And most important, when he was captured (and miraculously spared by the Northern Alliance), he was held in a basement of a makeshift prison building with dead bodies, while American CIA agent, Mike Spann was killed in an armed prisoner uprising. Lindh was questioned by Spann hours earlier, but the argument that Lindh had knowledge of a pending firefight is pure nonsense. The Feds never charged Lindh with conspiracy to kill Agent Spann, no matter how much his family wanted vengeance.
The Railroading of John Walker Lindh
By Ted Rall
NEW YORK-On July 15, American Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh plead guilty to two reduced charges: fighting for the Taliban and carrying explosives (hand grenades). In October, a federal judge is expected to sentence him to 20 years in prison, which could be reduced to 17 years with good behavior.
What was the man the media dubbed "Taliboy" thinking?
Lindh, 21, had also been charged with involvement in the murder of Johnny Michael Spann, a CIA agent killed in the November 25 Taliban POW uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif. Prosecutors dropped eight counts, including three felonies, in exchange for the right to consider him an "enemy combatant" for the rest of his life, a promise to tell investigators everything he knows about the Taliban and Lindh's pledge not to discuss his treatment at the hands of American soldiers (more on this later).
"Twenty years is a period of time almost as long as he's been alive. It's a major sentence," noted U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. That's undeniable. Compare it to these recent sentences handed down by American courts:
· Four years in prison for second-degree murder in the case of a San Francisco white supremacist whose 110-pound attack dogs, despite warnings that the beasts were dangerous, mauled her neighbor to death. With credit for good behavior and time served, she could be released in 14 months.
· Three years, four months for a Florida man who, while blind drunk, accidentally shot his best friend to death, supposedly while reenacting a scene in a film. The judge reduced the sentence from the usual nine years because of the defendant's statements of remorse and clean record.
· Ten years for a former USA Boxing head/U.S. Olympic Committee member, age 62, convicted in Oregon of four counts of criminal sex abuse against children, including an 8-year-old.
And that's just American jurisprudence. My favorite recent instance of wimp-out international justice went down in Germany on July 5. Former SS Major Friedrich Engel, 93, had been convicted of the 1944 mass murder of 59 Italian POWs in Genoa. Although a lower court sentenced the ex-Nazi to seven years in prison, the Hamburg State Court decided to let him walk away a free man because of his age.
Now let's consider the case of John Walker Lindh, who so far as we know killed no one yet got 20 years-and that with a plea bargain! "I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to November," he said as part of the plea arrangement. "During the course of doing so I carried a rifle and two grenades." Technically, this was a crime; President Clinton had signed a little-known 1999 executive order linking the Taliban to Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization. However, both Clinton and George W. Bush violated such executive orders themselves by dealing with the Taliban-and by providing them with financing and arms in attempts to bribe their way to an oil pipeline deal and reduce heroin production. So why aren't those two criminals chanting morning prayers in Guantánamo? Shouldn't they have to cut a deal too?
Prosecutors never disputed Lindh's assertion that he never even fired his rifle, much less fought against American troops. In effect, Lindh was charged with sympathies-stupid, incomprehensible, wannabe sympathies that became politically inconvenient after the U.S. began bombing the Taliban in October.
Lindh didn't go to Afghanistan to fight the United States-an act that would have made him a traitor had war ever been declared. He joined one side in the Afghan civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. During that conflict, from 1996 to 2001, the U.S. assiduously avoided favoring one side over another.
At Mazar he was captured by the Northern Alliance, not the U.S. The fact that CIA agent Spann traveled with Alliance forces and interrogated prisoners doesn't change that reality, and the government offered no evidence that Lindh attacked or offered resistance to U.S. personnel. The United States never declared war against the Taliban-therefore, there was no legal basis for charges against Lindh.
Lindh, on the other hand, could easily have sued the American military for torture and hideous violations of the Geneva Conventions. "A courtroom battle could have been embarrassing for the government," reported David Johnston of The New York Times on July 16. "Mr. Lindh's lawyers planned to present evidence of how after his capture Mr. Lindh was not given adequate medical care and was denied access to a lawyer when he made admissions about his activities with the Taliban. One person involved in the negotiations that led to the plea bargain said that the government wanted a quick resolution before evidence surfaced of Mr. Lindh's treatment."
Lindh, shot in the leg during the retaking of the Kala Jangi fortress on December 1, was turned over to U.S. forces at Camp Rhino near Kandahar. He was stripped nude and handcuffed, his bare skin covered with duct tape to fasten him to a stretcher, and thrown into a metal shipping container in the desert along with other captured Talibs, some of whom died from similar abuse. For the next two or three days, his wounds went untreated and he received minimal food and water. He was denied access to his lawyer. American Marines wrote "shithead" in big block letters across his duct-tape blindfold, kicked and punched their helpless prisoner. They even posed for souvenir photos next to him while they threatened to murder him.
Those "soldiers," whose ethics lean closer those of the sadistic Sturmbannführer Engel those of the vast majority of Americans, ought to be the ones looking at 20 years in prison. Lindh didn't shoot anyone. He never shot at anyone. So why is he facing a longer prison term than a typical child molester?
"Our goal, frankly, was to try to give him some kind of future in the chaos," Lindh attorney James Brosnahan explained after the plea was announced. "He was pretty conscious of how public opinion was turning." Attorney General John Ashcroft did everything possible to trash Lindh's right to an impartial jury trial, including spewing outrageously inflammatory rhetoric ("We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values, but we cannot ignore that he did. Youth is not absolution for treachery...") and having the venue moved to Virginia despite the fact that Lindh resided near San Francisco. A fair trial would have resulted in acquittal, but Lindh-more victim than perpetrator-would probably have received life imprisonment if hauled up before an Ashcroft kangaroo tribunal.
Despite the long odds, one wishes that Lindh had held out for his day in court. His case stood to establish important precedents in the prosecution of accused enemies of the state, and would have exposed the despicable behavior of terrorists in our own military. "The U.S. government should not be able to plea out of its obligation under international law to protect those in U.S. custody from ill treatment. All allegations of abuse in custody should be investigated and the use of such methods should be strongly condemned," says Vienna Colucci, International Justice Specialist for Amnesty International.
I wish Lindh had chosen to stand up and fight for himself; he didn't do anything wrong, much less illegal. The evidence against him came from his confession, which was coerced under torture. And there's an excellent chance that, even had a jury imposed a life sentence, a fairer-minded president would eventually have pardoned him. In any case, surely it's better to spend the rest of your life behind bars with your integrity intact than to yield to torture and an unfairly manipulated court system in exchange for a lousy deal.
Then again, that's easier for a free man to say than a broken man-and at Camp Rhino Marines broke John Walker Lindh. And here in the United States, Ashcroft sucker-punched him. Rather than risk losing the rest of his life, Lindh surrendered a big chunk of it. He chose the easier way out, and these days, that makes this young jihadi as American as apple pie.
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