Egypt this week, a fire tragically took the lives of 13 young students locked in a theatre. When the bodies were removed to the morgue, armed guards beat back relatives who were desperate for news of their loved ones. As one reporter wrote:

"This was a human calamity, a summer theatre festival for university students that ended with the deaths of 13 young people from one theatre troupe alone, and the government's primary response was to focus on security."

From New Orleans, we hear the same complaint: that the federal government sent more troops than doctors, more guns than medical supplies. And in another curious echo of events in Louisiana, an Egyptian protester identified the cause:

"We're very, very tired," Mr. Izat yelled. "We're very, very poor. They don't care about us."

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