BY DANIEL B. KLINE
It's five years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and Osama bin Laden remains free. Two thousand nine hundred and seventy six Americans died that day and the man who plotted their murder has yet to face justice.
Despite all the "dead or alive" rhetoric uttered by President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11, the effort to capture bin Laden has stalled. Like O.J.'s search for "the real killers," Bush pays lip service to the idea of catching bin Laden, but doesn't seem to look very hard.
If bin Laden had been a common criminal who shot a police officer, the full might of policemen around the country would be hunting him down. He'd end up dead or rotting in a jail cell, not free to skulk around the world planning new ways to kill us.
This makes it somewhat odd that the Bush administration can't seem to muster any enthusiasm to go after the worst mass murderer in the history of our nation. Sure, we spent a few weeks poking our heads into caves in Afghanistan, but after the initial desire for vengeance wore off, it's as if the President forgot which particular bad guy sent planes crashing into buildings.
Instead of capturing the man who actually caused the death of Americans, Bush used our military to topple a despot in Iraq who might have been thinking about doing so. Clearly, Saddam Hussein deserves whatever punishment he gets, but he did not attack the United States and according to a just-released Senate report, has no ties to Al Qaida.
To put this in easy-to-understand terms this would be like if The Joker robbed the Gotham Art Museum and Batman arrested The Penguin. Sure, The Penguin has probably gotten away with some crimes - he's a genuinely evil little fellow - but he didn't commit this one so you can't arrest him for it.
Saddam Hussein horribly oppressed and even killed his own people. He committed all sorts of crimes that he deserves to be punished for, but he didn't commit this one. Hussein's impending conviction might bring joy to the many Iraqis he persecuted, but it won't bring even a measure of vengeance for what happened on 9/11.
For the best part of the last five years, the American people have allowed themselves to be distracted by a trick any fledgling magician must master. Bush has everyone looking at his pretty assistant while he stuffs cards, one of those really long scarves and the odd rabbit into his sleeve. The President has everyone so worried about Iraq that we've stopped even asking when he might consider trying to capture the worst villain this nation has ever known.
While bin Laden has been forced to live a life on the run, hiding in caves and whatever desolate outpost might harbor him, he at least gets to breathe. His life might not be one of leisure or pleasure, but he still lives and wherever he is, you have to imagine he's laughing at us.
Two thousand nine hundred and seventy six Americans will never go home again. They won't get to hug their families, they will never get to tell them they love them or do anything else ever again. That should be enough reason for President Bush to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Daniel B. Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his columns can be found at www.notastep.com.