February 14, 2002
Lindh Pleads Not Guilty to Terror Aid
By Brooke A. Masters
The American man captured with Taliban fighters pleaded not guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria and could face trial as soon as August on charges that he helped terrorist organizations and conspired to kill Americans abroad.
John Walker Lindh, 21, barely spoke during the 25-minute hearing -- besides saying "not guilty" -- but he flashed his parents a big smile as he left the courtroom. He could receive three life sentences plus 90 years if convicted of all 10 charges against him.
The hearing lacked the contentiousness and drama of the first two, but it brought together for the first time the two families that have been tragically linked by the case: Lindh's parents and the family of Johnny "Mike" Spann, the CIA officer who was killed in a prison uprising shortly after he interviewed Lindh outside Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan.
Spann's family called Lindh a traitor and blamed him for Spann's death.
"He believed his extreme form of Islam gives him the right . . . to wage jihad against the West," Spann's wife, Shannon, said outside the courtroom. "We expect Mr. Walker [Lindh] to be held personally responsible. . . . I should have preferred the death penalty."
Lindh told the FBI in an interview that he was outside the prison when the fighting broke out, and he has not been charged directly with Spann's death. But federal investigators are trying to determine how he was shot in the leg during the uprising.
When Lindh's father, Frank, tried to approach the Spann family in the hallway outside the courtroom, an official with the U.S. attorney's office held him off and ushered the Spanns into an elevator.
At past hearings and news conferences, prosecutors have used two statements Lindh gave the FBI to portray him as a coldblooded terrorist who chose to fight alongside a group that he knew was carrying out attacks against the United States. But the defense has argued that Lindh was a misguided youth who never intended to harm Americans. His attorneys have alleged that Lindh was bound, blindfolded and mistreated in the days before he agreed to talk to government agents.
Yesterday, the judge, prosecution and defense concentrated on logistical issues rather than the merits of the case.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III asked Lindh whether he had seen the indictment and had a chance to review it.
"Yes, sir," the California native replied, adding that it was "correct, sir" that he did not need to have the charges read aloud by the clerk. Lindh's attorney, George Harris, also informed the judge that Lindh will be seeking a jury trial.
Harris argued that a November trial date was appropriate because it will take time to sort out the rules for handling classified evidence and for the defense to investigate Lindh's activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
An Alexandria grand jury charged Lindh last week with conspiring to kill Americans, aiding two terrorist groups -- the Pakistani organization Harakat ul-Mujahideen and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network -- and supplying services to the Taliban. He also faces a weapons charge for allegedly carrying grenades and machine guns on the front lines in Afghanistan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy I. Bellows said he expected the classified information in the case to take up "less than one file drawer," but he did not oppose the November trial date. Bellows also predicted that the government's part of the case would take about two weeks.
Ellis, however, rejected November as "too far away. . . . My sense is that work will expand to fill the time allotted."
Tomorrow, Ellis will formally set a schedule for hearings and the trial, but he told the lawyers in the case that he was leaning toward Aug. 26 for the trial. "It's in the public interest to have trials as quickly as possible," he said.
The defense, the prosecution and Lindh's family all declined to comment after the hearing. But Mike Spann's parents urged Americans to stand firm against traitors and support the war against terrorism.
"Mike was a hero not because of the way he died but because of the way he lived," said Spann's mother, Gail. "John Walker [Lindh] is a traitor because of the way he lived. . . . I think all Americans feel the same way I do."
Her husband, Johnny Spann, said his son had told friends that "he would gladly lay down his life for his country, his family and his colleagues. That is what he did. . . . All of this is because of a gang of terrorist thugs and their leaders and supporters."
Johnny Spann said his family trusts that justice will be done. "Mike believed in the justice system. He died for it," he said. "We have the same faith in the justice system, and justice will prevail."
Copyright © 2002, Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.
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