New York Times
January 23, 2002


Walker Arrives in the U.S.


By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE with SHERRI DAY

WASHINGTON -- John Walker, the 20-year-old Californian accused of fighting in Afghanistan against his own countrymen, arrived on American soil today to await trial, officials said.

After arriving at Dulles International Airport shortly after dusk, Mr. Walker was taken to a prison in the Washington area in preparation for his trial, to be held in the Federal District Court in nearby Alexandria, Va., a jurisdiction known for its conservative juries.

He has been charged with conspiring to kill American citizens and with support for terrorist groups. Conviction could mean life in prison.

Mr. Walker is expected to make his initial appearance in court at 9 a.m. Thursday, officials said. He will be read the charges against him and asked if he would like to have a lawyer represent him. Mr. Walker has been in American custody since his capture on Dec. 1, out of reach of the lawyer his parents have hired for him. American officials say he has waived his right to a lawyer.

This afternoon, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush felt Mr. Walker would now "get the justice he deserves" for fighting with the Taliban and Al Qaeda against the United States.

"The president knows that the great strength of America is he will now have his day in court," Mr. Fleischer said at a White House news briefing this afternoon. "He will be judged impartially and fairly. That's one of the reasons the United States win war because people like John Walker deserve and receive the judgment that they get from their fellow citizens."

Officials said Mr. Walker was airlifted off a Navy ship in the Arabian Sea on Tuesday and moved to the United States military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. There he was transferred to a cargo plane for a flight to Washington.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a press briefing on Tuesday that Mr. Walker would be shackled, like any other prisoner who is being transported.

"When people are moved, they are restrained," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "That is true in prisons across the globe. It is not anything new. It is because in transit, movement from one place to another is the place where bad things happen."

After fierce criticism from human rights groups around the world, the Pentagon temporarily halted today the transport of prisoners to the United States Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But government officials said security concerns, rather than diplomatic issues, were responsible for the pause in transferring prisoners to Cuba. At this time, 158 prisoners are being detained at the naval base.

European officials had raised questions about whether Mr. Walker would be treated better than the prisoners from other countries who are being sent to the Naval base in Cuba. The British Parliament even debated the matter on Monday, with some members saying the American would receive preferable handling.

"Well," a clearly annoyed Mr. Rumsfeld said on Tuesday, "It's amazing the insight that parliamentarians can gain from 5,000 miles away. I don't notice that he was handled any differently, or has been in the past or is now. He was wounded, so he was treated."

The secretary bristled when asked whether Mr. Walker, like prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, would be put in a cage 8 feet long and 8 feet wide.

"Just for the sake of the listening world," the secretary said, "Guantánamo Bay's climate is different than Afghanistan. To be in an 8-by-8 cell in beautiful, sunny Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is not inhumane treatment."

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

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