Monday, April 23, 2007
Adam Liptak's weekly column in the Grey Lady (sequestered behind the TimesSelect wall) reports that John Walker Lindh thinks he got a raw deal -- twenty years of hard time -- compared to similarly situated Westerners who put in their time at Gitmo and then received much lighter sentences from the military:
“He was a victim of a hysterical atmosphere post-9/11,” Frank R. Lindh said about his son. “Much like the country has reassessed the premises for the Iraq war, it should re-examine the premises for this sentence.”
To hear Frank Lindh tell it, his son was an earnest and confused student of Islam who took up arms in a civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. “A very substantial number of people in America believe John fought Americans or committed terrorism or supported terrorism,” Frank Lindh said. “That’s just not true.”
But John Walker Lindh is not serving time for terrorism or treason. And he made a considered decision to accept a 20-year sentence.
On the other hand, two men accused of quite similar conduct managed to make much better deals. They had the good fortune, it turned out, to be held by the military rather than by civilian authorities, and they probably also benefited from the fact that the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks had receded a little by the time they sat down to negotiate.
Consider Yaser Hamdi. Mr. Hamdi, who held Saudi and American citizenship, was captured along with Mr. Lindh and was also accused of helping the Taliban. But he was detained as an enemy combatant and never charged with a crime.
A few months after the United States Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Hamdi could challenge his detention in 2004, he was sent to Saudi Arabia (“in civilian clothes and unhooded,” as stipulated in his deal with the government) in exchange for giving up his American citizenship and agreeing to restrictions on his ability to travel. He is home and free.
Last month, in the first guilty plea before a military commission at Guantánamo, David Hicks, an Australian, admitted to more serious crimes than Mr. Lindh had. He was sentenced to nine months and should be home and free before the end of the year.
Mr. Lindh’s situation, by contrast, keeps getting worse. In February, for reasons the government will not explain, he was moved from a medium-security prison in California to the maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo., one of the toughest in the federal system. He is 26 now, and his lawyers say that even with credit for good behavior he has 13 more years to go.
Obviously, Liptak and the Times are sympathetic to Lindh's plight -- otherwise, why devote so much precious space to the arguments of his family and lawyer, when there are so many people in prison with much more worthy claims for clemency? Missing from Liptak's column, though, is any acknowledgement that perhaps Guantanamo and the military's system of detention are not so unfair after all. Of course, Liptak is trying to make the point that if Lindh's sentence -- which was negotiated in a plea bargain -- is longer than those of people who went to Gitmo then it must be unfair. It never crosses Liptak's mind that the Gitmo detainees might have been better off in the care of our military than in the civilian systems in any of their respective countries of origin, including the United States.*
As for Lindh, let's not go all gooey. The guy ran guns for the Taliban. Even if he did not participate in action against the United States, he was a combatant for a regime that overtly gave sanctuary to al Qaeda, which had declared war on the United States in 1998. No religious belief can justify that. Who are we kidding? The guy may have been "confused," but he was "confused" in a really bad way.
*Yes, I know that I am making this comparison to the post-Hamden Gitmo, rather than the version originally conceived by the Bush administration. Fine. I intended no props for the Bushies. The question, though, is what to do about Gitmo now?
Actions can have real lasting consequences. That's a very hard concept for many people to get their heads around.
If anyone is looking for "fairness", they'll find it in the dictionary, not the courts. In the court system, you get "the law" administered, period. Any fairness is purely coincidental.
I don't feel sorry for Lindh. He had a top-notch lawyer. He plea-bargained out, so his attorney must have thought it was likely he would get a worse outcome if the case went to trial.
Lindh's bad luck was that he was caught and tried at a time when people were still hot about 9/11. Almost all the war criminals executed after WWII were tried and executed very soon after the war. Ones that went to trial later, even some notorious killers, did not get the death penalty. Many got relatively short sentences, most of which were commuted after a few years.
Johnny Jihad should count his blessings. Under the Laws of War as they used to be understood, a traitor taken in the field, could be summarily executed. Levying war agaunst the United States by a citizen IS TREASON!.
A few excerpts from "The Hunt for Bin Laden" by Robin Moore:
He [Walker] supported the bombing of the USS Cole, believed America was evil, and that the attacks on 9/11 were well deserved. He admitted knowing about the attacks in advance, even as far back as June 2001, when he was informed that Osama bin Laden had sent people to the U.S. on suicide missions. Walker said bin Laden was his true leader, and that Americans must die to “cleanse the world of the infidel.”
Initially, Walker had been assigned to fight in the Takhar Province, but American bombing had decimated al-Qaida forces in the region. Walker and his compatriots fled on foot nearly a hundred miles west to Kunduz. And, of course, for nothing, since the Veterans Day offensive would trap him. Walker freely admitted that the Taliban hadn’t wanted him because he spoke only Arabic, and he was sent to work for al-Qaida, under the direct command of Osama bin Laden. Even worse, Walker admitted that his goal was to be martyred, dying in the act of killing Americans. John Walker was not the “American Taliban,” as he was portrayed by the press, but a foreign AQ member of the most extreme sort – one who claimed he was willing to die for his beliefs, even after capture and imprisonment…
…[Regarding the Qala-i-Jangi prisoner uprising] Several al-Qaida prisoners claim that Walker was present when [CIA operative John Michael (“Mike”)] Spann was tortured and killed, and that the AQ used Walker to interpret conversations between Spann and his partner while they were interviewing the prisoners. They also admitted that Walker interpreted AQ conversations with Spann during his torture. Spann’s father believes that Walker was directly involved in planning the revolt. “Information provided to me shows that my son’s death occurred immediately after attempting the interrogation of John Walker Lindh,” Spann said. “[It] also shows that the defendant was actively involved in this conspiracy of prisoners that planned the uprising.” (pp. 178-180)
If only half of this is true (and Moore's book is, in fairness, a rah-rah account of the actions of the Green Berets who were in country) it seems to me that 20 years was a pretty decent job of plea bargaining by defense counsel. As to where he should be incarcerated, and what type of facility it should be, I suppose that his father was hoping for Club Fed, but he ought to be doing hard time, as he is now. It would be interesting to know why Lindh was transferred. I somehow doubt that it was done out of concern for his personal safety (a common reason for prisoner transfers).
So much for the NYT version of events, dedicated to the proposition that Lindh did not actively participate in actions aimed against US forces or the country itself. Thanks for the quotes from Moore's book.
Lindh was captured within a group of AQ, after the prison revolt was put down. The terrorists regarded him as a colleague, not a hostage. He was at minimum an accessory to their horrific crimes, and most probably worse. It's absolutely despicable to defend his actions.
From the Robin Moore bio at Wikipedia (not the world's best source):
"...Moore eventually disavowed 'The Hunt for Bin Laden' and the book remains out of print."
You might want to check that out, Escort81.
Thanks for the heads up about Moore. It's one of those kinds of books you pick up at the airport when you're looking at a long flight and you forgot your own reading material. It was interesting and entertaining, but cried out for a real editor and needed to be taken with a big grain of salt.
I am not sure to what extent the "Idema" character cited in your Wikipedia reference corrupts the account of Lindh in Moore's book. There is video of Lindh being interrogated by Spann right before the prison uprising, so it's uncontested that he was there and that the two were interacting. Whether he was "caught up" in it or an active participant in some way can be spun any number of ways, and is certainly relevant to how severe his sentence should be.
Perhaps one contributing reason that the press might continue to carry water for this case is that it represents the ultimate case of Marin County experimentalism and radical chic run amok -- parents who basically punted on their responsibility to provide any sort of guidance to an adolescent and post-adolescent male. My armchair psychologist view of this matter is that Lindh really struggled as a teenager with his father coming out and living openly as a gay man, and found solace in associating with a form of Islam that had clear beliefs regarding homosexuality (and rather harsh consequences).
Poor little Taliban...
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
let them out of prison
to resume their killing
absurd thought -
God of the Universe loves
terrorists in prison
treat them like kings in cages
great food and Al Jazeera