Freedom of Information Act? What’s that again?

Silja J.A. Talvi

In light of the fact that the US Dept. of Homeland (In)security (DHS) continues to refuse to comply with a Katrina-related FOIA request, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit today demanding records and communications about the federal government’s role in dealing with the hurricane disaster. CREW initially requested an expedited FOIA response from DHS right after Katrina, which was flat-out denied in late September 2005. The next month, CREW asked the agency to reconsider and release documents. In 12/05, DHS said 'no' again, to which CREW responded by filing suit this month. “President Bush does not have the prerogative to refuse to release documents responsive to a FOIA request," said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan. "[F]rom Abramoff to Katrina, the Administration is trying to conceal the facts from its citizenry." Here's what the agency is asking DHS for: 1) communications between the White House and FEMA regarding the preparation for and response to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina; 2) communications regarding offers by corporations and foreign governments to assist the victims of Katrina, and FEMA’s response to such offers; 3) information regarding the portion of the $3.1 billion 2005 DHS budget for emergency preparedness that was used to prepare for hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and for potential flooding in New Orleans; 4) information regarding the amount of money that was diverted from natural disaster emergency preparedness to terrorism emergency preparedness and the rationale for any such diversion; 5) studies, assessments, presentations and scenarios created demonstrating the potential impact of a powerful hurricane on the Gulf Coast and proposed responses to such scenarios. Too much to ask for? No question that it would take some time for the slow-moving, bureaucratic mess known as DHS a bit of time to gather all of this, but denying a FOIA altogether? This is the kind of crap that former Atty General Ashcroft set in motion. Unfortunately, he accomplished exactly what he set out to do.

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Silja J.A. Talvi, a senior editor at In These Times, is an investigative journalist and essayist with credits in many dozens of newspapers and magazines nationwide, including The Nation, Salon, Santa Fe Reporter, Utne, and the Christian Science Monitor.
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