If Al Qaeda trainee and Taliban fighter John Walker, 20, had been born Abdul Hamid -- the Arab name he gave himself -- somewhere in the Middle East, most Americans would dismiss the prisoner-of-war as just another woman-hating loser who deserves whatever misery POW status entails.
Lucky for Walker, he's white, middle-class and American. He's One of Us. Yes, he's misguided, but he grew up in Marin, Calif., where being misguided -- at least for an anti-American cause -- is a rite of passage. He grew up among people who believe that meaning well is more important than doing well.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that a de facto Walker fan club has taken to painting the grubby POW as a young Luke Skywalker who, as a family friend told The San Francisco Chronicle, made a wrong turn on a spiritual quest. (Which makes Osama bin Laden what? Obi-Wan Kenobi.)
Mother Marilyn Walker told Newsweek that her son, who enlisted as a soldier for a group that imprisons women and kills infidels, is a "sweet, shy kid." Forget that Walker told Newsweek he supported the Sept. 11 attacks that killed thousands of innocent civilians, Father Frank Lindh called Walker "a good boy," to whom he wanted to give a big hug and "maybe a little kick in the butt for not asking my permission to go to Afghanistan."
Astonishingly, Walker's screw-up parents aren't his only defenders. The fatuous Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told CNN's Larry King that Walker is "an idealist who really believed in what he was doing." Worse, Hatch said, "I would like to go after those who corrupted this idealistic kid, and I would like to give him a break if I can."
Does Hatch have any idea how bad he makes America look?
I learned about Walker last week at the French Foreign Ministry, as diplomatic staff handed me an article in Le Monde about "le jeune Americain" in the Taliban. Imagine how they would cackle if the U.S. government decided not to try Walker in court because he's an "idealistic kid."
As one U.S. official reacted, "We are asking countries around the world to take actions against their citizens who are joining the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and trying to bring death and destruction elsewhere, and we're asking them to crack down on their people." If America goes easy on U.S. citizens fighting with the enemy, the White House might as well send engraved cards inviting other governments to go easy on their terrorist cells.
The official added: "Poor misguided youths with a religious bent? If that's good enough to get you off for an American, it ought to be good enough to get you off for an Afghan or a Saudi."
But for some people, stopping terror isn't as important as stopping consequences for their precious progeny. Guilt has been a Fountain of Youth for Walker. He's a "kid," according to his mother and Hatch; a "boy," according to his dad.
Funny, when Walker was 16, he was grown-up enough to take the high-school equivalency exam and graduate. He was grown up enough to travel the globe alone, as his parents bankrolled his journey for spiritual enlightenment.
But now that there are consequences to his soldiering for murderous thugs, he's a baby.