FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Free John Walker Lindh!

Enough is enough. It’s time to free John Walker Lindh, poster boy for George Bush’s, Dick Cheney’s and John Ashcroft’s “War on Terror,” and quite likely first victim of these men’s secret campaign of torture.

Lindh is in the seventh year of a 20-year sentence for “carrying a weapon” in Afghanistan and for “providing assistance” to an enemy of the United States.  The first charge is ridiculously minor (after all, it’s what almost everyone in Texas does everyday). The second is actually a violation of a law intended for use against US companies that trade with proscribed countries on a government “no trade” list like Cuba or North Korea. Ordinarily, violation results in a fine for the executives involved.

As I wrote in an article in the Nation back in 2005, Lindh was put away for so long on these minor charges not because he was a traitor or terrorist, but because he was living proof, back at the time of his trial in 2002, that the US had begun a program of brutal torture in the so-called “War on Terror.”

Lindh, in fact, was never really an enemy of the US.  Son of middle-class white parents in suburban San Francisco, he had developed an interest in Islam which, following his graduation from high school, he decided to pursue by traveling to Pakistan. In 2001, still just 18, he began studying at a madrassa, or religious school. There he learned about the struggle of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to free that nation of the influence of warlords who had collaborated with a brutal Soviet occupation.  Attracted by what he saw as the nobility of that struggle, and with a youthful sense of adventure, Lindh volunteered. In August of 2001, at a time that Bush administration officials were negotiating about a possible oil pipeline deal with Afghanistan’s Taliban government, and talking about providing funds for a program to get farmers to shift away from opium cultivation to more useful cash crops—a time, that is, when the Taliban were not considered America’s enemy—Lindh crossed the border and started training to be a fighter.

A month later, of course, the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, were struck, and the US launched a war against both Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Lindh, who was still just in training, found himself suddenly in the wilds of the Hindu Kush, with American planes bombing and with US Special Forces troops firing at him and his companions.   Whether he wanted to be there or not, he was in no position at that point to change sides. You don’t just walk away from a group like the Taliban—especially if you are an American to begin with, and you’re deep in the bush.

Eventually, a malnourished, dehydrated, and wounded (in the leg) Lindh was taken prisoner along with a group of Taliban fighters by American forces.

At that point, when the Americans discovered they had an American amont their captives, Lindh’s situation worsened dramatically. Stripped naked and duct-taped, blindfolded, to a gurney, he was then placed inside an unheated metal shipping container. Left there for days in the cold and dark, Lindh was removed once daily and interrogated. His interrogators allegedly tortured him, as well as threatening him repeatedly with death.  His pleas to see an attorney were mocked, and word that his parents had already arranged for representation was withheld from him (a situation that led a government lawyer involved in his case to protest and ultimately resign).

At some point during this abuse, Lindh caved in to his fears of death at the hands of his captors and signed a “confession” to being a traitor to America. At that point he was flown back to the US, where Attorney General Ashcroft touted him as the “American Taliban,” initially vowing to try him for treason (which carries a death sentence).

What changed things dramatically, as I reported in 2005, was a decision by Federal District Judge T.S.Ellis to permit Lindh and his defense team—over strenuous government objections–to challenge that confession letter by introducing evidence that Lindh had signed it will being subjected to torture at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.  The judge ruled that Lindh would be able to call witnesses from Guantanamo and from among the soldiers where he had been held in Afghanistan. Suddenly, the Justice Department, in the person of Michael Chertoff, then head of the Justice Department’s criminal division and in charge of terrorism prosecutions, offered a one-day-only, take-it-or-leave-it a plea deal. Chertoff (acting with an alacrity that stands in marked contrast to his sluggish response time several years later when faced, as secretary of homeland security, with the Katrina disaster in New Orleans) offered to drop the serious charges in return to a guilty plea to the two minor charges, but only if—and this is the key—Lindh would cancel the scheduled evidentiary hearing into torture. Under the offered deal, Lindh would also have to sign a letter stating that he had “not been intentionally mistreated” by his American captors, and waiving any right to claim such mistreatment or torture any time in the future. Lindh agreed, but following sentencing, Chertoff also added a gag order, technically a “special administrative measure,” barring Lindh from even talking about his experience for the duration of his sentence.

It is now clear why Chertoff went to such hurried great lengths to completely silence Lindh. His wasn’t just the first trial in the “War on Terror.” Lindh was the first victim of the secret Bush/Cheney torture program.

Now that we have the trail of memoranda that set that wretched torture campaign in motion, it’s time for the Obama Justice Department to free Lindh. If President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder think Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens suffered from malicious prosecution and were willing to drop charges against him, they certainly should toss out the case against Lindh, who besides being innocent of the original serious charges leveled against him, was a victim of war crimes perpetrated by his own fellow Americans, and authorized by his own government. His arrest, conviction and sentencing are a travesty of justice, and perhaps, given that torture is a criminal offense in the US Code, even constitute a crime of cover-up.

Free John Walker Lindh!

DAVE LINDORFF  is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail