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Context of 'October 4, 2002: John Walker Lindh Sentenced to 20 Years in Jail'

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Coming from Pakistan, Jose Padilla steps off the plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and is arrested by FBI agents. Padilla is carrying $10,526, a cell phone, the names and phone numbers of his al-Qaeda training camp sponsor and recruiter, and e-mail addresses of other al-Qaeda operatives. The FBI takes him to New York and holds him in federal criminal custody on the basis of a material witness warrant in connection to a grand jury investigation into the 9/11 attacks. Padilla is a Muslim convert and also goes by the name of Abdullah Al-Muhajir. [Associated Press, 6/2004; Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Donald Rumsfeld v. Jose Padilla, 6/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Jose Padilla

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), says that the US has the absolute right to detain US citizen Jose Padilla without charge and without legal representation (see May 8, 2002). Bybee also claims that the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the US military from operating inside the US itself, “poses no bar to the military’s operations in detaining Padilla.” [US Department of Justice, 6/8/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The day after this memo is issued, Padilla is classified as an “enemy combatant” and transferred to the US Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina (see June 9, 2002).

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, Posse Comitatus Act, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President George Bush designates Padilla, who has been in custody since May 8 (see May 8, 2002), an “enemy combatant” on advice from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft (see June 8, 2002), and directs Rumsfeld to see that he his taken into military custody. Padilla is taken to the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina sometime during the middle of that night. At the time of the transfer, Padilla was awaiting a judgment on a request made by his counsel to have the material witness warrant (see May 8, 2002) vacated. [CNN, 6/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Attorney General John Ashcroft announces Padilla’s arrest (see June 9, 2002), claiming that “in apprehending [Padilla] as he sought entry into the United States,” the US government has “disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive ‘dirty bomb.’” [CBS News, 6/10/2002] Similarly, President George Bush says: “This guy, Padilla, is a bad guy. And he is where he needs to be—detained,” along with many other “would-be killers” as part of the war on terrorism. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld too, states that Padilla “was unquestionably involved in terrorist activities.” [CNN, 6/11/2002]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Jose Padilla, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

John Walker Lindh’s trial comes to a sudden and unexpected end when prosecutors and defense attorneys strike a plea agreement. Lindh agrees to plead guilty to serving the Taliban. He also admits that while serving under the Taliban he carried a gun and grenades. This adds ten years imprisonment for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. [CBS News, 7/15/2002; Guardian, 7/15/2002; Associated Press, 7/15/2002; Plea Agreement. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 7/15/2002] The nine other counts, including the charges of conspiracy to murder Americans and providing material support to terrorists, are dismissed. In return, his defense withdraws the claim that Lindh has been abused or tortured at American hands. According to the agreement, Lindh “puts to rest his claims of mistreatment by the United States military, and all claims of mistreatment are withdrawn.” [Amnesty International, 10/20/2003] Defense attorney Jim Brosnahan tells journalist Seymour Hersh that “the Department of Defense insists that we state that there was ‘no deliberate’ mistreatment of John.” [New Yorker, 5/17/2004] And thus, in a formal statement, Lindh says, “that he was not intentionally mistreated by the US military.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/20/2004] Lindh’s other attorney, George Harris, tells the World Socialist Web Site, “I think that one thing that motivated the government to resolve the case was certainly their reluctance to have the evidence presented about how John Lindh was treated while he was in US military custody.” Another motive for the prosecutors to agree to a plea bargain, Harris suggests, is the expected disclosure during a public trial of the government’s own ties to the Taliban. [World Socialist Web Site, 10/7/2002] Harris explains that there was good reason to assume that if the trial would go in favor of Lindh, the government would declare him an “enemy combatant” and detain him indefinitely, perhaps in solitary incommunicado confinement, without charges, access to lawyers or relatives, like it had done only recently, on June 9 (see June 9, 2002), to another US citizen Jose Padilla. “It was the government’s position,” Harris says, “that even if John Lindh had been acquitted, or had been convicted and served his time, that it still would have been within the government’s power to declare him an enemy combatant and continue to detain him.” [World Socialist Web Site, 10/7/2002] Lindh was therefore in a no-win-situation. Even after release following his twenty-year sentence, he will not be certain of his freedom. The plea agreement says that “for the rest of the defendant’s natural life, should the Government determine that the defendant has engaged in [proscribed] conduct […] the United States may immediately invoke any right it has at that time to capture and detain the defendant as an unlawful enemy combatant.” [Plea Agreement. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 7/15/2002]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Michael H. Mobbs, the special adviser to the undersecretary of defense for policy, files a six-page document asserting that “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002) “has been closely associated with known members and leaders of the al-Qaeda terrorist network”; that he trained at al-Qaeda camps and “met with senior Osama Bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida,” whom he approached “with [a] proposal to conduct terrorist operations within the United States”; and that he talked about a plan “to build and detonate a ‘radiological dispersal device…’ within the United States, possibly in Washington, D.C.” But the document also acknowledges that the “plan” was “still in the initial planning stages.” Finally, the declaration states that “it is believed that al-Qaeda members directed Padilla to return to the United States to conduct reconnaissance and/or other attacks on behalf of al-Qaeda.” The declaration concedes that the evidence on which its assertions are based are not entirely solid, noting that its intelligence sources “have not been completely candid about their association with al-Qaeda and their terrorist activities” and that “some information provided by the sources remains uncorroborated and may be part of an effort to mislead or confuse US officials.” [Fox News, 8/28/2002; Washington Post, 9/1/2002; Newsweek, 6/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael H. Mobbs, Jose Padilla

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Judge Thomas S. Ellis III sentences John Walker Lindh, as expected (see July 15, 2002), to 20 years in a federal penitentiary. With a 15 percent credit for good behavior and time served, he could be released in 16 years and two months. [CBS News, 10/4/2002; CBS News, 10/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Thomas S. Ellis, John Walker Lindh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

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