Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Where's Osama

Boston Globe has a (non) story about Osama missing:

Wanted, dead or alive: Where's bin Laden now?
By Peter S. Canellos, Globe Columnist October 18, 2005
WASHINGTON -- It's been four years since President Bush, in the first days after the worst terrorist attack on US soil, declared: ''I want justice. And there's an old poster out West . . . I recall, that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.' "
That ringing call referred to Osama bin Laden, whose desire to destroy the United States has now been the basis for billions of dollars in security planning, a war in Afghanistan, and nuclear nightmares that continue to disturb the sleep of millions of Americans.
Bin Laden, of course, has not been caught. Nor has Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who harbored bin Laden as he plotted the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Nor has Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's top lieutenant. Nor has the anthrax terrorist who paralyzed Washington in 2001. Nor has Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man responsible for beheadings in Iraq.
The United States, of course, has captured many other Al Qaeda leaders, the most important being Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the leading 9/11 plotter, who was widely considered to be Al Qaeda's third-ranking leader. The United States also has tracked down most of the Iraqi leaders pictured on playing cards distributed everywhere from Tikrit to gas stations on I-95.
Tomorrow, the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, is scheduled to go on trial, in an event that is considered crucial to healing Iraq's wounds.
But the failure to capture so many of the people responsible for attacks on Americans has to be considered a disappointment. As years have passed, with few reports of progress in the inquiries involving bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and the anthrax killer, high-ranking officials largely have stopped talking about them. And the public, from talk-radio shouters to the most devout Internet conspiracy theorists, has been strangely muted as well.
It's as if all of America recognizes the stakes in capturing these terrorist leaders, yet it doesn't want to confront the fact that so many hunts have been fruitless.
But as Hussein's trial proves yet again the cathartic effect of bringing a wrongdoer to justice, Americans will no doubt have occasion to wish for the capture of other demons.
And it may be useful to bring the manhunt for bin Laden and others back into the spotlight, since specific factors seem to be undermining each case.
Dan Benjamin, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton Administration and a coauthor of the new book ''The Next Attack," argues that the search for bin Laden has been hampered by a diversion of resources to Iraq, and by some measure of deference to Pakistan, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. ''Given the diversion of resources early in 2002, given the way we've played the relationship with Pakistan, it's not surprising that we haven't found bin Laden," Benjamin said in an interview.
The same factors would have hampered the search for al-Zawahiri and Mullah Omar.
The anthrax attacker, however, is now believed by most authorities to be unrelated to Islamic fundamentalism, a domestic terrorist who sought to capitalize on the wave of fear following Sept. 11, 2001.
That fact puts him or her in a different category -- one made all the more mysterious as the attacks have stopped, and as the trail, apparently, has grown cold.
The failure to capture Zarqawi is less a mystery than proof of the difficulty of tracking down a stealth warrior.
Back when Hussein was in charge of Iraq, Zarqawi traveled to Baghdad for two months of medical treatment.
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell has cited Zarqawi's visit to Baghdad as proof of Iraq's complicity with Al Qaeda, presumably because Hussein's regime could easily have captured him, if it weren't secretly cooperating with terrorists.
''Iraq officials deny accusations of ties with Al Qaeda," Powell told the United Nations, referring to Zarqawi. ''These denials are simply not credible."
But the United States has been in Iraq for 2 1/2 years and still hasn't been able to collar Zarqawi, who, far from hiding out, has been conducting brazen attacks on Iraqi citizens and coalition forces.
His continued ability to menace US and Iraqi citizens reveals how badly Americans underestimated the difficulty of capturing terror leaders.
But the difficulty, and the discomfort it causes to all Americans, are not reasons to allow these manhunts to fade into the fringes of national debate: One way to celebrate Hussein's coming to justice would be to redouble efforts to capture other mass murderers.
Dead or alive.
Peter S. Canellos is the Globe's Washington bureau chief. National Perspective is his weekly analysis of events in the capital and beyond.


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