Washington Post
January 25, 2002


John Walker Lindh Appears in Alexandria Court


By Brooke A. Masters

The American captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan appeared in U.S. District Court in Alexandria yesterday shorn of his now-familiar beard and long hair as he faced charges of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens abroad and providing material support to terrorists.

Clad in a green prison jumpsuit, John Walker Lindh, 20, appeared tentative and respectful during the short hearing. He glanced several times at prosecutors as he listened to explanations of the charges and his possible life sentence. He gave only brief answers to U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell when asked whether he understood the charges and his potential punishment.

"Yes, I understand," Lindh said twice, and later he told the judge, "No I don't have any questions."

Although the court proceeding was routine and Lindh entered no plea, competing news conferences later gave a hint of the public relations and legal battle that is expected to rage over two lengthy statements Lindh gave to the FBI after his capture.

Lindh's lead attorney, James Brosnahan, complained that the statements, which form the foundation of the government's criminal complaint, were made after Lindh had asked for a lawyer and been denied one. But Justice Department officials contended that Lindh had been afforded all his legal rights and waived them in writing.

The short hearing provided the first good look at the California man who allegedly trained with the al Qaeda terrorist network before taking up arms for the Taliban. Lindh, a slender young man, did not make eye contact with his parents but stared straight ahead as he entered and left the courtroom.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy I. Bellows asked that Lindh be held without bond until a detention hearing "based on the risk of flight and danger" to the community.

Brosnahan, who was hired by Lindh's parents, formally took over the case after meeting with Lindh for the first time yesterday morning in a courthouse holding area. He told Sewell that his client had asked for a lawyer a full week before he spoke to the FBI on Dec. 9 and 10.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that questioning must stop if a suspect "unambiguously" tells government investigators he wants a lawyer, but it is unclear how and to whom Lindh said he wanted legal counsel.

Sewell scheduled a hearing for Feb. 6 to consider whether to hold Lindh until trial and to hear evidence to determine whether to send the case to a grand jury. The government can preempt the second part of the hearing by securing an indictment in the next 10 days.

Reporters and members of the public packed the courtroom to see the man whose journey from Marin County teenager to Islamic radical and alleged Taliban fighter has fascinated many. Cameras crowded around Lindh's parents, who before the hearing met with their son for the first time in two years.

"We are grateful that he is in good physical condition," Frank Lindh said outside the courthouse. "John loves America. We love America. He did not take up arms against America. John is innocent of these charges."

Lindh's estranged wife, Marilyn Walker, said: "It was wonderful to see him. I love him, and I am grateful to God that he is brought home to his family and his country."

The two then walked off, arm in arm, through the crowd.

According to the 12-page complaint filed last week, John Lindh told the FBI that he trained for seven weeks in a camp run by the al Qaeda terrorist network and met briefly with Osama bin Laden before joining the Taliban forces who were then fighting against the Northern Alliance. Captured in the fall of Kunduz, he was shot in the leg during a bloody prison uprising at Mazar-e Sharif, where CIA officer Johnny Spann was killed. Lindh was held on the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea before being flown to Dulles International Airport yesterday and taken by helicopter to the Alexandria jail.

Brosnahan asked the public not to prejudge his client. "John Lindh is presumed innocent. . .. We are confident that the judicial system in our country understands how to deal with John Lindh and give him a fair trial," Brosnahan said. "Keep an open mind about a 20-year-old young man and find out what really happened."

Brosnahan said Lindh began asking for a lawyer Dec. 2 or 3 a day or two after the U.S. military took custody of him but did not meet with a lawyer until this morning. "For 54 days, while he was kept incommunicado, officials in the federal government leaked or stated their understanding of the case against him, in violation of the rules of this courthouse," Brosnahan said.

But U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said Lindh's rights have been respected. He noted that the complaint says that FBI agents told Lindh of his right to remain silent and to consult an attorney and that he waived them in writing before talking to the FBI.

"We are going to make sure as best as we possibly can that he is afforded every right. This is a very serious matter," McNulty said.

At a separate event, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft sought to undermine the family's portrayal of the defendant as a misguided youth who loves America, arguing that Lindh made conscious decisions to join enemies of the United States.

"Walker knowingly and purposefully allied himself with terror," Ashcroft said. "He chose to embrace fanatics, and his allegiance to them never faltered, not with the knowledge that they had murdered thousands of his countrymen, not with the knowledge that they were engaged in a war with the United States and not, finally, in the prison uprising that took the life of CIA agent Johnny Spann."

Lindh is charged with four counts: conspiring to kill Americans abroad, providing aid to two terrorist groups the Pakistani organization Harakat ul-Mujahideen and al Qaeda and giving goods and services to the Taliban.

The main charges are based on laws passed in the last decade and have rarely been used. The most prominent examples were the 1998 African embassy bombing cases and that of Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, who was charged with a foiled 1994 plot to blow up U.S. jetliners.

Lindh's legal situation is highly unusual in American history.

One of the eight German saboteurs tried by military tribunal during World War II claimed American citizenship based on his birth in the United States, as part of his unsuccessful effort to gain a civilian trial.

But until a 1967 Supreme Court case, Americans captured on the battlefield while fighting for foreign countries were presumed to have renounced their citizenship. They were generally treated like other foreign prisoners of war, Hofstra University law professor Peter Spiro said.

After the Supreme Court found that citizenship could not be terminated automatically, some Americans defected during the Vietnam War, but historians could not remember anyone who took up arms against his former country.

Copyright 2002, Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

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