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Now that it’s clear and admitted publicly that the U.S. military was brutally torturing people in Afghanistan, to the point of killing some captives in the process, it’s time to demand that John Walker Lindh, the young man jailed for 20 years for being what the wretched ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft called an "American Taliban," be freed.
Lindh, you may recall, was captured near the end of the major fighting in Afghanistan, and was being roughly interrogated in a yard among hundreds of captive Taliban fighters when his treatment at the hands of a CIA agent sparked a bloody and suicidal uprising among his co-captors.
It didn’t help Lindh’s situation that the agent who was interrogating him–who knew he was an American kid–was killed in the uprising.
We know now that Lindh’s claim that he was tortured into making a false confession to being a member of Al Qaeda bent on attacking his homeland was the truth. The military unit that was handling American captives where he was taken at Baghram Airbase (and that was responsible for keeping him duct-taped to a stretcher in a dark and unheated metal shipping container for over a week, with a leg wound untreated), was a torture unit, and is actually the very unit that was later moved to Abu Ghraib to bring its special skills to bear there. We know too, as I wrote in an article in the Nation (Feb. 14, 2005), that it was our new Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, then in charge of terror prosecutions at the so-called Justice Department, who arranged to have him gagged for an astonishing 20 years in return for having more serious charges against him dropped.
Lindh in fact was in Afghanistan for all of four weeks when 9-11 happened, and had gone there not to fight America, but to fight the Afghan warlords who were still harassing the Taliban with the help of Russia, which had been brutalizing Afghans for years (indeed at the time Lindh went to Afghanistan, America was cutting financial deals with the Taliban government). He may have been a foolish young man, but he was no traitor to America–just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time–and except for a confession that was extracted from him under torture conditions in Afghanistan, where he was being held in secret and in denial of his basic right to an attorney, there is no evidence whatsoever to the contrary.
Where is the member of Congress with the guts to introduce a member’s bill demanding clemency for Lindh?
Lindh himself can do nothing. The gag order inflicted on him by Chertoff makes it illegal for him to say anything about what happened to him in Afghanistan while he was being held captive by American troops, and he rightly fears that if he says anything in defiance of that order, he will lose any hope of early release on good behavior later on. Even his parents and his attorneys have to fear that their lobbying on his behalf could end up hurting his chances of eventual early parole. This is the ugly purpose behind Chertoff’s shameless and calculating gag order (certainly at this point no one could argue that Lindh could have anything to say that could damage national security!).
But we in the anti-war movement, we who support the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and basic decency in the face of the proto-fascists in the Bush administration who are justifying every assault on those things in the name of fighting terrorism, can and should demand his immediate exoneration and release.
This is not just a matter of basic justice and common decency. It’s a matter of getting the truth out about what Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s wretched minions were really doing in our name over there in Afghanistan.
This imprisoned young man has an important story to tell, and we all need to hear it.
Free John Walker Lindh!
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org