Ashcroft says American captured among Taliban will be brought back to U.S. soon

Wednesday, January 16th 2002, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ John Walker Lindh, the American who fought with the Taliban, will be brought to the United States promptly to face charges of taking up arms against his countrymen, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Wednesday.

Lindh's transfer from custody at sea ``will be in the very near future,'' Ashcroft said, declining to be more specific.

Court records filed Tuesday said Lindh, 20, consciously betrayed the United States. Using his own words, the documents portrayed his evolution from young Muslim convert in California to Taliban warrior in Afghanistan.

In battle, Lindh's rifle malfunctioned, he was bombed by U.S. planes before surrendering, then he was shot in the leg during a violent prison uprising.

Court records also said Lindh learned as early as June _ fully three months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington _ that Osama bin Laden had dispatched suicide squads to the United States.

Lindh and four other recruits also met personally with bin Laden for about five minutes, when the al-Qaida leader thanked him for helping, according to the court papers.

``He chose to embrace fanatics, and his allegiance to those terrorists never faltered,'' Ashcroft said Tuesday in announcing the charges. ``Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them. John Walker Lindh chose terrorists.''

He will be tried in northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, where he was born. It's the same venue where Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man charged directly in the Sept. 11 attacks, is facing trial.

Lindh, who converted to Islam at 16 and is alleged to have trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan, was charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens, providing support to terrorist organizations, and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban, Ashcroft said.

After weeks of deliberations, the Bush administration opted against a military trial or charges that would carry the death penalty.

Ashcroft, on the morning interview shows Wednesday, said that if evidence emerges of treason or other crimes carrying the death penalty, ``then it would be possible for those charges to be brought against him.''

Friends have described Lindh as an intelligent young man who wore full-length robes to high school in a Marin County suburb of San Francisco and went by the name ``Suleyman'' following his conversion to Islam. After his capture, his parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, had asked the public to withhold judgment about their son.

They issued a statement through their lawyer late Tuesday that said they are praying for a ``just resolution'' of their son's case.

``We are grateful to live in a nation that presumes innocence and withholds judgment until all of the facts are presented,'' the statement said.

``We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values, but we cannot ignore that he did,'' Ashcroft said. ``Youth is not absolution for treachery, and personal self-discovery is not an excuse to take up arms against your country.''

Ashcroft suggested that proving Lindh committed treason would be difficult.

``The Constitution imposes a high evidentiary burden to prove the charge of treason'' _ a confession in open court or testimony by two witnesses, Ashcroft said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush ``is supportive of the process put in place. He is confident that the process will end in justice.''

The charges were recommended to Bush by the National Security Council, which considered advice from the Justice Department, the Pentagon and the State Department.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he supported the ``difficult and complex'' decision to place the case in the civilian criminal justice system.

Lindh was captured in November fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was taken into custody by U.S. forces after a prison uprising at a fortress in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

CIA agent Johnny Michael Spann, who had questioned Lindh, was killed in the uprising. There has been no indication that Lindh was directly involved in Spann's death.

The federal affidavit said that after Spann interviewed him, Lindh was moved to a lawn and tried to run when he heard gunfire. He was shot in the leg. ``Walker claims not to have seen what happened to the two Americans who had interviewed him,'' the affidavit said.

Lindh since then has been held on the amphibious attack ship USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea. He will be transferred to FBI custody, Ashcroft said.

Lindh told the FBI that after he trained at a paramilitary camp run by the terrorist group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, he was given a choice of fighting in Kashmir or with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ashcroft quoted Lindh as telling Taliban recruiters that ``he was a Muslim who wanted to go to the front lines to fight.''

Lindh was interviewed by the FBI on Dec. 9 and 10 and waived his rights to a lawyer, the affidavit said. He had joined the military training camp in May, it said, and was told by al-Qaida people to pretend that he was Irish and not to admit to anyone that he was American.

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