Beltway Beat: Betraying Osama

Posted: Mar 20, 2002 12:00 AM
What do 19th-century terrorists Jesse James, Billy the Kid and the Dalton gang all share in common? They were all shot dead by gunmen seeking government bounties. Rather than offer "rewards" for information leading to the arrest of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, Randall Lutter, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is proposing that the United States issue a cheaper but far more effective "bounty" for his capture. "Given bin Laden's gloating videotaped admission that he organized the September 11 attacks, we should treat him the same way we treated terrorists of the Old West: by putting a price on his head," says Mr. Lutter. The history of the Old West, the scholar says, provides a "surprisingly strong case for bounty-hunting bin Laden. Indeed, lawmen who fought Jesse James and Billy the Kid would have been shocked by President Bush's suggestion that bin Laden is 'wanted dead or alive,' because the president missed the key point of the old 'Wanted' posters - the reward." Dead or alive rewards, says Lutter, "enticed even erstwhile friends of the most notorious Old West outlaws to betray them. Jesse James eluded lawmen during 15 years of robbery and murder. "Yet after Missouri Governor Tom Crittenden put a $10,000 reward on his head in 1881, James' fellow robbers Robert and Charlie Ford brought James to their home and shot him in the back of his head. The Fords were charged with James' murder," he observes, "but Gov. Crittenden pardoned them and they got the reward." And why is a bounty on somebody's head more effective than a reward leading to their arrest? Several reasons, the scholar says - one being that a bounty might reduce the "martyr" image of a dead terrorist if the terrorist were betrayed by his closest followers. Also, beginning with the FBI in 1999, the U.S. government has offered millions of dollars in rewards for bin Laden - in the neighborhood of $25 million - but as Lutter points out, by the time Uncle Sam "organizes, authorizes and executes an effort to apprehend or destroy him, information about his whereabouts may already be obsolete." DEPARTMENT OF WEDLOCK Here's a switch for Washington: marriages that last. Marriage expert Bill Coffin has just been hired as "special assistant for marriage education," a new position created within the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. Coffin, a former marriage specialist with both the Catholic Church and the Navy's Family Advocacy Program, is charged by Uncle Sam with strengthening marriage, reducing unwed births and increasing responsible fatherhood. One marriage-movement insider informs us that several ACF staffers have already taped a marriage mission statement to their desks: "We're going to support activities that help couples who choose marriage for themselves develop the skills and knowledge necessary to form and sustain a healthy marriage." LEISURELY GORE Former Vice President Al Gore continues to showcase the bearded look, making a rare Washington appearance at Bobby Van's Steakhouse recently week to demonstrate his support for Rep. Richard E. Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat seeking his eighth term in office. "Gore sported a more casual appearance than seen during his years with the Clinton administration," one of the 100 on hand for the private fund-raiser remarked of Gore's leisure-wear wardrobe. LAND OF OPPORTUNITY Latest Census Bureau figures reveal that 114,000 illegal immigrants from the Middle East are currently residing in the United States. The Justice Department, at the same time, is now seeking to interrogate more than 6,000 of these illegals who came from regions identified as al Qaeda strongholds. Federal authorities have indicated that among this bunch of illegals are "sleeper cells" of terrorists who disgustingly enough - while awaiting their next deadly assignment - go about their daily lives like the rest of us, working in our neighborhood cafes, construction sites, gasoline stations, you name it. GUARANTEED RIGHTS The U.S. office of special counsel and the Office of Personnel Management late last week launched the federal government's first Whistleblower Protection Act pilot program. The program will ensure that federal employees know they can come forward with information about problems within their agencies without fear of retaliation - a protection that is guaranteed under the Whistleblower Protection Act. When finished implementing the program, the OPM will become the first government agency to be certified as in compliance with the prohibited personnel practices and whistleblower protection provisions of Title 5. WELCOME TO THE CLUB That was Florida's once-beleaguered Secretary of State Katherine Harris mingling with dozens of admiring Washingtonians during a campaign fund-raising reception in her honor at the Mount Vernon home of Republican political operative Craig Shirley and his wife, Zorine. A former IBM executive and state senator from Sarasota, Harris made history - and plenty of enemies - after certifying President George W. Bush's narrow margin of victory in her home state of Florida. Now, less than two years later, Harris, too, is seeking office in Washington to fill an open congressional seat in her Florida district. "I'm conservatively optimistic," Harris said when asked about her chances of victory. "Our campaign is going quite well." She told the crowd of supporters that the 2000 presidential election was not an assault on democracy or the Constitution, as many liberals charged, but instead just happened to be a "very close race." Mrs. Shirley reminded Harris that while her opponents and the left-leaning media tried to label Harris an "enemy of the state" for faithfully discharging her duties as Florida's secretary of state, she should feel comfortable in present company "because most people here tonight had that label affixed to them years ago. Welcome to the right-wing conspiracy." CHECK YOUR SUITCASE What with all the talk about "suitcase nukes" and how easily they could be smuggled into the United States, it's not surprising that visitors to the U.S. Capitol are warned that "oversized suitcases" are now among prohibited items like cans, bottles and food. And another suddenly deadly item that U.S. Capitol Police will not tolerate: box cutters. Meanwhile, it wasn't too long ago that congressional staffers leading tours of the Capitol had only to concern themselves with getting visitors into the building. Now, police are asking a representative from every Senate and House office to enroll in a class that will instruct them how to properly exit the Capitol in case of an emergency. This week, after a six-month stoppage, congressional staffers will once again be allowed to conduct a limited number of unescorted tours of the Capitol for up to 15 visitors at a time. Each tour will have to follow a specific route under the watchful eye of security. If everything goes smoothly, beginning April 1, a small number of pre-screened school groups will be permitted to tour the Capitol. Regular public tours remain available on Saturdays only. WORTY OF BRUMIDI Murals painted since 1855 along the "Brumidi Corridors" of the U.S. Capitol depict such historical events as the Wright Brothers' first flight and the 1969 lunar landing. The last painting to be added was a tribute to the astronauts who lost their lives aboard the Challenger space shuttle. Now, New York freshman Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has proposed that an artistic memorial to the heroes of Sept. 11 be painted in the corridors, where space was set aside two centuries ago by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi so that future generations could honor the heroes of their time. "I believe the time has come to commission a new work of art to honor the memory of all the innocent children, women and men who died on Sept. 11 and all the first responders who heroically tried to save lives on that tragic day," Clinton says. "Such a memorial would convey America's grief and gratitude to the ages."