!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: John Walker Lindh
John Walker Lindh was a participant or observer in the following events:
John Walker Lindh.
[Source: Alexandria, Virginia, Sheriff's Department]John Walker Lindh, a young Caucasian man from California who has converted to Islam, travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, in an attempt to fight for Islamic causes. He had been studying the Koran for about six months elsewhere in Pakistan, but otherwise had no particularly special training, qualifications, or connections. Within days, he is accepted into al-Qaeda and sent to the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. Seven other US citizens are already training there (see April-August 2001). He inadvertently learns details of the 9/11 attacks. In June, he is told by an instructor that “bin Laden had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel.” He learns that the 9/11 plot is to consist of five attacks, not the four that actually occur. The other fifteen operations are to take place later. He is asked if he wants to participate in a suicide mission, but declines. [Mahoney, 2003, pp. 162, 216; Bamford, 2004, pp. 234-36]
News of Upcoming Attacks Are Widespread in Camps - Although Lindh does not tell this information to any US officials, the fact that he learns this much so quickly is indicative of how widely news of the upcoming attacks are spreading in the al-Qaeda training camps. For instance, early 2001, bin Laden gave a speech at one of the camps talking about an attack on the US that would kill thousands (see Early 2001). In the summer, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001). By July, a source will tell the CIA that (see July 2001)
What Could an Informant in the Camps Learn? - Author James Bamford comments, “The decision to keep CIA employees at arm’s length from [al-Qaeda] was a serious mistake. At the same moment the CIA was convinced al-Qaeda was impenetrable, a number of American citizens were secretly joining al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—and being welcomed with open arms.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 161]
A confidential informant tells an FBI field office agent that he has been invited to a commando-training course at a training camp operated by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The information is passed up to FBI headquarters, which rejects the idea of infiltrating the camp. An “asset validation” of the informant, a routine but critical exercise to determine whether information from the source was reliable, is also not done. The FBI later has no comment on the story. [US News and World Report, 6/10/2002] Around this time, John Walker Lindh, a Caucasian US citizen who recently converted to Islam, goes to one of the training camps for the first time and learns details of the 9/11 in a matter of weeks (see May-June 2001). Also around this time, seven men from Lackawanna, New York, go to a training camp in Afghanistan and hear clues about the 9/11 attacks before they drop out after only a few weeks (see (June 2001)).
Uzbek Northern Alliance leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum meets with Mullah Faizal, the Taliban commander in Kunduz, to discuss what should be done with the Taliban’s fanatical “foreign legion.” They agree that the 5,000 Afghan Taliban fighters “would be given safe passage after surrender, but the foreign fighters would be handed over to General Dostum.” [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001] This is in line with orders from Washington, which has demanded that the foreign fighters not be freed. Top US officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have publicly opposed any plan that would allow the foreign Taliban troops to be freed in exchange for their surrender (see November 19, 2001). John Walker Lindh, an American Muslim, is among the legion of foreign fighters (see September 6, 2001). [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 10/4/2002]
Foreign Taliban fighters agree to be transported to Erganak, located 12 miles west of Kunduz. But to their surprise they arrive in a desert on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif. According to some sources, the “foreigners [were] tricked into going to Mazar on the understanding they would attack it.” Tension increases when they realize they have actually surrendered. After some negotiating, a second agreement is made with Amir Jan, a Northern Alliance commander with Pashtun roots. The foreign fighters are told by their Taliban commander to disarm—but are not told that they will later be detained as prisoners. Amir Jan tells the Guardian of London: “The foreigners thought that after surrendering to the Northern Alliance they would be free. They didn’t think they would be put in jail.” [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001]
Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]After a sleepless night in the overcrowded basement in Dostum’s fortress, a group of Taliban prisoners, including John Walker Lindh, are led out, one by one, by the guards. They are searched, tied up and later seated in rows on an open lawn. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] Simon Brooks, head of the International Committee for the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan, arrives at the Qala-i-Janghi compound seeking an assurance from Said Kamal, Dostum’s security chief, that the prisoners will be treated in accordance with international law. He also wants to write the prisoners’ names down and get messages for their families. [Guardian, 12/1/2001] Another official from the Red Cross, Olivier Martin, is also inside Qala-i-Janghi making sure that the prisoners are being cared for in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. [Independent, 11/29/2001] Meanwhile, Northern Alliance fighters are tying up prisoners at the south end of the fortress. [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 11/29/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] The prisoners are scared and think the Northern Alliance is preparing to execute them. They believe that the two television crews—from Reuters and the German station ARD—present intend to film their deaths. One of the prisoners recalls, “Our hands were tied, and they were beating and kicking some of us. Some of the Mujahedin [Taliban] were scared, crying. They thought we were all going to be killed.” [New York Times, 11/28/2001; Newsweek, 12/1/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] One guard hits Lindh in the back of his head, so hard that he “nearly [loses] consciousness.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
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]
CIA agent “Dave”. [Source: CNN/House of War]One of the prisoners who is being interrogated by the two CIA agents tells Mike Spann that he has come to Afghanistan “to kill” him. With that, the prisoner lunges towards him. At this point accounts differ over what happens. According to an early account, Mike Spann immediately shoots the prisoner and three others dead with his pistol before the nearby Taliban prisoners join the skirmish and “beat, kick, and bite” Spann to death. [London Times, 11/28/2001] In the other account, the prisoner who lunged towards Spann, used a grenade to blow him and Spann up, killing both of them immediately. [Guardian, 12/1/2001] “Dave,” the second CIA agent, then shoots at least one of the foreign Taliban fighters dead and flees the vicinity. He goes to General Dostum’s headquarters in the north side of the fort where he contacts the American embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan using a satellite phone borrowed from the German TV crew. He tells the embassy, “We have lost control of the situation. Send in helicopters and troops.” [Guardian, 12/1/2001] One witness later recalls, “David asked his superiors for choppers to be brought in, as well as ground troops to get everyone out. They sent about 40 American soldiers, but the choppers were too far away in Uzbekistan. David’s people offered to bring in gunships and bomb the Taliban. They would flatten the whole castle and kill us all. David told them twice they shouldn’t do that. They were really pressing for airstrikes and after three hours they started.” [London Times, 11/28/2001] Meanwhile, Dostum’s soldiers began to shoot indiscriminately at the rows of bound prisoners. Some are killed and as prisoners stand up and run for cover, more are shot in their flight. John Walker Lindh too tries to run but after two or three paces a bullet hits him in his right thigh and he falls to the ground. Unable to walk, with chaos all around him, Lindh pretends to be dead. He remains on the ground for the next twelve hours. The Taliban soldiers soon overpower their Northern Alliance captors, take their weapons and break into the arms depot located towards the center for the compound where they help themselves to Dostum’s mortars and rocket launchers. [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
CIA officer “Dave” (center) and US special forces near Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]American jets arrive over the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, and over the next two days, drop nine or 10 bombs directly into the compound. The aerial attacks are coordinated by Special Forces and CIA operatives on the ground. [Guardian, 11/27/2001; London Times, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/1/2001] The air strikes drive surviving detainees into the basement for cover. As night falls, John Walker Lindh is helped by his comrades into the basement as well. They will remain there for seven hellish days. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Describing how the scene appears the following day, the London Times reports: “The nighttime raids left many bodies half-buried in the ground. Limbs and torsos rose out of the disturbed ground like tree trunks after a forest fire.” [London Times, 11/28/2001]
Mike Spann. [Source: CIA]In the morning, CIA agent “Dave,” US Special Forces, SAS soldiers, and an additional 200 Northern Alliance troops arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress to fight the remaining ten or so Taliban fighters who are still resisting. One of the US soldiers warns journalists not to be inside the compound at night. [London Times, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002] “To clear the last pockets of Taliban resistance in the afternoon, Alliance soldiers approached the houses in the middle of the compound and fired at random into basement windows,” the London Times later reports. “Some 20-liter petrol canisters were thrown in, then grenades.” [London Times, 11/28/2001] Alliance soldiers roaming the complex shoot at the bodies to make sure there are no survivors. They also loot corpses, stealing rifles, boots, clothing, and even gold fillings from their teeth. [Independent, 11/29/2001] According to an escaped prisoner, a Northern Alliance tank runs over the bodies of injured survivors. [Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA), 12/3/2001] A tank attacks the western half of the compound and reportedly kills the last two remaining holdouts who are still fighting. By noon, “the ground was littered with countless mangled bodies,” the London Times reports. [London Times, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/1/2001] Foreign reporters are allowed in the compound. One Associated Press photographer sees Northern Alliance soldiers removing the bindings from the hands of the dead Taliban fighters. [Independent, 11/29/2001] In the afternoon, it is discovered that there are about 100 survivors in the basement of a one-story building at the center of the compound. US Special Forces order Northern Alliance soldiers to pour diesel fuel into the basement and ignite it. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001] General Dostum’s men pour fuel down several air ducts, two of which lead into a room where John Walker Lindh is sitting, drenching him. Unable to walk, he has to crawl away from the air ducts. Some minutes later, the fuel is lit and fire spreads quickly throughout the basement. “People were being burned alive,” an eyewitness will recall. Lindh loses consciousness in the smoke-filled air, while Dostum’s soldiers fire rockets amidst the surviving Taliban. The report by Lindh’s defense will say, “Human remains litter the entire basement floor.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] At dusk, US soldiers recover CIA agent Mike Spann’s (see September 10, 2001) booby-trapped body. [CNN, 8/3/2002]
Northern alliance fighters retaking Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]After a number of survivors are discovered in the basement of the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, Northern Alliance soldiers drop artillery rockets into the basement and detonate them by fuses. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; CNN, 8/3/2002] Northern Alliance soldiers then redirect an irrigation stream into the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress where surviving Taliban soldiers are, flooding it with freezing cold water. John Walker Lindh almost drowns and suffers from hypothermia. Most of the remaining prisoners die because of the water, and throughout the basement “the stench from decaying human remains becomes particularly acute.” [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
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).
Taliban survivors who have been holding out in the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress surrender. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001] John Walker Lindh is found “with approximately 15 dead or dying persons on the floor.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Of the more than 300 prisoners who arrived with Lindh a week before, only 86 survive. “Everyone was in poor health, and most of them were traumatized, with absent looks on their faces,” Oliver Martin, chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation at Mazar-i-Sharif, later recalls. “It must have been hell and horror for them.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] For around six hours, Lindh and many other wounded and dying prisoners are locked in an overcrowded dark container. He is then moved to the back of an open-air truck, from where he notices ICRC officials and members of the media. It then appears that Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum intended to suffocate the prisoners inside the container, but that the presence of the ICRC and journalists has prevented that. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Lindh and the other surviving but wounded Taliban are taken to the town of Sheberghan. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
John Walker Lindh appears on CNN television, giving the impression of an American siding with the enemy. He speaks with respect for the Taliban. “I lived in a region in the northwestern province,” he says. “The people there in general have a great love for the Taliban, so I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement. And my heart became attached to them. I wanted to help them one way or another.” Lindh says he belonged to a separate branch of the Taliban consisting only of non-Afghans, called Ansar. Only the Arab part of Ansar was funded by Osama bin Laden, he says. [CNN, 7/4/2002] At the time, Lindh is being held by the US military in a hospital in Afghanistan. He is severely injured and possibly delirious (see December 2, 2001).
Author Robert Pelton, working as a freelance CNN contributor, learns that one of the survivors of the siege of Qala-i-Janghi fortress (see Morning, December 1, 2001) is an American and is being treated at a hospital in Sheberghan. He goes to the hospital with video cameras and a few members of the US Special Forces. John Walker Lindh allegedly refuses, at least twice, permission to film him and be interviewed, but the CNN cameramen start filming anyway. Pelton asks him if he wants to deliver a message to his family through CNN, but Lindh declines, saying he prefers to send a message through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ; CNN, 7/4/2002] Pelton offers him some food; then offers to have a Special Forces medic treat his wounds. Fearing torture and death if he remains in the custody of the Northern Alliance, Lindh finally accepts Pelton’s offer and agrees to be interviewed. Lindh is then moved to another room, with Special Forces personnel present, and receives medical treatment, with CNN cameras rolling. At this point, as US government papers confirm, “John Walker Lindh comes into the custody of the United States military forces.” [CNN, 12/20/2001; New Yorker, 3/3/2003] According to the US medic, Lindh is “malnourished and in extremely poor overall condition.” He does not remove the bullet in Lindh’s leg, deciding to leave it in “for later removal as evidence.” [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Another Special Forces officer says Lindh is acting “delirious.” While Lindh is administered morphine through an IV, Pelton starts to interview him. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Following the CNN interview, a Special Forces officer interrogates him, even though Lindh is “delirious,” under the influence of morphine and seriously wounded. Lindh is not read his Miranda rights. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] The “Miranda” rights are what a police officer is required to inform an arrested person before questioning. It follows from the Fifth Amendment which provides civil protection against being “compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself.” If this warning is not given before the interrogation takes place, statements made by the accused are considered involuntary and become inadmissible in a trial.
The US Special Forces officer who questioned John Walker Lindh the day before ties his hands with rope and puts a hood over his head. Lindh is then driven back to Mazar-i-Sharif, where he is taken into a school building. For the next two to three days, Lindh will be kept blindfolded and bound in custody of the US military. He asks for the time of day, explaining that he needs to know for religious reasons. But he is told to shut up. US soldiers frequently call him “sh_tbag,” or “sh_thead.” He is fed military rations twice a day, which he feels is insufficient given his state of malnourishment. Requests for more food and more medical attention are refused. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Throughout the week at the school, Lindh expresses concern about his bullet wound, which appears to be festering. On the first two days, he is visited twice by a Red Cross worker, who on December 3 gives him the opportunity to dictate a letter to his parents. It is faxed eight days later. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] For the rest of his incarceration at Mazar-i-Sharif, the Red Cross workers are prevented from seeing Lindh. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
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]
Around the third day at the school (see December 2-5, 2001), probably on December 5, accused terrorist John Walker Lindh, unaware of the fact that a lawyer has been hired for him, is interrogated by two military officers. The questioning goes on for two or three days in sessions lasting several hours at a time. Again no Miranda warnings are given (see December 2, 2001). [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] There is some discussion, however, among military personnel about whether Lindh should be advised of his right against self-incrimination. An Army intelligence officer is advised that instructions have come from “higher headquarters” for interrogators to coordinate Lindh’s interrogation with military lawyers. The intelligence officer asks to be faxed a Miranda form, but, according to the documents, “he never [gets] it.” The officer, however, adds that he is “in the business of collecting [intelligence] information, not in the business of Mirandizing.” After the first hour of interrogation, according to the documents, the interrogator provides the admiral in charge of Mazar-i-Sharif with a summary of what the interrogators have so far collected. The admiral tells him that the secretary of Defense’s counsel has authorized him to “take the gloves off” and ask whatever he wants. The unnamed counsel in question may well have been Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes. The initial responses Lindh gives to his interrogators are, according to the documents, cabled to Washington every hour. [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2004] After the interrogations are ended, Lindh is told his conditions will improve. From then on, he is given a third meal a day and no longer held at gunpoint 24 hours a day. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
At the Justice Department, an attorney-adviser in the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office (PRAO) named Jesselyn Radack provides a federal prosecutor in the terrorism and violent crimes section of the Criminal Division with advice on John Walker Lindh’s case. She informs him that “The FBI wants to interview American Taliban member John Walker [Lindh] some time next week… about taking up arms against the US.” She also writes: “I consulted with a senior legal adviser here at PRAO and we don’t think you can have the FBI agent question Walker. It would be a pre-indictment, custodial overt interview, which is not authorized by law.” She also advises him to have the FBI agent inform Lindh that his parents hired attorneys for him and ask him whether he wants to be represented by them. [Newsweek, 12/7/2001] In 2009, Radack will recall: “I was called with the specific question of whether or not the FBI on the ground could interrogate [Lindh] without counsel. And I had been told unambiguously that Lindh’s parents had retained counsel for him (see December 3-5, 2001). I gave that advice on a Friday, and the same attorney at Justice who inquired called back on Monday and said essentially, ‘Oops, they did it anyway. They interrogated him anyway. What should we do now?’ My office was there to help correct mistakes. And I said, ‘Well, this is an unethical interrogation, so you should seal it off and use it only for intelligence-gathering purposes or national security, but not for criminal prosecution.’ A few weeks later, Attorney General Ashcroft held one of his dramatic press conferences, in which he announced a complaint being filed against Lindh. He was asked if Lindh had been permitted counsel. And he said, in effect, ‘To our knowledge, the subject has not requested counsel.’ That was just completely false. About two weeks after that he held another press conference, because this was the first high-profile terrorism prosecution after 9/11. And in that press conference he was asked again about Lindh’s rights, and he said that Lindh’s rights had been carefully, scrupulously guarded, which, again, was contrary to the facts, and contrary to the picture that was circulating around the world of Lindh blindfolded, gagged, naked, bound to a board.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009] Shortly thereafter, Radack will be fired from, and investigated by, the Justice Department (see Late December 2001 - 2002).
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 ]
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 ]
After two days naked, hungry, in pain and sleepless in the cold container (see December 7-8, 2001, John Walker Lindh is dressed in hospital garb and carried, still blindfolded and handcuffed, to a nearby room or tent. As his blindfold is removed, Lindh finds himself in the presence of an FBI agent. From an “advice of rights” form, the agent begins to read Lindh his Miranda rights. Where the form refers to the right to an attorney, the FBI agent adds, “Of course, there are no lawyers here.” Lindh nevertheless asks if he can see an attorney, but the FBI agent repeats his statement that there are no attorneys present. Lindh then signs a Miranda waiver of his constitutional Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to consult an attorney, believing he would otherwise return to the conditions to which he was previously subjected, or that a worse fate may await him. The subsequent interrogation by the FBI agent lasts at least three hours. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
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 ]
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).
Finally, John Walker Lindh has the bullet in his leg (see November 25, 2001) surgically removed. Lindh’s government prosecutors later claim the military “provided him the very same medical treatment provided to wounded United States military personnel.” However, as one commentator will observe: “It is difficult to believe that the United States military would delay for more than two weeks surgery to remove a bullet from a leg from one of its own soldiers or sailors.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 12/15/2001; World Socialist Web Site, 4/1/2002]
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]
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]
Jesselyn Radack. [Source: Whistleblower (.org)]Justice Department legal ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack is subjected to intensive harassment and scrutiny by her employer after she consulted with a Criminal Division lawyer over the John Walker Lindh (“American Taliban”) case (see December 7, 2001).
Suddenly Fired - After Radack contradicts the department’s story on Lindh and his supposed failure to request legal counsel, she is suddenly fired when an unscheduled performance evaluation gives her poor ratings. Less than a year before, her performance evaluation had earned her a promotion and a merit bonus.
Leaks E-Mails to Reporter, Lindh Case Derailed - When she learns that the Justice Department has failed to turn over a number of e-mails concerning Lindh to a federal judge as requested, Radack turns over the e-mails to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek. “I wasn’t in my mind saying, ‘Gee, I want to be a whistle-blower,’” she will later say. “I was just trying to correct the wrong, just trying to set something straight.” The resulting article prompts questions about the Justice Department’s honesty in discussing the Lindh case, and prompts a surprising turn of events: the department announces that it will end the Lindh case rather than hold an evidence-suppression hearing that would have probed the facts surrounding his interrogations. The government drops the worst of the charges against Lindh, and he pleads guilty to lesser charges (see July 15, 2002) and October 4, 2002).
Unspecified Allegations of 'Criminal' Behavior, Secret Reports Alleging Unfitness - As for Radack, even though the e-mails she released are not classified and she has broken no laws in making them public, the Bush administration wanted that information kept secret. She loses her job at a private law firm after the administration informs the firm that she is a “criminal” who cannot be trusted. She is subjected to a yearlong criminal investigation by the Justice Department; no charges are ever filed. “My attorneys asked what I was being investigated for and never got an answer,” Radack will later say. “There is no law against leaking. This was nonclassified stuff. I think they were just trying to get me to slip into making a false statement. Beyond that, it never seemed like they were really going to bring charges. This was just to harass me.” The administration files a secret report with the bar associations in the states she is licensed to practice law, alleging that she is unfit to practice law and recommending “discipline” against her. Because the report is secret, Radack finds it difficult to challenge the unspecified charges. (Most of the complaints against her will eventually be dismissed.)
No-Fly List - And Radack is placed on the administration’s “no-fly” list, ostensibly reserved for suspected terrorists and other criminals, forcing her to endure intensive and invasive searches every time she attempts to board an airplane.
Making an Example - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will note that Radack gained no protection from the various whistleblower protection laws on the books, mostly because those laws have no enforcement mechanisms and rely “on the willingness of high-ranking executive branch officials to obey a statute.” Savage will observe: “The whistleblower laws did nothing to help Radack when the Bush-Cheney administration decided to make an example of her, sending a clear warning to other officials who might be inclined to bring secret executive branch wrongdoing to light. And Radack would not be the last.” [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 6/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 107-110]
John Walker Lindh is flown off the USS Bataan to the United States, arriving just three days before his first court hearing. [Associated Press, 1/22/2002; Fox News, 1/22/2002] Lindh’s attorneys will call this a deliberate attempt to hinder his defense. One of his lawyers, George C. Harris, says: “For 55 days [since he was taken in US custody] Lindh was essentially held incommunicado. Despite our requests and efforts we were unable to meet with him until he was brought back [to the US] on January 23. We were finally able to meet with him for a half an hour just before his first court hearing.” [World Socialist Web Site, 10/7/2002]
The first court hearing concerning John Walker Lindh, takes place in Alexandria, Virginia. Lindh is allowed to meet with his lawyers for the first time. [Associated Press, 1/25/2002; CNN, 1/26/2002] The Christian Science Monitor will comment: “The court’s reputation for speedy trials, no-nonsense judges, and tough-on-crime jurors has earned it the nickname the ‘rocket docket.’ It’s one reason the US Justice Department chose this Virginia venue as the site to prosecute… Lindh, who is scheduled to appear in court here today for a bail hearing, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th Sept. 11 hijacker.” [Christian Science Monitor, 2/6/2002] In addition, the court is close to the home of the Spann family, related to CIA officer Johnny Spann, responsibility for whose death, according to some, is attributed to Lindh. [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001]
At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), held between January 30 and February 2, author Ann Coulter says, “When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John Walker [Lindh] is not getting the death penalty.” She adds, “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors.” [Washington Monthly, 4/2002]
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]
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]
The British human rights organization Reprieve claims that the US has detained around 26,000 terror suspects in its network of secret prisons. It also says that several prisoners were held on a network of secret prison ships, both for detention and for interrogation sessions that were held “off the books.” The prisoners allegedly included American-born John Walker Lindh (see December 2001-January 2002) and Australian David Hicks (see July 3, 2003). Reprieve says that the US has used ships stationed off the Somali coast and off the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to detain suspects (see June 2, 2008), including the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu; up to 17 naval vessels have been used, the group says. The Navy admits that its ships have sometimes housed prisoners for short periods of time, but denies that its vessels are used as long-term floating prisons. “We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships,” says Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. Reprieve bases its claims on evidence from the US military, the Council of Europe, and testimony from a former detainee at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.