Washington Post
January 15, 2002

No Death Penalty Charges Against Amercian Taliban

By Brooke A. Masters and Dan Eggen

John Walker, the American found with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, was charged today in federal court with a criminal charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens abroad.

At a press conference this afternoon, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said that Walker identified himself as "a Muslim who wanted to go to the front lines to fight. . . . Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them. He chose to."

Walker was charged in federal district court in Alexandria with engaging in a conspiracy outside the United States to kill U.S. citizens, which Ashcroft said was specifically U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. Walker is also accused in the court papers with providing resources and material support to terrorists. The indictment also alleges that he engaged in prohibited transactions with the Taliban. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, Ashcroft said.

The criminal complaint said that Walker initially trained at a paramilitary camp north of Islamabad to fight in Kashmir. But after that training he was given the choice of fighting there or going to Afghanistan. He chose Afghanistan and was sent to an Al Qaeda training camp, where the complaint said Walker met Osama Bin Laden.

"Walker and four other trainees met with bin Laden for approximately five minutes, during which Bin Laden thanked them for taking part in jihad," according to the 12-page criminal complaint.

Ashcroft said that Walker "chose to embrace fanatics; and his allegiance to those fanatics and terrorists never faltered, not even 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."

Ashcroft said Walker is in the process of being transferred from military custody to civilian authorities. He said Walker had been read his Miranda rights but had waived them both verbally and in writing.

Walker, who grew up in the Washington suburbs and Marin County, Calif., converted to Islam as a teenager and traveled to the Middle East to study the religion. He eventually went to Afghanistan and was fighting with the Taliban troops at Mazar-e Sharif when captured. He has been held on the Navy ship, the USS Bataan, since then.

The story of Walker, 20, has raised complicated questions for the U.S. government since his capture in November.

Walker was captured with al Qaeda forces after an uprising at a makeshift prison in Mazar-e Sharif where a CIA operative, Johnny "Mike" Spann, was killed.

Walker said in a broadcast interview last month that he did not take part in the uprising because he was in a basement away from the fighting. "I didn't see what was going," he said. "I just heard."

His parents have said that he became captivated with Islam while reading "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" in a suburban San Francisco high school for gifted students and traveled overseas with their blessing to study the religion and learn Arabic. Friends and family have described Walker as studious and peaceful. But they also said they had not heard from him since he wrote from Pakistan six months ago. In the interview, Walker said that his "heart became attached" to the Taliban while studying there. Asked if he believed that he had been fighting for the right cause,Walker replied, "Definitely."

Government lawyers have struggled to figure out the best way to prosecute Walker who converted to Islam and made his way to Afghanistan via Pakistan for his alleged anti-American activities. Other possible charges that had been mentioned include treason and harming a federal officer. The presidential order authorizing military tribunals does not apply to Walker because he is a U.S. citizen.

Copyright 2002. Washington Post. All rights reserved.

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