January 24, 2005 © The Center for War, Peace and the News Media.
All Rights Reserved.

Osama bin Laden: the forgotten man


By Todd Crowell

Global Beat Syndicate

SEATTLE -- President George W. Bush gave a lot of interviews in the days preceding his second term inauguration. Reading through the transcripts, one is struck by a question few editors bothered to ask. Where is Osama bin Laden?

Admittedly, the editors had only limited time in the Oval Office and a lot of territory to cover, bit the Washington Times editors chose to use some of their precious minutes to inquire how presidential dog Barney is reacting to a new puppy in the White House.

But is it possible that many of the interviewers simply forgot about the man who perpetrated the worst attack in history on American soil?

Osama bin Laden is rapidly becoming the forgotten man. He has virtually disappeared from discourse. During the presidential campaign, John Kerry tried to make him an issue, accusing the Bush administration of taking its eyes off the ball. But it is not just the Bush administration that has lost focus. We all have.

Rarely does bin Laden impinge on our consciousness now, except when he periodically issues a taped statement that appears on our television screens. The message is discussed for a day or two. Then he disappears and nothing more is said or heard about him.

The government would like us to believe that bin Laden is on the lam, moving from cave to cave somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, just one step ahead of the American commandos or Pakistani army troops poised to "bring him back dead or alive," any day now. But his most recent taped appearances belie that notion. He has not been filmed in the Afghan wilderness, a trusty automatic rifle by his side. He speaks from what appears to be a TV studio. He appears to have fully recovered from wounds reportedly suffered during the Tora Bora battle.

He is not sweating.

To its credit, the Washington Post did question President Bush about bin Laden. The segment was brief but illuminating. While expansive on other topics, Bush became strangely terse and a bit testy about this subject, especially when the Post tried to pin him down as to what our allies [Pakistan] are doing to find and apprehend him.

The Post:   Why do you think [Osama] bin laden has not yet been caught?

The President:   Because he's hiding.

The Post: Our allies have done all they can do to help catch him?

The President: We're on the hunt.

The Post: Do you think others are on the hunt too? Are you happy, content, about what other countries are doing in that hunt?

The President: Yes.

The Post: Anyone you're not happy with?

The President:   Look, bin Laden is elusive. And he is in a remote part of the world. And we are - I am - I cannot think of anyone in the world who is our ally who isn't willing to do what is necessary to try and find him. And so am I pleased about the hunt? I am pleased that he's isolated. I will be more pleased when he is brought to justice. And I think he will be.

Is bin Laden hiding or protected? Pakistan's President Pervaz Musharaf says he has no idea where Osama is. Should we believe him? Is it conceivable that bin Laden's whereabouts are not known to Pakistan's vaunted Inter-Services Intelligence agency? The agency, which created the Taliban, is known to harbor jihadist sympathizers to this day.

Since the 9-11 attack on America, bin Laden has made 29 tapes, most of them delivered by anonymous couriers to the Arab television network al-Jazeera's bureau in Islamabad, Pakistan. Why have none of   these couriers been intercepted?

Many believe that bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the "lawless" Northwest Frontier Province. Yet all of the high-profile al-Qaeda operatives captured so far have been nabbed in cities away from the border. This includes 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, captured in Rawalpindi, headquarters for the Pakistani Army.

Pakistan has provided us much service in the war on terrorism, but it may also be doing us the ultimate disservice by protecting bin Laden. It is not surprising that President Bush or any U.S. official would prefer to duck awkward questions on this subject. Nevertheless, they should be asked.

Any news organization that has a chance to directly query the president, or Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, for that matter, at a press conference or in an interview, is derelict if it does not bring up bin Laden. Never mind whether it elicits a newsy answer. It is important to keep the president's feet to the fire.



Todd Crowell is a former correspondent in East Asia who edits the Asian affairs webblog: asiacable.blogspot.com.

© 2004. The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of The Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/.

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