Johnny goes to prison

Posted: Jul 17, 2002 12:00 AM
Break out the champagne. Monday's plea bargain announcement means that America has been spared the trial of Marin Taliban John Walker Lindh, 21 -- and more important, the circus that inevitably would have surrounded it. Marinites should rejoice, if only because Lindh's guilty plea to two felony charges means his father, Frank Lindh, won't be making any more of his unsolicited contributions to Marin County's unflattering stereotype. How is it that a man who clearly prides himself for being sooooo sensitive can be so callous? Monday, Frank Lindh compared his son to South African leader Nelson Mandela. He told reporters that the 20-year sentence in the plea agreement didn't surprise him. When his Taliban son arrived in the United States, Frank Lindh warned that "Nelson Mandela served 26 years, and I told him to be prepared for something like that. He's a good man, like John." Choice words, those. Thousands of families are mourning the death of loved ones lost on Sept. 11. CIA agent Johnny Michael Spann was slain at a POW camp after he interviewed John Lindh, who failed to warn him that his fellow inmates were armed; Spann's widow and parents wonder if Lindh could have spared Spann a violent death. And here's Frank Lindh comparing these Americans to the South African apartheid regime that jailed Mandela. I can't imagine that Mandela -- who endured 27 years behind bars for the cause of racial equality -- is flattered by the comparison. Gaudeamus igitur. Let us therefore rejoice: That there will be no daily post-trial Lindh family press conferences. That families of those serving in the military no longer will have to hear the defense team's whining about Lindh's living conditions in Afghanistan. First, you know that Lindh fared better as a prisoner of war than he fared fighting for the Taliban -- which he chose to do. Second, many U.S. soldiers also slept in the cold and endured the military's idea of food, while risking their lives to fight al Qaeda. They didn't hire lawyers in protest. Readers should note that as part of the plea agreement, Lindh is dropping his claims that the military mistreated him. The FBI can celebrate: It just got a break, as the trial would have focused attention on its unconscionable failure to tape the Afghanistan interview with Lindh on which much of the prosecution rested. (That doesn't mean the prosecution's case was weak -- as some critics say. For one thing, Lindh was found at a POW camp filled with enemy combatants -- a fact that speaks louder than any confession. And he spilled incriminating words in an interview with CNN.) Shannon Spann, the CIA agent's widow, has found a silver lining in the arrangement. While she may wish that Lindh would serve a longer sentence, she told CNN that she was glad Lindh "has agreed with the government that his conduct was terrorist activity." Lindh was smiling in court, so he's obviously happy. His attorney, James Brosnahan, said Monday that Lindh wanted to leave Afghanistan "shortly after Sept. 11, but he couldn't because of fear of death." Bunk. If Lindh truly had wanted to leave the Taliban, he wouldn't have squandered his best chance. In November, when CIA agents first interviewed him, Lindh could have told Spann he was an American and he wanted out. If Lindh had explained his story, if he hadn't refused to talk to the agents, if he had told the U.S. military what he knew about enemy troops, he might be considered a hero -- well, a hero of sorts -- today. Instead, he's a loser who's lucky to get a 20-year sentence -- which is more than can be said for many Afghans who died opposing the Taliban.