American Taliban

Posted: Dec 11, 2001 12:00 AM
John Philip Walker Lindh, the dulcet boy who grew up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, then left to study religion abroad in 1997, should be tried for treason. This can be the only response to the 20-year-old American citizen who, after surrendering to Northern Alliance forces last week, confessed to fighting alongside Taliban forces. "My heart became attached to [the Taliban]" said Lindh, who had changed his name to Abdul Hamid and taken up an AK 47 in defense of the repressive government that harbored terrorist Osama bin Laden. Already, there are those who empathize with Lindh's situation, casting him as a sensitive and misguided youth to massage the fact that he joined forces with a group whose ultimate purpose is to kill Americans. No doubt, accounts of Lindh's good, old American childhood will soon follow. "Obviously he has been misled," President Bush said. "He thought he was going to fight for a great cause..." His father called him "mixed up." There is little question that Lindh was indeed confused and misguided. Most murderers are, but our sympathy is not his birthright. What is his birthright is the U.S. Constitution, which defines treason thusly: "Levying War against them [U.S.], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." Plainly, Lindh fits the bill. And no amount of nostalgia about his American childhood should be allowed to obscure the fact that he took sides with the enemy and acted as a traitor. Any other response would not only be an affront to the memory of those whose remains are still entombed in the ruins of the Pentagon and World Trade Center; it would undermine future efforts to punish terrorists who are non-citizens. The only real question is just how to go about prosecuting Lindh. Though the administration recently laid the groundwork to prosecute terrorists by way of military tribunals, that option applies only to non-citizens. As an U.S. citizen, Lindh would have to face prosecution in a federal court. "At a minimum, he ought to be tried for treason in an American court," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Bottom line: The fact that he is a terrorist, not an American, is the point. In this regard, Lindh is no different than those al-Qaida network members who willingly smashed planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.