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Context of 'December 31, 2001: John Walker Lindh Transferred to Another US Navy Vessel'

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Two CIA agents, “Dave” and Johnny Michael Spann, are singling out prisoners for interrogation in an effort to determine their affiliations and backgrounds and screen them for possible links to al-Qaeda. Two television crews—from Reuters and the German station ARD—are present. John Walker Lindh has been pointed out to Spann as a Westerner, or at least someone who speaks English. Spann approaches Lindh and begins asking him questions: [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Newsweek, 12/6/2001]
Spann - “[Speaking to Lindh] Hey you. Right here with your head down. Look at me. I know you speak English. Look at me. Where did you get the British military sweater?” Lindh does not respond and Spann walks away. A few moments later, Northern Alliance soldiers approach Lindh and tighten the ropes around his elbows. A Northern Alliance officer kicks him lightly in the stomach. Later, Lindh is brought over to a blanket covering bare earth and pushed down so he sits cross-legged on the blanket. Spann then squats down on the edge of the blanket, and faces Lindh:
Spann - “[Speaking to Lindh] Where are you from? Where are you from? You believe in what you’re doing here that much, you’re willing to be killed here? How were you recruited to come here? Who brought you here? Hey! [He snaps his fingers in front of Lindh’s face. Lindh is unresponsive] Who brought you here? Wake up! Who brought you here to Afghanistan How did you get here? [Long pause] What, are you puzzled?” Spann kneels on the blanket and attempts to photograph Lindh with a digital camera.
Spann - “Put your head up. Don’t make me have to get them to hold your head up. Push your hair back. Push your hair back so I can see your face.” An Afghan soldier pulls Walker’s hair back, holding his head up for the picture.
Spann - “You got to talk to me. All I want to do is talk to you and find out what your story is. I know you speak English.” Dave then walks up and speaks with Spann.
Dave - “Mike!”
Spann - “[to Dave] Yeah, he won’t talk to me.”
Dave - “OK, all right. We explained what the deal is to him.”
Spann - “I was explaining to the guy we just want to talk to him, find out what his story is.”
Dave - “The problem is, he’s got to decide if he wants to live or die and die here. We’re just going to leave him, and he’s going to f_cking sit in prison the rest of his f_cking short life. It’s his decision, man. We can only help the guys who want to talk to us. We can only get the Red Cross to help so many guys.”
Spann - “[to Lindh] Do you know the people here you’re working with are terrorists and killed other Muslims? There were several hundred Muslims killed in the bombing in New York City. Is that what the Koran teaches? I don’t think so. Are you going to talk to us?” Walker does not respond.
Dave - “[to Spann] That’s all right man. Gotta give him a chance, he got his chance.” Spann and Dave stand and keep talking to each other.
Spann - “[to Dave] Did you get a chance to look at any of the passports?”
Dave - “There’s a couple of Saudis and I didn’t see the others.”
Spann - “I wonder what this guy’s got?” Walker is then taken back to the group of prisoners by an Afghan guard. [Newsweek, 12/6/2001]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, Mike Spann, “Dave”

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

According to US military officials, the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu are used as prison ships to hold captives suspected of terrorist activities, including “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see December 14, 2001). Both vessels are operating in the Indian Ocean. The use of US naval vessels as prison ships is kept extremely secret; the press will not learn of the incidents for years, and even then, details will be sketchy. Questioned in 2004 about the use of US military ships as “floating prisons” (see June 2, 2008), Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem will say: “I don’t know the specifics. Central command determines for either medical considerations, for the protection of those individuals, for the isolation in the sense of not having forces that would try to come get somebody out of a detention center, for a security aspect, and obviously an interest to continue interrogation.” The US may also use ships in and around the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to hold prisoners indefinitely and “off the books.” And the US may use its ships for what is called “extraordinary rendition”—the secret transportation of prisoners to foreign countries where they can be interrogated and tortured in ways proscribed by US law. US and British officials will repeatedly deny the use of Diego Garcia in any such “floating incarcerations” or renditions. [Guardian, 6/2/2008] One reason for the use of naval vessels as prison ships may be necessity: the US is capturing scores of prisoners in Afghanistan, but the first detainee facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will not open until January 2002 (see January 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, John Stufflebeem

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

As soon as he hears the news of his son’s capture in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh’s father immediately hires James Brosnahan, a well-respected lawyer, on behalf of his son. On December 3, Brosnahan faxes a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. He introduces himself as Lindh’s lawyer, expresses his wish to see him, and states: “Because [Lindh] is wounded and, based upon press reports, went for three days without food, I would ask that any further interrogation be stopped, especially if there is any intent to use it in any subsequent legal proceedings.” When Brosnahan receives no reply, he writes again, “I would ask that no further interrogation of my client occur until I have the opportunity to speak with him. As an American citizen, he has the right to counsel and, under all applicable legal authorities, I ask for the right to speak with my client as soon as possible.” On December 5, still having received no reply, he urges that “we have a conversation today.” Again, no reply comes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/23/2002; World Socialist Web Site, 3/27/2002; New Yorker, 3/3/2003]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft, James Brosnahan

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

US soldiers enter the school building in Mazar-i-Sharif where “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is being held (see December 2-5, 2001, blindfold him, and take photographs of Lindh and themselves posing next to him. One soldier scrawls “sh_thead” across Lindh’s blindfold and poses with him. Another soldier makes fun of his Islamic religion. Someone says Lindh is “going to hang” and another one that he wants to shoot him on the spot. They then put Lindh in a van and tie his hands with plastic handcuffs so tight they severely cut off the blood circulation. The scars and numbness that result from this treatment are still present months later. He is then put on a plane and flown to the US marine base Camp Rhino, seventy miles south of Kandahar. During the flight, Lindh screams because the pain in his hands have become unbearable, but his guards refuse to loosen the cuffs. Immediately upon arrival at Camp Rhino, when the winter night has already fallen, US soldiers cut off all of Lindh’s clothing. Wearing only his blindfold and shaking violently from the cold, Lindh is bound to a stretcher with heavy duct tape wrapped tightly around his chest, upper arms and ankles. In this position military personnel again take photographs of him. One photograph is later released by his attorneys and corroborates the described treatment. He is then placed, stretcher and all, in a metal shipping container. Twenty minutes later, a US Marine begins to question him. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

According to government papers, later quoted by defense lawyers for captured “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001), “A Navy physician present at Camp Rhino recounted that the lead military interrogator in charge of Mr. Lindh’s initial questioning told the physician ‘that sleep deprivation, cold, and hunger might be employed’ during Mr. Lindh’s interrogations.” This interrogator later says, “he was initially told to get whatever information he could get from the detainee. However,… once it was determined from their initial questioning of Lindh that he was an American, which was done within an hour or so, [the military interrogator] informed a superior and was told they were done questioning him.” Lindh nevertheless is subjected to “sleep deprivation, cold, and hunger.” The metal container Lindh is kept in has no light or heat source. Only two small holes in the sides of the container allow some light and air to enter, through which military guards frequently shout swearwords at Lindh and discuss spitting in his food. According to his defense attorneys, “Mr. Lindh’s hands and feet remained restrained such that his forearms were forced together and fully extended, pointing straight down towards his feet. The pain from the wrist restraints was intense. Initially, Mr. Lindh remained fully exposed within the metal container, lying on his back; after some time had passed, one blanket was placed over him and one beneath him. While in the container the first two days, Mr. Lindh was provided minimal food and little medical attention. He suffered from constant pain from the plastic cuffs on his wrists and the bullet wound in his thigh. Because the metal container was placed next to a generator, the loud noise it generated echoed within the container. According to government disclosures, Mr. Lindh repeatedly said he was cold and asked for more protection from the weather. When Mr. Lindh needed to urinate, his guards did not release him from the restraints binding him to his stretcher, but instead propped up the stretcher into a vertical position. Due to hunger, the cold temperature, the noise, and the incessant pain caused by his wounds and the position in which he was restrained, Mr. Lindh was unable to sleep. Mr. Lindh was held under these conditions continuously for two days.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001), is again questioned by the FBI agent who had interrogated him the previous day (see December 9, 2001). Lindh again asks for a lawyer, and again he is told no lawyers are available. Lindh is returned to the container, but now his treatment begins to improve. His leg and handcuffs are loosened and he is blindfolded less often. The duct tape is removed. He receives more food, an additional blanket and he is allowed to continue to wear the hospital garb. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is moved to a Navy ship, the USS Peleliu. When he arrives, he is still unable to walk and is suffering from dehydration, frostbite on his toes and mild hypothermia. Navy physicians treat Lindh with IV fluids, and on the same day, Haynes’ deputy, Paul W. Cobb Jr., tells Lindh’s lawyers: “I can inform you that John Walker is currently in the control of United States armed forces and is being held aboard USS Peleliu in the theater of operations. Our forces have provided him with appropriate medical attention and will continue to treat him humanely, consistent with the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war.” [Business Wire, 12/17/2001; ABC News, 12/19/2001] It is the first response James Brosnahan, head of Lindh’s defense team, receives to his letters, the first of which he sent on December 3 (see December 3-5, 2001).

Entity Tags: James Brosnahan, John Walker Lindh, Paul W. Cobb

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

President Bush says he has not ruled out bringing treason charges against John Walker Lindh, a US citizen (see Late morning, November 25, 2001). While he at first called him a “poor boy” who was “misled,” Bush now says Lindh is a member of al-Qaeda. “Walker’s unique,” Bush says, “in that he’s the first American al-Qaeda fighter that we have captured.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Taliban, George W. Bush, John Walker Lindh, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

After a week on the USS Peleliu (see December 14, 2001), President George Bush calls John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) an al-Qaeda fighter, who “is being well treated on a ship of ours.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001] Around the same time, it is reported that at least four other detainees are being held aboard the Peleliu [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001] and about 7,000 on the Afghan mainland. [Guardian, 12/21/2001]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

According to government papers, John Walker Lindh is transferred (see December 22, 2001) from the USS Peleliu to the USS Bataan. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

John Walker Lindh, held on the USS Bataan, is allowed for the first time to receive letters from his parents and the lawyers they hired on his behalf almost a month before (see December 31, 2001). [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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