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Arafat Diagnosed as Senile

After reading yesterday's Times-Picayune story on Rep. John Cooksey's surprising diagnosis of Yasser Arafat as senile, we asked Cooksey, a practicing ophthalmologist, how he arrived at this conclusion. But first we obtained the text of Cooksey's weekend speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in New Orleans.

Cooksey, a Louisiana Republican who is hoping to win the Senate seat of incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu, told his enthusiastic audience that he met with the Palestinian leader during a congressional trip to the Middle East in November.

"When I returned to Washington, President Bush asked for my observations about Arafat," Cooksey recounted. "I told him the following: Arafat suffers from senile dementia – this is my diagnosis as a medical doctor. Arafat will not be around very much longer, and I doubt he has the mental capability to be around presently."

Yesterday, the 60-year-old doctor elaborated: "I know his age. He's 72. I went in a group of about 30 people to see him, and he mostly looked off in the distance and seemed to get lost in his own thoughts. The tremor of his jaw could be Parkinson's or some other neurological deficit. He seemed to be unengaged by the conversation. When you asked him a question, you would get a historical answer, about what had happened in the past, but he did not seem to be able to give a response that was analytical, such as answering, 'How did you get from Point A to Point B?' "

Cooksey added that for a proper diagnosis, "the ideal thing to do would be an MRI and other tests, but I doubt he's going to subject himself to that. . . . This was a personal observation based on my experience as a physician treating elderly patients. Just like you, as a journalist, would probably be able to tell if it's raining outside."

Don't count on it. Last time we heard from the good doctor, back in late September, he was explaining his remark to a radio interviewer about airport security measures: "If I see someone come in that's got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over."



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