Lawyers say Lindh giving information


Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 12:04 a.m.
WASHINGTON - John Walker Lindh's lawyers say he is telling federal agents everything he knows, and he wants Americans to forgive him for joining the Taliban military.
The United States would be interested in Lindh's knowledge of other fighters he met as well as places he had been in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before his military training in Afghanistan, he spent time in a pro-Taliban border region of Pakistan.
Lindh attorneys Tony West and George Harris, in interviews last week, would not describe the information their client is providing, and government officials refused to comment.
Lindh, 21, is undergoing debriefings with several government agencies as part of a plea agreement. He would receive a maximum 20-year prison term if officials are satisfied with his cooperation and the judge approves the deal at an Oct. 4 sentencing proceeding. Multiple agencies are attending the debriefings, West said.
Lindh "was not unique in being a Westerner who converted to Islam and decided to fight against the Northern Alliance," the anti-Taliban militia that became a U.S. ally, West said. "John ran into many Westerners who converted."
The lawyers wouldn't say whether the Westerners included Americans. Authorities know of one other U.S. citizen who fought with the Taliban: Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was born in Louisiana and is being held by the military in Norfolk, Va. Lindh was in a Taliban unit consisting of non-Afghan fighters.
Lindh never contemplated that he would be fighting in a war that Americans would enter, the lawyers said. He now believes he made a terrible mistake by enlisting with Afghanistan's former harsh Islamic rulers and wants Americans to forgive him, West said.
Lindh understands Americans' extremely negative feelings toward him, West said. He wants his countrymen to know that he was not a terrorist and never joined Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, even though he met bin Laden in a military training camp in Afghanistan.
"He understands Sept. 11 changed the way people view Islam and that he came into national consciousness at a time there was a great deal of justified national pain and anger," West said.
"He made a mistake. He admits he made a terrible mistake. No one wants to be judged by the worst mistake they made when they were 20 years old."
Lindh is being held in the Alexandria, Va., Detention Center and the government's rules of confinement do not permit him to give interviews.
He is confined to his cell virtually the entire day except for the debriefings, family visits and meetings with his lawyers. He hopes to soon be allowed in an outdoor prisoner area.
Still a devout Muslim, Lindh reads the Quran and prays every day. He believes bin Laden and the Sept. 11 hijackers acted contrary to Islam's teachings by attacking innocent civilians and - in the attackers' case - committing suicide, the lawyers said.
He spends much of his day reading, picking books from a library cart sent to his cell. His choices have included biographies of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela; works by Maya Angelou and James Joyce; and plays by William Shakespeare.
Lindh pleaded guilty July 15 to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.
He went to school in Pakistan. While living in a region dominated by Taliban supporters before Sept. 11, he became convinced the Taliban sought to establish a pure Islamic nation and joined their army because he believed in what they were doing.
West and Harris said there were errors in the government's indictment.
The principal mistakes, West contended, were allegations that Lindh trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in June 2001 and, while there, was told before Sept. 11 that the terror network had dispatched some 50 people to carry out 20 suicide operations against the United States and Israel.
West said Lindh did not know that al-Qaeda ran or financed the camp, even though Lindh told a television interviewer after his capture late last year that he thought the facility was financed by bin Laden. He was simply relaying what he had heard from other soldiers, the lawyer said.
Harris said Lindh heard about al-Qaeda operations from others in his unit only after Sept. 11, and had no way of verifying what he heard.
When Lindh was returned to the United States, West said, the defense team provided news articles and other information that convinced him the Taliban were actually oppressors.
"If he knew then what he knows now about the Taliban and the policies they implemented, he would never have joined the Taliban and gone to the front lines," West said.
He said Lindh gave little significance to his meeting with bin Laden, which took place after the al-Qaeda leader spoke at the training camp mosque and several trainees remained afterward to meet him.
"The United States never was mentioned" by bin Laden, West said. "It was not a significant event. There's no reason to believe (bin Laden) had an indication John was an American."
Lindh would get out of prison when he's 41 if the plea bargain is accepted by a judge. He wants to raise a family in the United States, teach world history and translate Arabic books into English, West said.
"John has not once exhibited any degree of bitterness or resentment as a result of his situation," the lawyer said.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top