I'm sitting in my office staring at the grainy images of a mysterious man on the U.S. State Department's "Rewards for Justice"
Web site. At this moment he may be hiding in a cave along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Maybe he is eating with close aides. Maybe he is dead. Maybe he is walking down the middle of a street, making small talk with visiting American troops.
The man in question is Mullah Omar
, the mysterious and secretive figure who was the head of Afghanistan's authoritative Taliban government. Ever since the Taliban was driven from power following 9/11, he has been hunted for, among other things, his suspected close ties to Osama bin Laden.
The State Department has two pictures of Mullah Omar on their Rewards for Justice Web site. But a photojournalist in New York, who is experienced in Afghanistan, has been arguing for months that there is a basic problem revealed to him by his sources: The pictures are not Mullah Omar. Ed Grazda is pushing hard for the State Department to update its images.
Confusion is understandable. The Taliban, citing ultra-orthodox views of Islam, outlawed photographs of people, saying making any image of a human being was forbidden by the Koran. But intelligence agencies argued years ago that another key purpose of that move was just this: If the leaders of the Taliban could keep anyone from taking their pictures, it would be very hard to track them down or prove they were the men in charge during the Taliban's most brutal and repressive days.
The State Department is understandably defensive about the allegation of a mistake. After some relatively tense phone conversations earlier, they sent me an e-mail explaining that they have looked into Mr. Grazda's claim that the men on their site are actually other Afghans ... not the guy they want; but they are sticking with their current pictures because they believe those are the best images they have. They believe the pictures are of Mullah Omar.
Maybe it's him. And maybe it doesn't matter. He's been on the run for nearly five years and we haven't caught him yet.
What do you think? Is a Web site WANTED poster ... right or wrong ... going to make any real difference in the hunt for Mullah Omar?