Haunted by the Nightmare of Katrina

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The announcement that John Ashcroft will become the new ethics adviser to the private security company formerly known as Blackwater – now Xe – reflects the fact that our nation’s moral compass has not been pointing due north in recent years. This April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, when the company was under the control of the controversial figure Erik Prince. Prince has since set up a secret mercenary force for the UAE, whose primary objectives are to defend against terrorist attacks and to mercilessly squash internal revolts.

In the meantime, Blackwater and Able Danger, the military data-mining op, have combined forces, yielding a lovechild company with a cunningly discreet name, Jellyfish. The company promises to provide private intelligence to corporations seeking inside information on the competition and how geopolitics stands to affect corporate investments. Envision a James Bond who reports to Bernie Madoff. Not to worry, says Keith Mahoney, the CEO of Jellyfish. The former Navy officer and senior executive of Blackwater’s intelligence team reassures us: "Our organisation is not going to be controversial … This isn’t Blackwater – or even Xe."

I feel so much better now.

All this comes on the heels of the news that for the first time since 1973, the Army Corps of Engineers opened a portion of the Morganza Spillway this weekend to relieve pressure on the levees from a swollen Mississippi River. In 2009, a federal judge found the same Army Corps of Engineers guilty of negligence that led to catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina. As the water began engulfing Cajun country again this weekend, memories of Hurricane Katrina resurfaced in the minds of Louisiana residents: water lapping onto roofs, bloated human cadavers floating among the carcasses of dead animals, snakes and alligators biting in toxic flood waters, widespread rapes and looting in the infested, filthy Superdome.

For many who lived through it, Katrina was not a natural disaster. It was a calamity fuelled by an incompetent government guilty of negligence, corruption, violence and racism, one in which the poorest people of the country suffered inexcusably and a city was rendered unrecognisable. It was devastation of epic proportions.

Should it surprise anyone, then, that here, too, on our own hallowed American soil, mercenaries from all over the world were employed to inflict torture, fear and unthinkably heinous crimes upon our own citizens?

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