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John Wayne's Holster: John Walker Lindh, American Taliban or Scapegoat?
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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

John Walker Lindh, American Taliban or Scapegoat?

I am sure we all remember John Walker Lindh, aka “The American Taliban”. Lindh was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in supporting the Taliban government against the United States. But were Lindh's actions really treasonous? Did he get a fair deal from the Justice Department? Or was he the scapegoat for a frustrated and angry nation?

For the record, I personally support President Bush's efforts to overthrow the Taliban and capture bin Laden. That being said, I find it hard to believe that anyone who looks at the facts of John walker Lindh's case (not what the media and the Justice Dept tell you) would think that his sentence was fair.

Lindh grew up in Marin County CA, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. When he was teenager, he converted to Islam, and traveled to Yemen where he learned Arabic and pursued his studies of the Koran. He then enrolled at a madrassa (religious school) in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier region. While there, he encountered many of the locals who told him of the long-running civil war between the Taliban and the Russian-backed Northern Alliance – part of the mess left from the Soviet-Afghan War.

According to Lindh’s own statement that he gave to a CNN reporter, “I lived in a region in the northwestern province -- the people there in general have a great love for the Taliban, so I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement. And my heart became attached to them. I wanted to help them one way or another.

So he did. He crossed the border into Afghanistan and volunteered to fight in the Afghan civil war. According to a statement Lindh later gave to a Newsweek reporter, he did so "to help the Islamic government... because the Taliban are the only government that actually provides Islamic law."

All this happened BEFORE 9/11!

After 9/11, things obviously changed. The US wanted bin Laden. The Taliban were safeguarding him. The US then joined forces with the Northern Alliance (who they previously fought against) in an effort to overthrow the Taliban (who they previously supported).

In mid-October of 2001, during the battle of Konduz, Northern Alliance troops captured a group of several hundered Afghan soldiers (including Lindh). Under the terms of the surrender, Afghan soldiers would be given safe passage home if they would give up their weapons. They did, and were subsequently led to a garrison near Mazar-e Sharif. There they were interrogated by the Northern Alliance and US CIA operatives. Lindh was questioned by CIA operative Mike Spann, but was unresponsive. At some point during the interrogation, an uprising takes place and many are killed, including Spann.

Lindh took a bullet to the leg, but survived the uprising. He was turned over to the Red Cross and taken to a prison hospital in Sheberghan. It was at the hospital where he was interviewed by a freelance journalist working for CNN. During that interview, Lindh stated that he had attended a training camp funded by Osama bin Laden.

The media had a field day with that statement. They played on the public’s anger and their thirst for revenge. Somebody was going to pay for 9/11 - and now they had one of “bin Laden’s lackeys” in custody. Attorney General Ashcroft even went so far as to accuse Lindh of complicity in the September 11 attacks, stating that the filing of criminal charges against Lindh was compelled "by the inescapable fact of September the 11th. We cannot overlook attacks on America when they come from United States citizens.

Lindh had no connection whatsoever to 9/11! He was a religious ideologue who wanted to fight to create an Islamic state. His was involved in a civil war that pitted muslims against other muslims. There were not even US troops on the ground in the battle Lindh was involved in.

Attorney General Ashcroft charged Lindh with 10 felony counts, including conspiracy to murder United States nationals. If convicted, he would face multiple life sentences. The trial was set to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and was to take place in Alexandria VA, just a few miles from the Pentagon. I don't know about you, but that doesn't exactly sound like an impartial jury to me.

Holding these charges over Lindh’s head, the prosecuting attorney coerced Lindh into a plea. Under the terms of the plea, Lindh acknowledged that by serving as a soldier in Afghanistan he had violated the anti-Taliban economic sanctions that had been imposed during the Clinton administration. In addition, Lindh had to waive his right to any appeals, and was placed under a gag order not to communicate any of the circumstances of his case to anyone. Lindh was sentenced to 20 years with no chance for parole.

At the time Lindh was sentenced, most American’s (including me) thought he got what he deserved or he got off too easily. However, those opinions are based on misinformation and the vilification of Lindh by both the media and the Justice Department. Now we have had the opportunity to step back and examine the events surrounding 9/11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan more carefully. It seems clear to me (and many others) that Lindh has not gotten a fair shake.

The only charges the Justice Department could stick on him were the violation of economic sanction charges. And those charges are trumped up at best. Around the same time that Lindh joined the Afghan army, Colin Powell was announcing the $20 million aide package sent to the Taliban to help them eradicate the opium trade. UNICAL was working with the Taliban to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. I have not heard of any charges being brought against them.

As his attorney James Brosnahan points out, “Lindh traveled to Afghanistan months before 9/11 happened; [he] never came into contact with U.S. troops prior to his capture by the Northern Alliance; never fought against Americans in any way, shape, or form; and never participated in any terrorist activities against this nation or any other country.

It is time for the Justice Department to step forward and correct an injustice by commuting Lindh’s sentence.


At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Roy said...

Nice post, I need to read the other material so that I can make an informed decision because I do not know all of the facts but this sounds interesting.

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Roy said...

It seems that he has a strong case. However I think that he gave up his right to US citizenship when he joined an Islamic extremist movement. Sure he did not fight against us but that was because he was captured. Can we honestly say he would not have fought against us given the opportunity.

You said: "He was a religious ideologue who wanted to fight to create an Islamic state."

Do you think that he should be allowed to visit this country or even live here?

THere are Americans of Middle Eastern decent who have gone to join the Taliban and I believe that they should never be allowed in this country again so I think it should be the same for Lindh.

It does seem rather weak to charge him with violating economic sanctions. But an American citizen who is a committed Islamist seems rather dangerous to me.

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

I am not sure Lindh gave up his citizenship by joining the Taliban. Throughout history, there have been plenty of Americans that joined in foreign conflicts -Hemingway comes to mind. Whether Lindh would potentially have fought against the US is speculation, but it is a possibility I suppose. I have not seen any evidence to suggest he would have.

I think there is a difference between Lindh and some other Americans who join or financially support the Taliban. Some join/support the Tailban for the expressed purpose of defeating the US. To me that is treasonous. Lindh, on the other hand, joined to assist the Taliban in the battle against the Northern Alliance. And this was before 9/11. As far as I know, he has made no statements calling for the defeat of the US.

As far as the charges against Lindh go, the economic sanctions charges are really weak. If there had been evidence that he was trying to defeat the US, or that he was activley supporting bin Laden's terrorist campaign against the West/US, I would be in favor of charging him for that. But that evidence is lacking. Or if does exist, it has never been put forth by the Justice Dept.

One thing that seems fishy to me about the whole Lindh affair is why a plea was offered in the first place. Supposedly, it was a National Security issue, but the cynic in me feels that the govt knew their case against Lindh was weak. In the aftermath of 9/11 they couldn't just let him walk. The media and the DoJ already had the public convinced his was bin Laden's deputy. Letting his walk would have exposed the DoJ and the media, and would make the US look weak to the international community. As such, they held the more serious charges over his head and forced the plea on him.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Roy said...

I dont know about this one JOe. Certainly you would agree that Bin Laden and the Muslim radicals have been attacking this country and our interests since way before 9-11. If Johnny wants to help establish an Islamic state by use of force then he loses citizenship. Bin Laden had already attacked our Embassies in Africa and Islamic militants have been attacking us since the 70's.

It is not alright for US citizens to join radical Islamic movements, of course that is just my humble opinion.


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