The Tangled Path to a Response

As we prepare to retaliate for last week's atrocities, let's take time to be sure of our targets

But if I am not suggesting a direct or nefarious connection between George W. Bush and anyone named bin Laden -- and I truly am not -- there is a reason I've written today about obscure facts from 11 years ago. I recount these facts because you will be hearing a lot in coming weeks and months about people, organizations, and entire countries with "links" and "connections" to Osama bin Laden. Those with such links and connections may well be marked out for arrest, or abduction, or annihilation.

But proving, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that such linkage amounts to aid for terrorism takes time and money. The tangle of financial and other relationships that characterizes al Qaeda, the shadowy movement headed by bin Laden, is complex beyond the general imagination. As investigation of the World Trade Center and Pentagon atrocities continues, the arc of relationship between enemies will, at times, veer oddly -- even ironically -- close to friends, or to those who may dislike U.S. policy in the Middle East but would never countenance the slaughter of innocents.

For example: It is no particular secret that at least some of bin Laden's financing has come from wealthy Saudis. It is regularly speculated in the international press, in fact, that Saudi businessmen are essentially paying his organization to refrain from targeting the Saudi kingdom and its royal family. Is paying protection a "link," or an understandable reaction to threats from a madman with a worldwide following? Is knowing about such payments, but not moving to stop them, a "link"?

Is there any reason, except the political, to believe that retaliation for last Tuesday's attacks will be less valid if investigators spend weeks or even months exploring such links, and making sure the targets we choose represent real, and not just possible, enemies?


Lest anyone misunderstand, let it be known, and clearly, that I have no patience -- at all -- with the arguments of those who counsel a judicial, rather than military, response to the evil acts that killed 5,000 innocents last week. My sentiments are well expressed by this quote, contained in a recent Peter Maas piece in the online magazine Slate: "This may not be politically correct, but I don't want justice here," Maas quoted a special forces captain as saying. "These people do not need to be brought to justice or apprehended. They need to be killed. That's what you do to your enemy in war -- you destroy him. And this is a war."

If it is a war, it's a peculiar kind, one in which the enemy may be the brother of a friend of a friend, and relative unknowns may step quickly to the center of the world stage. When I was in Houston just 11 years ago, after all, Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush were at best footnotes to the footnotes of history.

In such conflict, it would seem, there is special reason to take care, to strike only at documented demons. Smite, yes, but verify.

For memory is long, and the killing of innocents creates enemies who cannot forget.

Ever.

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