New York Times
February 6, 2002


Lindh Lawyers Cite 'Coercive' Treatment by U.S. Forces


By DAVID JOHNSTON

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for John Walker Lindh, the American captured with anti-American forces in Afghanistan, said today that the 20-year-old was treated harshly in "highly coercive conditions" by his American captors after being abused by forces friendly to the United States.

As a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Lindh on 10 criminal charges today, his lawyers filed an unusual statement with the court that offered Mr. Lindh's harrowing account of his treatment after he was captured in November near Mazar-i-Sharif, following what his lawyers said was a 50-mile trek through mountains with little food or water.

The statement, signed by George C. Harris, one of several lawyers representing Mr. Lindh, was part of an attempt to win Mr. Lindh's release on bail. It said that the American, who converted to Islam in his teens, narrowly escaped death at the hands of American-backed anti-Taliban forces during an uprising at the Qala Jangi fortress.

His lawyers said Mr. Lindh was abused by his American captors who bound him to a stretcher with heavy tape, placed him in a windowless metal container, gave him little food or medical attention and refused to allow him to speak with a lawyer.

At a news conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft expressed little sympathy for Mr. Lindh. "The United States is a country that cherishes religious tolerance, political democracy and equality between men and women." Mr. Ashcroft said. "By his own account, John Walker Lindh allied himself with terrorists who reject these values."

The 10 charges against Mr. Lindh accuse him of training to fight with Osama bin Laden's terror network and then conspiring with the Taliban to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

"John Walker Lindh chose to train with Al Qaeda, chose to fight with the Taliban, chose to be led by Osama bin Laden," Mr. Ashcroft said. "The reasons for his choices may never be fully known to us, but the fact of these choices is clear."

Mr. Lindh's lawyers said in their statement that he was with other prisoners in a dank basement while under arrest by anti-Taliban troops commanded by Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, now the deputy defense minister of the interim government of Afghanistan. During the uprising, his captors threw grenades and fired rockets down ventilator shafts, killing prisoners below.

At one point, General Dostum's forces poured oil and diesel fuel down a duct and lighted the fuel, starting a fire that killed many prisoners, the statement said.

At the end of a week, the anti-Taliban troops poured ice water through the ducts into the basement, "As the water rose, Mr. Lindh was able to stand up with the help of other prisoners to avoid drowning. Around Mr. Lindh other prisoners who could not stand up were drowned."

Today, Mr. Lindh's lawyers said the government had produced nothing that showed Mr. Lindh had engaged in any violent acts. "There are no allegations and no evidence that he ever so much as fired a shot, even at Northern Alliance soldiers," the lawyers said in their court filing.

None of the charges against Mr. Lindh could bring the death penalty. But if convicted of all the charges, he faces a maximum sentence of three life terms, plus additional 10-year and 30-year terms in prison. He would not be eligible for early release on any of the counts.

Mr. Lindh was first charged on Jan. 15 in a six-count criminal complaint that was superseded by the new indictment, which included four fresh charges of aiding the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The charges were brought in Alexandria, Va., a suburb of Washington where Mr. Lindh will be tried in federal District Court. He is being held in the county jail near the courthouse under heavy security.

Mr. Lindh faces a hearing on Wednesday on his request for bail and is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday in the court before Judge T. S. Ellis. He has not entered a plea, but his father, Frank Lindh, has said he is innocent.

The indictment today had been expected. Under federal rules, prosecutors were required to replace the complaint with an indictment to avoid a preliminary hearing, which had been scheduled for Wednesday.

Mr. Lindh is still scheduled to appear in federal court on Wednesday, but the hearing before Magistrate W. Curtis Sewell will consider only the issue of whether Mr. Lindh should be released on bail until his trial.

Mr. Lindh's lawyers said today in the filing that he should be released into the custody of his father. The defense team said that Mr. Lindh was not a flight risk and that he did not represent a danger to other people.

Moreover, the defense lawyers said there was no evidence that Mr. Lindh played any part in the prison riot by captured Taliban and Qaeda fighters that resulted in the death of Johnny Micheal Spann, a Central Intelligence Agency officer killed in the uprising.

"Even according to the facts alleged in the affidavit, however, the only services ever provided by Mr. Lindh were as a foot soldier for the Taliban," the filing said, although they provided no details of his activities in Afghanistan or an explanation of his motives.

The indictment described Mr. Lindh as a committed Taliban fighter. It said said that in May or June last year, Mr. Lindh agreed to travel to a Qaeda training camp "knowing that America and its citizens were the enemies of bin Laden and Al Qaeda and that a principal purpose of Al Qaeda was to fight and kill Americans."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the indictment said, Mr. Lindh remained with his Taliban unit, "despite having been told that bin Laden had ordered the attacks, that additional terrorist attacks were planned and that additional Al Qaeda personnel were being sent from training camps to the front lines to protect bin Laden and defend against an anticipated military response from the United States."

The indictment repeated much of the information on which the earlier charges were based. Most of that information in those accusations came from statements that Mr. Lindh made to F.B.I. agents in interviews on Dec. 9 and 10 in Afghanistan.

Today, Mr. Lindh's lawyers attacked the legality of the interviews, saying they were conducted under "highly coercive conditions" after eight days of harsh confinement in freezing weather.

But Mr. Ashcroft and other Justice Department officials have said Mr. Lindh voluntarily agreed to answer questions and signed an agreement waiving his right to a lawyer during the interviews.

"At each step in this process," Mr. Ashcroft said, "Walker Lindh's rights, including his rights not to incriminate himself and to be represented by counsel, have been carefully, scrupulously honored."

Copyright 2002, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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