- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The collapse of al Qaeda resistance in the Tora Bora mountains marks the end of what may be the last big battle in the Afghanistan campaign. But the war is not over by any means. New reports indicate that the Northern Alliance may have permitted the escape of several Taliban leaders, including the movement's chieftain, Mullah Omar, as part of the negotiated surrender of other fighters. The whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are not yet known. The fact that neither Omar nor bin Laden have apparently been captured or killed leaves the book open.

Our special operations troops are now searching the abandoned hideouts in Tora Bora and pursuing reports that Omar has been spotted near the southeastern city of Kandahar. Some al Qaeda and Taliban leaders may escape us for a time, but eventually they will be found. Who finds them is more important than when or where they are found. Our European allies have already balked at imposing the death penalty on bin Laden. Our sometime allies in the region can't be counted on to turn him over to U.S. authorities.

A World Court criminal trial that cannot result in the death penalty for bin Laden and his co-conspirators would be self-defeating. To paraphrase what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said some weeks ago, the world doesn't need bin Laden to be tried for two years in front of Judge Ito. Worse, holding him prisoner would invite terrorist attacks and hostage-takings intended to force his release.

Taking bin Laden alive is a real possibility. His rich-kid-turned-holy-warrior career path indicates that he will likely try to save his own skin. Imagine yourself to be one of the special forces operators now searching the caves and mountain hideouts. If some tall figure stands up in front of you, raises his hands and yells, "I surrender" in Arabic, what will you do?

Let's be blunt: American interests would be served by bin Laden's death. In fact, his secret death would be best for us. No martyrdom, just disappearance. There may be sleeper agents, waiting only for word of his death, to unleash an attack. Let them wait forever, while we continue to fight their ilk both here and abroad.

If bin Laden has escaped Afghanistan, we will have to dedicate our intelligence resources to finding him however long it takes. We also will have to be unrelenting in our demands for cooperation from the nations who can help find him and may innocently or otherwise end up having him within their borders. The defeat of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan is only round one in the war against terror. Bin Laden can't be left standing at the end of this round.

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