about Epidemiology & the department

Epidemiology academic information

Epidemiology faculty

Epidemilogy resources

sites of interest to Epidemiology professionals

Last Updated

01 Jan 2003

Source: Washington Post, April 25, 2002.


Mr. Moussaoui's Message

It remains to be seen whether Zacarias Moussaoui has a fool for a client, but he's already done the rest of us a service. When the alleged co-conspirator of the Sept. 11 hijackers delivered a 50-minute address in federal court in Alexandria Monday, informing the judge that he wants to represent himself in his criminal trial, he also usefully reminded this nation that it faces determined enemies with a very clear goal: as Mr. Moussaoui succinctly put it, "the destruction of the United States." The indicted 33-year-old said he prays for that outcome as well as "for the destruction of the Jewish people and state" and, for good measure, the return of Spain to Muslim rule.

It's not always easy to keep this in mind, but the United States remains under grave threat. The U.S. war against terrorism since Sept. 11 has accomplished much, most particularly the unseating of a government in Afghanistan that encouraged and profited from anti-American terrorists. Those terrorists have likely been set back by the Afghanistan campaign and by other measures, financial as well as military.

But the list of what has not been accomplished is, or should be, sobering. Osama bin Laden and most of his senior associates remain, as far as is known, at large. U.S. law enforcement does not know who mailed anthrax spores to political and media figures last fall, nor the source of that deadly powder. Vague, unhelpful warnings of further attacks suggest that interrogation of captured al Qaeda suspects has met with limited success. Terrorists, quite likely with connections to al Qaeda, detonated a truck outside a synagogue in Tunisia only two weeks ago, killing 17 people, including 11 German tourists. It is prudent to assume that the question of another attack against America or Americans is when, not if.

"I think there continues to be a significant threat to the homeland," Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said during a recent visit to The Post; including from trained operatives still in the United States, he said. "The capability is still in place." After Sept. 11, the nation moved quickly to tighten security in obvious areas -- airports -- yet still has not moved sufficiently in others, he said, such as seaports. The senator said there are tens of thousands of trained terrorists in the world from seven or eight organizations that the United States must fight, and he said that much of the combat will involve "close encounters, significant casualties, the kind of thing the American people don't like to see on television."

Mr. Graham's point was not to frighten people; he said he believes the war is winnable, if difficult. But he worries about the temptation to change subjects, to lose focus and so also lose momentum in the war. It's a legitimate concern. No one likes to dwell on such dangers, particularly when for most people they seem so beyond control. Politicians who should be making sure the country stays on the offensive also may be diverted. Democrats want to talk about domestic issues in this election year; the White House has its own distractions, from the Middle East to the president's busy fundraising schedule.

After Sept. 11, most Americans came to understand that they faced a skilled and determined enemy interested not just in hurting Israel or removing U.S. bases from Saudi Arabia but also in damaging the United States to the maximum extent possible. The greatest danger now is to let that lesson fade. Listen to Mr. Moussaoui. He means what he says, and he speaks for others.