Marin man pleads guilty to serving with Taliban
By Beth Winegarner
News Pointer Editor
July 23, 2002
A 21-year-old Marin County native has pleaded guilty to charges he provided service to the Taliban and carried weapons and explosives while doing so.
John Walker Lindh — who grew up in Fairfax — gave his pleas in federal court last week. They were part of a plea bargain in which the United States government will agree to drop more serious charges of treason against Lindh if he tells them everything he knows about the Taliban and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden’s al Quaeda network.
“I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to November. During the course of doing so I carried a rifle and two grenades.” Lindh, said, describing his crimes to the court last Monday.
Lindh’s father, San Rafael resident Frank Lindh; his mother, Fairfax resident Marilyn Walker; his 13-year-old sister Naomi and his 23-year-old brother Connell attended the hearing. He faces up to 20 years in prison for the charges against him.
Before the plea bargain, he had faced a 10-count indictment with a potential sentence of life in prison plus 90 years. If the judge agrees to the terms of the deal, Lindh will serve two consecutive 10-year prison sentences. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 4.
Lindh’s path from Marin County to the mountains of Afghanistan was a circuitous one. He attended Tamiscal, an alternative high school in the Tamalpais Union School District, before discovering Islam. He studied the religion locally, then traveled to the Middle East to immerse himself in the language and culture of Islam.
According to court documents, in mid-2001, Lindh crossed the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan and took up arms with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. He reported to the Dar ul-Anan Headquarters of the Mujahedeen in Kabul, Afghanistan, which was used as a Taliban recruiting center, and told personnel at that facility that he was an American and that he wanted to go to the front lines to fight.
He agreed to attend a training camp, and from there traveled to al-Farooq, for additional and extensive military training. The facility is thought to be associated with Osama Bin Laden. During the summer, he remained at the camp and took courses in weapons, orienteering, navigation, explosives and battlefield combat.
Lindh swore allegiance to jihad after completing his training and traveled to Kabul to assist the Taliban. He was given an AKM rifle to carry and sent with 150 non-Afghani fighters to the front line in Takhar in northeastern Afghanistan. Between September and November, his company was divided into smaller groups that rotated in one- to two-week shifts in the Takhar trenches. When he was on duty, Lindh also carried grenades, court documents said.
He continued to serve the Taliban until November of 2001, when he was captured by American forces in Afghanistan. He was kept in a prisoner camp, where CIA agent Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed.
In January of 2002, Lindh was taken to a prison in Virginia. There, according to photographic evidence and defense attorney statements, he was stripped, handcuffed, blindfolded and duct-taped to a stretcher for two days.
Because some of Lindh’s statements were extracted during this time, it was unclear whether they would be admissible as evidence in court. In addition, there was some doubt as to whether Lindh had been read his Miranda rights before officers interrogated him.
“The U.S. government should not be able to plea out of its obligation under international law to protect those in U.S. custody from ill treatment. All allegations of abuse in custody should be investigated and the use of such methods should be strongly condemned,” said Vienna Colucci, International Justice Specialist for Amnesty International USA, speaking about allegations Lindh was mistreated in prison.
Although many called the outcome a victory, both for the federal government and Lindh, some disagreed. “I don’t think it’s a victory to the American people, to the ordinary people. I don’t think it is a victory to my son, who gave his life,” said Gail Spann of Winfield, Ala., the mother of the CIA officer killed in a Taliban prison uprising after interviewing Lindh and other prisoners.
Lindh’s family remained supportive, however. “I’m proud to have him as a son.” Frank Lindh said.
This article originally appeared in the San Rafael/Terra Linda News Pointer.