The differences between a courtroom setting administering justice through truth and the hearing room setting of a Congressional Committee seeking just simple truth (but not justice) became glaringly obvious as we watched the hearings on the FEMA response, or lack thereof, in New Orleans over hurricane Katrina. Both places share one essential ingredient, the swearing to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.
The fact is that at a hearing, lawyers are kept out, so the witness cannot hide behind attorneys prepared either to lie, or to attempt to keep out truth they see as harmful to their client’s case. Also there is no judge who, as I found in my cases representing myself in a courtroom setting before Judge Arnold Gold, kept out evidence dozens of times by uttering the contemptible words “Not probative to these proceedings.”
Consider. In sworn testimony yesterday, Marty Bahamonde stated he was the only FEMA staffer in New Orleans that morning of Monday August 29 when the disaster hit. He took refuge at the Superdome along with 30,000 others. He noted the lack of all supplies essential to the continuation of life, and became one with the rest, whom he described sardonically as “close friends”.
His statements contrasted with those of Bush appointee Michael D. Brown, the FEMA boss, who gave sworn testimony before a house panel in late September. Then and there he stated under oath that he had sent a dozen FEMA staffers including a medical team to the city before Katrina struck. He also said that Bahamonde was sent as FEMA’s liaison to Mayor C. Ray Nagin.
Not so, said Bahamonde yesterday. He was the only FEMA staffer sent, and it was not as a liaison to anybody. He said that he kept sending urgent messages for food, water, and medical supplies by e-mail for Brown’s attention, but his press secretary responded that he was far too busy waiting to eat his dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant.
Bahamonde read his emails at the request of the panel, and with breaking voice said “I can’t get out of my head the vision of children and babies I saw helpless, looking at me, and hoping I could make a difference.”
A true whistleblower is he.
Meanwhile, the public will see that a panel asking straightforward questions of a witness unshielded by an attorney and “constitutional protections” (aka Rules of Court), will every time reveal where lies are hidden. Let our system of justice take note.