True justice

Debra J. Saunders

6/24/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
As John Walker Lindh's lawyers have complained that their client can't get a fair trial in Virginia, and perhaps in anywhere in America, they raise the question as to what a fair trial is. Does a fair trial mean that the court is supposed to protect a defendant from his own mistakes? That seems to be the belief held by the Lindh defense team. For example, Lindh attorneys have complained their client is hurt by pretrial publicity. Apparently it doesn't matter that the pretrial publicity began with Lindh -- who then went by the names John Walker and Suleyman al-Faris -- making a star appearance on CNN. The court is supposed to suppress Lindh's admission that he went to "several training camps," admitting it was his goal as a Muslim to be a "martyr" and discussing Osama bin Laden. When CNN contributor Robert Pelton asked Lindh: "Was this what you thought it would be? Was this the right cause or the right place?" Lindh freely answered him, "It's exactly what I thought it would be." Lindh's attorneys argued that U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Ellis should rule that the interview aired around the world be inadmissible in court because -- get this -- journalist Pelton was working as an agent of the U.S. government, and thus he should have issued a Miranda warning to Lindh. In a defense brief, the Lindh team complains that officials interrogated Lindh "knowing of Mr. Lindh's dismal condition after having been subjected to 40 U.S. missile strikes, multiple grenade attacks, a fuel-powered fire and flooding by freezing cold water." Does this remind you of the defendant who killed his parents then asked the court to look kindly on a poor orphan? Lindh went to fight with the Taliban of his own will. He came under fire from Taliban enemies -- both American and Afghan -- and was subject to grenade attacks (by his fellow Taliban, who had broken their promise to disarm) and a brutal Northern Alliance counterattack. If he were traumatized, it was as a consequence of his own choices. The best way for little Johnny to not have been traumatized by the violence would have been for him to skip al Qaeda training camp. The defense has presented a series of nuisance motions that seem designed solely to tweak the very prosecutors with whom they ought to be trying to work out a plea bargain. There's the complaint that the U.S. government was able to fly entertainers Jay Leno and Drew Carey to and from Afghanistan, while it held onto Lindh. This complaint ignores the fact that the military might want to procure information that could save the lives of Americans serving their country in Afghanistan. News flash: The world doesn't revolve around John Walker Lindh. There was the motion that claimed that charging Lindh with a firearms violation "would be an abridgement of his Second Amendment rights as an individual" -- a swipe at Attorney General John Ashcroft's generous reading of the Second Amendment. There's the cynical contention that the charges that Lindh provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations was an abrogation of his right to free association. And the dubious claim that Lindh was a soldier, and hence a "lawful combatant." Their motion-a-minute defense has buried the legitimate arguments in their arsenal. For example, the FBI failed to tape Lindh when he was questioned in Afghanistan. (I understand that because of the war, there were reasons to hold Lindh and not to return him forthwith, as well as that conditions were harsh, just as they were harsh for military personnel not under house arrest. But I don't get why the FBI agent couldn't carry a couple of micro-cassette recorders in a briefcase.) The defense has raised the lack of a tape in its briefs, but recent motions seem most concerned with papering over the pre-indictment John Walker, so that jurors only see the post-Taliban John Lindh. It says something when lawyers try to win a case by convincing a judge to render evidence like the CNN tape inadmissible. And it says something when the attorneys will argue anything, no matter how weak, to cloud the waters. When it's over, you have to wonder if the recast Lindh will tell reporters, "It's exactly what I thought it would be."