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from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Osama bin Laden

Afghanistan's foiled 10-year-old suicide bombers come back for more

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan
What do you call a 10-year-old boy in Afghanistan? Apparently, a suicide bomber.

The Times reported Tuesday that two 10-year-olds who had been arrested for trying to carry out suicide attacks, then released last year, had been rearrested -- for trying to carry out suicide bombings.

Provincial spokesman Zalmay Ayubi said the boys each had a vest full of explosives when they were detained along with three adults suspected of being militants, and that they told intelligence officers they had been recruited for suicide missions.

A statement from provincial officials quoted one of the boys, named Azizullah, as saying the pair had undergone training at a madrasa, or religious school, in Pakistan. The mullahs there told the boys they would be unharmed when they set off their bombs, Azizullah reportedly said.

News of the boys' arrest came the same week that Muslim militant Umar Patek appeared in court in Indonesia to answer charges related to deadly bombings a decade ago in Bali that killed 202 people in a nightclub. Oddly enough -- or perhaps not -- he was captured last year in Abbottabad, the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was hiding.

But unlike the 202 people killed in the bombings, Patek gets a lawyer. And surprise, he downplayed his client's role: "His involvement in the Bali bombing ... [was] not as big as is being described. We will challenge that in a defense plea next week."

Also this week, a radical Islamic preacher, Abu Qatada, who had been under detention in Britain for most of the last 6 1/2 years, was released from jail Monday.

British officials consider him extremely dangerous, saying he encourages suicide attacks and terrorism, and they want him sent back to Jordan to face terrorism charges.

But Abu Qatada also is being given the benefit of the doubt in some legal circles. Last month the European Court of Human Rights blocked his deportation, saying he could face conviction on the basis of evidence obtained by torture.

And what do these cases have in common?  

They show the difficulty -- perhaps even the futility -- of trying to fight terrorism within the judicial system.

When religious leaders find it acceptable to use children as bombs, it says something terrible about the values of our enemies.

And although it's a tribute to modern society that we remain committed to legal rules, those same legal rules can be -- are being -- manipulated by those committed to our destruction.

It would be nice if there were an easy answer.  Perhaps the madrasas that are training children to be terrorists should be shut down?

Not likely.  As the recent controversy in the U.S. over health insurance coverage for contraceptives shows, government interference in religious freedom is a tough sell everywhere.

No, we're stuck. We must stick to our legal system. We must allow freedom of religion.

And we must fight our enemies and safeguard our soldiers and our nation.

But it would be nice if we could keep 10-year-olds out of the fight.

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Photo: Taliban fighters walk with their weapons after joining the Afghan government forces during a ceremony in Herat province. Credit: Aref Karimi /AFP/Getty Images

Has NASA gone loony? Moon rocks or bust

MoonReally, NASA? You're hard up for funds, yet you've got the manpower to go after a septuagenarian California woman trying to sell a flyspeck of moon rock -- a supposed gift to her late husband from Neil Armstrong?

Joann Davis of Lake Elsinore had emailed a NASA contractor in May, saying she had "been searching the Internet for months attempting to find a buyer" for her moon gravel, and for a piece of the heat shield of the Apollo 11 capsule. (Davis said her husband, who died in 1986, worked for North American Rockwell, which built Apollo spacecraft, and met Neil Armstrong that way.)

The degree of Davis’ awareness that she was trying to trade in hot space goods is evidently this: She acknowledged to a NASA agent that she worried about someone showing up to take away her items, which, according to the AP, she wanted to sell for "big money underground."

"I’ve been searching the Internet for months attempting to find a buyer," Davis wrote. "If you have any thoughts as to how I can proceed with the sale of these two items, please call," the AP reported.

The planned Denny’s bust was evidently a bust. Davis went home, and the lunar rock-ette went with the authorities. Who ordered the Grand Slam breakfast -- still uncertain.

So. To review. Massive amounts of public money regularly get funneled down the rabbit hole of the military-industrial complex. Corporations write their wish lists and hand them to Congress like kids' lists to Santa, but with better results. The Capitol Hill GOP’s and its presidential candidates’ race to end any sense of commonweal in America treats spending for scientific research and bridges and roads and alternative energy and decent healthcare and even NASA like something to be scraped off the bottom of their Italian shoes.

But a 74-year-old Lake Elsinore woman emails a government agent asking about how she can sell her tiny bit of the moon to pay for her son's medical care -- never mind the question of what kind of country beggars people for getting sick -- and NASA swoops in on her at a Denny's like they’d found Osama bin Laden.

Months after what operatives might have been calling something cutesy like "Operation Moonstruck," no charges have yet been filed against Joann Davis, according to The Times. And if NASA is as smart as a rocket scientist, it won’t.

The bigger matter, as our story points out, is how NASA lost track of the moon nuggets brought back on Apollo missions.

About 842 pounds of moon came back from that orbiting body, and NASA’s handed over hundreds of rocks to government bodies and famous people, in the same fashion that paintings in museums are on long-term loan. NASA, the federal government, still technically owns them. But like Soviet Bloc plutonium, a number of those officially bestowed moon rocks are unaccounted for.

And some moon rocks just disappeared down a virtual black hole. At least one was an inside job: Three interns at the Johnson Space Center spirited away a 600-pound safe, and tried to flog the moon rock contents on the Internet for as much as $5,000 a gram. The FBI busted them in a sting and the three interns were convicted. Davis’ asking price for her moon chunk was said to be $1.7 million.

Is the moon like an Oscar -- you may be able to possess it, but not to sell it?  If not, is anybody asking questions of Armstrong, the first human to walk on another space body? If Davis’ story holds water, was this moon smidgen Neil Armstrong’s to give away in the first place? (Armstrong has denied having or giving away any moon souvenirs.) If he did, why hassle this woman?

Nation, as Stephen Colbert addresses everyone, if this is all that’s left to us of a once-glorious space program –- tracking down its relics rather than questing for new worlds -– we are in a parlous state.

Yet I think Joann Davis may have shown us a way out. If people want to buy moon stuff, NASA should sell it. Sell it literally a few carats at a time. Control the moon-rock market the way diamond conglomerates control the price of sparklers, by controlling the flow.

And use the money to do what Congress won’t do, to fund the nation’s space program -- to infinity, and beyond.

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Photo: Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, poses for fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong, who shot this photo during their moon walk July 20, 1969. Armstrong and the Apollo 11 lunar module are reflected in Aldrin's visor. Credit: Neil Armstrong / NASA / AP Photo

Obama succeeds -- when Republicans let him

President Obama in Virginia

Why is Barack Obama’s presidency a tale of two situations?

On the foreign-policy front, the administration has had a string of successes: Osama bin Laden killed; major Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen killed; and this week, of course, Moammar Kadafi killed.

And on Friday, the president announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by year’s end.

An unpopular war will be officially over for us soon.  Terrorists and terrorist groups that threaten us are dead or on the run. Libya’s longtime strongman has been overthrown, thanks in part to Obama’s policy that had the U.S. and NATO working together.

But here’s a question:  If Obama has been so successful in foreign policy, why has he been so unsuccessful on domestic issues? 

Sure, unemployment fell in California last month, but it's nothing to write home about. Joblessness, foreclosures, poverty -– you know the numbers, and they're not pretty.

Even his signature domestic achievement, healthcare reform, remains under attack by Republicans.  They vow to undo it as soon as they control the White House again.

So what’s the deal?

It isn't that he's escaped criticism on foreign policy. Republicans -- heck, even some Democrats -- have been critical of Obama's moves.   But what he's done has, in the main, worked.

No, domestically the problem is that Obama's opponents have turned criticism into obstructionism.  Unlike his foreign policies, Obama's efforts to fix the economy have been thwarted at every turn by Republicans.

Take the president's jobs bill. As The Times reported:

Republican-led opposition in the Senate blocked a key element of President Obama’s jobs plan Thursday night -- a proposal to send $35 billion to cash-strapped states to keep public school teachers, police and firefighters on the job.

That's right.  Republicans won't even agree to spend $35 billion on teachers, police and firefighters.

And why not?

Republicans are fighting the measures because they do not believe such government efforts will help businesses to create jobs in the struggling economy. They also oppose asking those earning beyond $1 million a year to pay more.

Yes, protecting people making more than $1 million a year is far more important that saving a $35,000-a-year teaching job, wouldn’t you say?

The bottom line?  It's wrong to say the president's domestic policies haven't worked when those policies haven't even been given the chance to work.

Abroad, Obama has been allowed to set policy, and those policies have been given time to work.  And, for the most part, they have.

Perhaps if Republicans gave the president that same leeway on domestic policy, we might be winning some battles at home, too.

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Photo: President Obama on Tuesday told a crowd at Greensville County High School in Emporia, Va., that Republicans were blocking his efforts to boost the economy to deal him a political setback. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

With an ally like Pakistan, who needs enemies?

Quetta, Pakistan

Remember when Pakistan was our ally?

Neither do I.

But on Thursday, The Times' David S. Cloud, Ken Dilanian and Alex Rodriguez outlined just how lousy an ally that nation has become. (Warning: The following may be upsetting to you if you are an American taxpayer.)    

Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency communicated with Afghan insurgents who attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in central Kabul last week and appear to have provided them with equipment, according to U.S. military officers and former officials.

Communications gear used by the insurgents "implicated" the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan's spy service, a senior U.S. military official said Thursday. The equipment was found in a 14-story building under construction that the attackers used to lay siege to the embassy compound for 19 hours on Sept. 13, according to the official, who would not describe the equipment recovered.

Bruce Riedel, a former White House advisor on Pakistan and a retired senior CIA official, said administration officials told him that "very firm intelligence" linked the Pakistani spy agency to the embassy attack, which killed at least nine Afghans.

"There are [communications] intercepts and the attackers were in cellphone contact back to Pakistan," he said.

In a dramatic appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged that the insurgents had received "ISI support" not only for the attack on America's most prominent diplomatic and military symbols in the Afghan capital, but also for a massive truck bomb assault this month on a U.S. combat outpost in Wardak province west of Kabul that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers.

Other than that, though, Islamabad has really helped us out a lot, I guess.

Of course, the Pakistanis don't really owe us -– much.  As the story concludes:

Pakistan receives about $3.5 billion in U.S. economic and military aid each year to help revamp critical infrastructure and to battle its homegrown militancy.

That's $3.5 billion, as in, $3.5 billion we don't have to spend on oh, say, disaster relief.  You know, the money the Republicans in Congress are saying can only come from cutting other programs?

Hello, paging House Speaker John Boehner: I may have found a program you can cut from.

Oh sure, I know.  It's complicated.  This is global politics.  This is fancy foreign policy stuff. We need the Pakistanis. 

And on Friday, their reaction was pretty predictable:

Reacting to Mullen's charges, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar cautioned that if the U.S. continued airing such allegations, "you could lose an ally."

"You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan, you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people," Khar said, speaking to a Pakistani television channel from New York on Thursday. "“If you are choosing to do so and if they are choosing to do so, it will be at their [the Americans'] own cost."

Uh, Foreign Minister, exactly how much more than the $3.5 billion a year will it cost us?

And then there was this:

In Karachi, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani told reporters that the onus was on Washington to pull back and begin mending frayed relations between the two countries.

"They can’t live with us -- they can’t live without us," Gilani said. "So, I would say to them that if they can’t live without us, they should increase contacts with us to remove misunderstandings."

Well, I'll give him points for bluntness, and for his cold-blooded assessment of the relationship.  

And it's not as if the Pakistanis haven't helped us.

After all, didn't they keep Osama bin Laden cooped up in a compound near their major military academy for years, just waiting for us to come and get him?

Yes, the Pakistanis, and many in the U.S., say it could be a lot worse if we were to break ties.

Which, oddly, reminds me of the scene in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" in which a man is about to be stoned for uttering the word "Jehovah."  Explaining his action, he repeats the word "Jehovah," at which point the judge shouts: "You're only making it worse for yourself!"

And the man, sanely, replies: "Making it worse!  How can it be worse?"

The moral? When your "ally" is helping your "enemy" kill your troops -– well, it's time to consider just what  "worse" really means.

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Photo: Quetta, Pakistan. Credit: Banaras Khan / AFP/Getty Images



Another loss from Sept. 11 -- missed opportunity

911-Flags

The extra sorrow of 9/11 was what didn’t happen on 9/12.

So many layers of sadness pile onto this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. For me, one wound that may never heal is the desperately tragic lost opportunity of 9/12.

Once those towers came down, once that plane plowed into the Pentagon and that other plane went down in Pennsylvania at the hands of Americans who looked the enemy in the eye and fought him back, Americans wanted to do something.

The tremendous and untrammeled spirit of accomplishment was waiting to be harnessed. If this was our Pearl Harbor, then we wanted a job, a goal. Not everyone could, or should enlist. Task the rest of us with something unifying, something purposeful, something to strengthen our spirit and resilience and resolve.

The answer from our leaders? A resounding  ... nothing. So much had failed before 9/11, and thereafter, our leadership failed.

Nobody asked us to rally, to become real citizens once more, aware and engaged. Our civic equity -- the opportunity to be Americans, together -- was squandered. Our chance to be called upon to be the next ''greatest generation'' vanished. Our leaders only asked us to be consumers.

At the juncture of the most important public event in our lives, our leadership wanted us to be spectators, not participants. Passive. Complaisant. No war bonds or war stamps, no tax increases or rationing. No plea to go back to school, to college, to learn new skills and new ideas for this new world. No sacrifices.

Here is the column I wrote comparing the nation on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 to the nation one year after Pearl Harbor:

After 9/11, people recollect that President Bush told us to go shopping. He didn’t use that word. But he pitched his appeals to the mercantile side of us. Here is what he said over the course of the days after the attacks.

"I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy."

"Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before Sept. 11, and they are our strengths today."

But it wasn’t just the economy that had been hit. It was the very essence of being American –- the daily liberties of life, life itself. As allied bombers hammered the mountains of Afghanistan within earshot, Osama bin Laden told a Pakistani interviewer, "This place may be bombed and we will be killed. We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us."

Commerce is part of life, but life is not commerce. "Get on board" airplanes, is what the president said instead. "Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed."

Spend, use your credit card -- just as the administration was about to do to "buy" two wars that would beggar us. Just as Osama bin Laden had hoped.

It was a global war on terror –- everywhere except here. We weren’t even asked, as Americans were in World War I and especially World War II, to save on expensive and vital supplies, from meat to fuel.

Collecting scrap metal and saving aluminum foil would not have been the home-front battles of 2001, but there were equivalents. In 2001, the White House did not mention trying to save on gas and oil; don’t let us concern ourselves about the national Achilles’ heel of energy dependence, which had led us into so many overseas misadventures already.

Four months before 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney, formulating the administration’s energy policy, said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

Well, it sure helped during World War II, when "personal virtue" became a national virtue. Where did that go?

I guess the administration got one part right. Flag sales went through the roof.

Anyone can buy a flag. What we needed after 9/11 was a leadership to rally us to find a way to live up to that flag.

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Photo: Ruth Gillespie carries a flag to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: David Tulis / Associated Press.

9/11: No prayers for you

Photo: Mayor Bloomberg. Credit: Jamie Rose / Getty ImagesNew York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is being lacerated for not including any clergy in the principal ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Nor will there be a prayer.

If a minister can deliver an invocation at a presidential inauguration, it's hard to see a constitutional argument against a non-denominational, clergy-led prayer at a city’s memorial event.

One of the arguments for clergy-led prayer is that it's innocuous -- a form of what legal scholars call "ceremonial deism."

But here's the catch: If various religions earnestly believe in propositions that are unique to them -- say, the saving power of Jesus' death for Christians -- a non-denominational prayer is a kind of betrayal.

Perhaps the argument against that sort of observance isn't legal but religious.

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Photo: Mayor Bloomberg. Credit: Jamie Rose / Getty Images

9/11 and Al Qaeda: The price of victory

Rewardposter

Is Al Qaeda finished? 

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, it would certainly be welcome news that the organization that carried out those attacks has been defeated.

On Sunday, The Times reported that Al Qaeda's reputed second in command, Atiyah Abdul Rahman, had been killed in Pakistan, probably in a strike by a U.S. drone:

A few weeks after [Osama] bin Laden was killed in Pakistan during a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs, some analysts suggested that Rahman, a Libyan, had emerged as Al Qaeda's leader. That didn't turn out to be the case -- the leadership spot went to Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri -- but it underscored how central a role Rahman has played.

And what's the big picture? As the story says:

Rahman's death is likely to lend credence to a view in some U.S. policymaking circles that Al Qaeda's defeat is within reach.

Recent events "hold the prospect of a strategic defeat, if you will, a strategic dismantling of Al Qaeda," incoming CIA Director David H. Petraeus said last month.

Also in July, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, who oversees Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy at the National Security Council, said the U.S. was "doubling down" on its strategy of covert targeted missile strikes in Pakistan since Bin Laden's death, believing that Al Qaeda is susceptible to a decisive blow.

"I think there are three to five senior leaders that, if they're removed from the battlefield, would jeopardize Al Qaeda's capacity to regenerate," Lute said. He declined to name them, other than Zawahiri. But clearly Rahman would have been on that list.

Of course, it's been a hugely expensive effort to dismantle the terrorist organization, and to protect the United States. 

For example, The Times also reported Sunday on spending for domestic antiterrorism efforts:

A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security, setting up sophisticated radio networks, upgrading emergency medical response equipment, installing surveillance cameras and bombproof walls, and outfitting airport screeners to detect an ever-evolving list of mobile explosives.

Which has some questioning whether that is money well spent:  

"The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It's basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

"So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?" he said.

On the other hand, just from an economic standpoint, the effort has been a plus:

One effect is certain: Homeland Security spending has been a pump-primer for local governments starved by the recession, and has dramatically improved emergency response networks across the country.

An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.

So, is Al Qaeda finished? Of course not. For example, on Saturday in Iraq a suicide bomber killed at least 28 worshipers at a mosque in Baghdad, and at least one official blamed the Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaeda.

But it's also possible that Al Qaeda has been so crippled that it's no longer capable of carrying out a spectacular attack on the U.S. 

And the price for that?  Well, there are the permanent changes in the way Americans now live. As The Times story on domestic security spending says:

Like the military-industrial complex that became a permanent and powerful part of the American landscape during the Cold War, the vast network of Homeland Security spyware, concrete barricades and high-tech identity screening is here to stay. The Department of Homeland Security, a collection of agencies ranging from border control to airport security sewn quickly together after Sept. 11, is the third-largest Cabinet department and -- with almost no lawmaker willing to render the U.S. less prepared for a terrorist attack -- one of those least to fall victim to budget cuts.

But when I think of the cost, what I see are the faces of our soldiers. Go here, to The Times' obituaries for California’s war dead and read their stories.

If we're safer today -- and if Al Qaeda is crippled --  we have these young men and women to thank.

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Photo: The Justice Department's Rewards for Justice website gives information about Atiyah Abdul Rahman. Credit: Rewardsforjustice.net

Is our relationship with Pakistan worth saving? [The conversation]

Photo: People displaced after military launched offensive against Taliban militants live in temporary shelters near the Afghan border in Pakistan. Credit: Jabir Abdullah / EPA Washington is suspending more than one-third of its military aid to Pakistan -- $800 million -- in reaction to the nation's decreasing cooperation with the U.S. Relations with Pakistan have been particularly strained since the May 2 killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The Pakistani military helps the U.S. target Al Qaeda operatives along the border of Afghanistan but often ignores the Taliban militants who attack the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from Pakistan, The Times reported. Among other grievances the U.S. has with Pakistan’s cooperation, the country recently forced dozens of U.S. special operations trainers to leave after an incident in which CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him. 

Last month, the Times' editorial board warned of publicly reprimanding Pakistan, urging U.S. leaders to work things out with the country in private. The outrage in Islamabad toward the U.S. raid on Abbottobad wasn’t surprising, the board wrote, and Americans, in turn, are upset with the reaction of their "ally."

The board noted July 13 that although the suspension of aid is acceptable in light of Pakistan's actions, the U.S. should not let the relationship deteriorate any further. Pakistan is geographically important to the war in Afghanistan and provides intelligence about militant groups. The suspension of aid has also stirred up additional frustration in Pakistan regarding the killing of Bin Laden without the country’s permission.

We worry that the cutoff in aid was based less on a calculation of its effect on Pakistan than on the desire to publicly protest the country's truculence, partly in an effort to mollify congressional critics. Ideally, the suspension of aid will be short-lived while the relationship is mended. Pakistan can and should assist in that process, rather than falling back into the rote anti-Americanism and obstructionism that led to the Obama administration's decision to suspend aid in the first place.

Tony Karon of Time magazine  said the suspension of aid will likely widen the rift between the two countries. It's clear that the Pakistani public doesn't want its military to continue aligning with the U.S., he wrote, but public opinion is probably less of a factor in the country's actions than its own interests:  Pakistan views the war in Afghanistan as an extension of its conflict with India. In any case, both nations have already been preparing for the demise of the relationship, and the U.S. should expect Pakistan to stray away even further.

Even though public sentiment made it difficult for Pakistani leaders to support the U.S. war effort, the generals who have traditionally maintained close ties with the United States were willing to cooperate up to a point. But that cooperation has never crossed limits dictated by the generals' view of Pakistan's vital national interest. Pakistan had been willing to help the U.S. roll up hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives and to try and press the Taliban in Afghanistan to expel Osama bin Laden, but U.S. and Pakistani interests diverged when the U.S. sought to topple the Taliban regime -- which had been originally installed as a Pakistani proxy in Kabul, a hedge against the emergence of a pro-India regime on Pakistan's western flank. (The Northern Alliance, fierce rivals of the Taliban, had been strongly backed by India.)

The Washington Post's editorial board wrote in a similar vein: Withholding aid will only turn more Pakistanis against the U.S. The United States' public confrontation with Pakistan will put more strain on a relationship that is less of a partnership than it is a transaction, the board wrote, and it will weaken President Obama’s withdrawal plan from Afghanistan.

The deteriorating relationship, meanwhile, offers further cause for doubt about President Obama’s plan for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. If Pakistan’s government and army can’t be counted on to cooperate against the extremist forces based in the country, the United States will need a presence in Afghanistan, and a stable Afghan government, more than ever.

In his Vanity Fair piece, Christopher Hitchens wrote that Pakistan hates the U.S. because it is dependent on its aid, especially because the country’s  army and nuclear program, which are “parasitic on American indulgence and patronage,” are such a source of its pride. The U.S. is shamefully being manipulated by Pakistan, he wrote, and it puts American soldiers in danger.

But our blatant manipulation by Pakistan is the most diseased and rotten thing in which the United States has ever involved itself. And it is also, in the grossest way, a violation of our sovereignty. Pakistan routinely—by the dispatch of barely deniable death squads across its borders, to such locations as the Taj Hotel in Mumbai—injures the sovereignty of India as well as Afghanistan. But you might call that a traditional form of violation. In our case, Pakistan ingratiatingly and silkily invites young Americans to one of the vilest and most dangerous regions on earth, there to fight and die as its allies, all the while sharpening a blade for their backs. “The smiler with the knife under the cloak,” as Chaucer phrased it so frigidly.

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Photo: People displaced after military launched offensive against Taliban militants live in temporary shelters near the Afghan border in Pakistan. Credit: Jabir Abdullah / EPA

Doogie, Bin Laden and the 'Mister' issue

Bin laden-500wi A decade or so ago I did a profile of the actor Neil Patrick Harris for the New York Times. At the time, Harris was making the awkward transition from child star ("Doogie Howser, M.D.") to adult actor, but the ovewhelming impression given by the story was that he was still young -- a director who had worked with him attributed one Harris comment to "the kid in him."

Imagine my consternation when I picked up a copy of the NYT and saw the artist formerly known as Doogie referred to in my story as "Mr. Harris." I shouldn't have been surprised; I knew the Times "Mistered" every man unless he was a criminal or an athlete -- or a long-dead historical figure. But still: Mr. Harris? It was the '90s equivalent of "Mr. Bieber."

Now Slate reports that the NYT, in a hurried memo after the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death, dropped the honorific "Mr." from his name. The memo didn't provide an explanation, but presumably Bin Laden was simply too evil for the conventions to be honored. It's true: "Mr. Bin Laden" sounds as ridiculous as "Mr. Harris" did 13 years ago. But once the principle of exception for immoral figures is created, where do you stop -- or start? (The NYT was able to finesse the issue of Moammar Kadafi by referring to him on second reference as "Col.") Slate reports that the NYT referred to Saddam Hussein as "Mr."

The obvious way out of this dilemma is to abolish what are called courtesy titles, as this newspaper has done. But that would sap some of the stateliness from the NYT, which prides itself on its taking newsmakers (and itself) seriously. Still, it might be worth it if the NYT doesn't want to convene a continuing court to determine who is eligible for a dishonorific.

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Illustration: Jonathan Twingley / For The Times

A note to selected readers: Osama bin Laden really is dead

Osama Sunday's announcement by President Obama that a team of U.S. commandos had killed Osama bin Laden gave rise to a number of, umm, interesting comments on the blog and at the Opinion section's Facebook page declaring that the whole thing was faked. Like the moon landing, I suppose, or Elvis' death. Convinced that the burial at sea was a telltale sign of a cover-up, some argued that bin Laden wasn't really dead. Others said that he had been dead for years, but Obama staged an assault on a Pakistani compound in order to boost his popularity.

Sometimes the same people made both arguments.

So I wonder what the skeptics will make of the Associated Press' report Friday morning that Al Qaeda had confirmed its leader's passing at the hands of the Great Satan? According to the AP, the shadowy terrorist group posted an 11-paragraph statement online that said, in part:

The blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is too precious to us and to all Muslims to go in vain. We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries.

Of course, there's no proof that the statement actually came from Al Qaeda. Like the Mafia, the group doesn't have an official spokesman. The new statement, dated Tuesday, appeared Friday on the same jihad-friendly websites that had posted previous statements purportedly from the terrorist organization's upper echelon. So that may be too flimsy to convince hard-core skeptics.

Still, I thought I'd throw this out there so the naysayers would come forth again to explain how we're all being suckered into believing that U.S. troops pulled off a Mission: Impossible in the shadow of an elite Pakistani military installation. Granted, the ever-shifting versions of what actually happened inside the compound haven't helped the administration's credibility. But given the apparent confirmation from Bin Laden's comrades in improvised arms, why persist in the unbelief?

RELATED:

Osama bin Laden "deathers"

Osama bin Laden: Why the burial at sea?

Killing vs. capturing Osama bin Laden

A return to the torture debate

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Count these protesters outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Friday among those who believe Osama bin Laden is dead. Credit: Maya Alleruzzo / Associated Press

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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