Tied up and Taliban

Posted: Apr 05, 2002 12:00 AM
Now comes the photograph of Marin, Calif., Taliban John Walker Lindh. He's in U.S. custody, bound to a stretcher, naked and blindfolded. Its release -- thanks to the Lindh defense lawyers -- provides ammo for those superior Americans who want to paint the U.S. military as no better than the Taliban or al Qaeda. It's not a pretty picture -- although it's probably prettier than any photograph of the remains of the Sept. 11 victims. Ditto the corpse of Johnny Michael Spann, the CIA agent who was killed during the Qala-i-Janghi prison camp uprising, at which Lindh seems to have been a hapless and unsuccessful dodger of bullets. The photo was taken after Lindh had been moved to Camp Rhino in Afghanistan. U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty argues that "within an hour or two" of the strip search, Lindh "was wrapped in two comforters for warmth. He was given plenty of water. Within two days, he was provided medical 'scrubs' to wear and was immediately released from the stretcher." As one of the soldiers who guarded Lindh, Marine Lance Cpl. Charles Perkins told the Hayward Daily Review: "Our main concern of guarding him was possibly being attacked so they could rescue him. Meanwhile, we were just making sure he didn't try to escape." There was a clash with hostile forces while Lindh was being held. Perkins also said that Lindh was treated humanely in accord with the Geneva Convention, fed three meals a day and given a heated blanket and clothing. "While the Navy physician who was treating him had to sleep on a concrete floor in a sleeping bag in a room with a hole in the wall and a hole in the ceiling," the prosecution wrote, "Lindh slept on a stretcher in a container that protected him from the elements." His lawyers argue that Lindh's lack of legal representation and his experiences should render what Lindh told authorities inadmissible in court. They note that Lindh was interrogated while he still had a bullet in his leg. (And it's hard to fathom why authorities waited two weeks to remove it.) They complain that "the government, 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" -- the fire and water coming from a Northern Alliance warlord -- "subjected Mr. Lindh to a week of interrogation without advising him of his rights and despite his requests for counsel." That's legalese for: Lindh was so freaked out from the foreign war, which he signed up for of his own free will, that the FBI should not have questioned him. In addition, Lindh's San Francisco lawyers are arguing that Lindh was a foot soldier who never knowingly or willingly attacked Americans. As defense attorney George Harris wrote, Lindh "knows that he never intended nor attempted in any way to harm any civilian or any U.S. national, or to participate in or support any terrorist actions." Understandably, the defense team crows that the prosecution has failed to name one American victim. Enter the argument that Lindh could work for terrorists without being a terrorist -- just as (in my words, not those of Lindh lawyers) a low-level hood can work for the mob without being responsible for the mob's worst crimes. It could work. Or it could backfire. To bolster the argument that Lindh should not be charged with the events of Sept. 11, the defense cited an affidavit by FBI agent Anne Asbury, which says that around June 2001, Lindh attended an al Qaeda training camp where the Egyptian camp leader "asked Walker, as well as others training at the camp, whether he was interested in traveling outside Afghanistan to conduct operations against the United States and certain Israeli targets. Walker declined the offer and chose instead to go to the front lines to fight." That's a precarious defense, as it suggests that Lindh was well aware of the bloody agenda of his trainers well before the first passenger plane flew into a New York landmark.