SCI is described as "a company with a record of gross mismanagement of mortuary services" by Executive Director Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. Among its troubles, SCI recently paid $100 million to settle a lawsuit charging that it illegally discarded bodies. The messy, repulsive charges were dubbed FuneralGate.
Local officials, the press and New Orleans residents, especially those who survived the storm and levee breaks, are quite surprised at the unusually low reported numbers of dead found in the New Orleans area. (10,000 were initially predicted; less than 600 have so far been reported.) Surprised and a bit suspicious that the deceased may purposely be undercounted by the Bush administration. (It''s commonly believed that body counts in the Iraq War have been understated and/or undercounted.)
Suspicions were first raised when the federal government demanded complete control of the city of New Orleans. Governor Blanco refused, to the purported great anger of the White House, but is rumored to have made certain "concessions" to appease the White House. Then, FEMA instituted a "zero tolerance" policy for press coverage or photos of the deceased. CNN fought that order by obtaining a restraining order, causing FEMA to back down from its formal prohibition of press coverage.
But the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Monday that federal recovery teams are still limiting press coverage of body recovery,"The 82nd Airborne soldier told reporters the Army had a policy that requires media to be 300 meters -- more than three football fields in length -- away from the scene of body recoveries in New Orleans. If reporters wrote stories or took pictures of body recoveries, they would be reported and face consequences...."
Per Peter Tedeschi, CNN producer, on Wednesday, September 14, via DailyKos, "...we're seeing barbed wire strewn across the entire length of the city about a half mile up from the Gulf of Mexico. So when it's completed, we will see about four and a half miles of rolling barbed wire by a half mile down to the water.
What security guards there are telling us is that they want to keep looters out. But what some military police told me privately was that they expect to find a lot of bodies in the area...."
As activist Miriam Raftery summed, "In other words, FEMA and then Blanco outsourced the body count from Hurricane Katrina -- which many believe the worst natural disaster in U.S. history -- to a firm whose parent company is known for its 'experience' at hiding and dumping bodies." And to a company whose wealthy Houston owner, Robert Waltrip, is a longtime contributer to Bush family political campaigns, and who gave more than $100,000 to the Geroge H.W. Bush presidential library.
Few now expect the body count in New Orleans to be anything close to initial estimates. And even fewer expect the privatized federal body recovery process to be observed or for the body count to be verifiable.
Related articles -- Halliburton Lands Katrina Contracts, Stock Rises to One-Year High
-- Hiding the Evidence of Dead bodies in New Orleans?
-- CNN Forces White House to Back Down on Press Clamps in New Orleans