What ever happened to John Walker Lindh?
Wow...this is a must read. I had nearly forgotten about that young American guy who was ostensibly "fighting for the enemy" in Afghanistan, in late 2001. He was recently sentenced to 20 yrs. In the end, he was convicted for violating economic sanctions by supporting the Taliban. In otherwords, he was not convicted for terrorism. Here are some fascinating excerpts from a speech Lindh's father gave last month:
[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]
In 1991, when John was 10 years old, we moved from the D.C. area to the Bay Area. At age 12, John saw the movie "Malcolm X" by Spike Lee and became deeply interested in Islam. [...]
When he was 16, John formally converted to Islam at a mosque in Mill Valley in Marin County where we live. [...] By the time he was 17, John was ready to embark on a course of studies overseas and he went to Yemen to study Arabic.
[...] It is November of 2000 when John goes to Pakistan with my blessing. In late April of 2001, John wrote to me and his mother to say that he wanted to go up to the mountains of Pakistan to get away from the heat. That made sense. John never tolerated the heat in Washington, D.C. What he didn't tell us, what we didn't learn until later was that John was going over the mountains, into Afghanistan, intent on volunteering for military service in the army of Afghanistan.
[...] When he did go into Afghanistan, John received infantry training at a government-run military training camp. But the training camp was funded by Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden really had two operations going on. One was to finance the Afghan army operations -- these training camps for infantry. But he also, as we all know now, had a terrorist organization under way, a highly secretive terrorist organization that we call al Qaeda.
Twice in the course of his training there, John actually saw Osama bin Laden and met him on one occasion. He came away from those encounters very skeptical about bin Laden because John recognized instantly that bin Laden was not an authentic Islamic scholar based on what John himself knows. In the course of John's subsequent criminal cases, attorneys hired a professor named Rohan Gunaratna. He is the world's leading authority on al Qaeda and author of the book "Inside al Qaeda."
Gunaratna has been employed by the U.N., but also by the government of the United States as an expert in al Qaeda, and he interviewed John extensively. After all these interviews, he made this following conclusion: "Those who, like Mr. Lindh, merely fought the Northern Alliance, cannot be deemed terrorists. Their motivation was to serve and to protect suffering Muslims in Afghanistan, not to kill civilians."
[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]
[...post 9/11...] In the period in late 2001, Taliban forces in Northern Afghanistan were overrun by the Northern Alliance forces after an aerial bombing by the United States. The American strategy was to use Northern Alliance troops as a proxy rather than commit American troops to the ground. This may have been a sound military strategy; however, it appears that the American generals who planned this invasion made no provision for the handling of the prisoners of war.Oh. One more thing: "John had never even heard of al Qaeda." Go! Go now and read the rest.
What happened as a consequence was the murder of thousands of Taliban prisoners by the Northern Alliance during the period of November and December of 2001, the same time when John's case comes to our attention. These war crimes have been documented by Physicians for Human Rights and in the mainstream media here in the United States, including a cover story in Newsweek magazine.
Let us return now to the story of John. In early September, before the 11th, John arrived at the frontline in Tahar. The two armies there -- the Taliban army and the Northern Alliance army, were locked in an old-fashioned stalemate. John arrived, he was issued the standard rifle and two hand grenades and performed sentry duty there at the front. He never fired his weapons. After the American bombing campaign began in October, the line broke. Again, no American troops are here in Tahar, it's all Northern Alliance troops, but the American bombing happens.
The frontline breaks, the Taliban soldiers retreat to the capital of Tahar -- Kunduz. It's a confused retreat. Many of them are killed. If they're captured by the Northern Alliance, they're killed. There's a chilling series of pictures in the New York Times of a prisoner as he's taken, castrated and then killed. This is what John faced. He was very desperate and near dead by the time he got to Kunduz.
Then there's a deal made by General Dostum [notorious Northern Alliance warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum] for safe passage of these prisoners from Kunduz to a city in the west called Herat, near the border of Iran. John is one of the 400 that are part of this deal with Dostum. They make this deal, and a large amount of money is given to Dostum in return for the safe passage. The only condition Dostum imposes is that the soldiers must give up their weapons before he'll allow them to pass through. So they give up the weapons and then immediately Dostum breaks the deal. He diverts the prisoners from their path into his fortress -- a place called Kuala Jungi. It's an old 15th- or 16th-century walled fortress near Mazari Sharif. And there all hell broke loose.
The next morning, John was brought out along with these other prisoners, with their hands tied behind their backs for interrogation. There are no American troops present here, but there are two American CIA agents, and they're doing the interrogation of the prisoners as they're brought out of the basement. Their arms are tied behind their backs at the elbow, and they are being very brutally abused by Dostum's troops. All of them are afraid that they are going to be killed by Gen. Dostum given his reputation.
John is struck in the back of the head with a rifle butt by one of the Northern Alliance troops as he's brought out of the basement just moments before some video was taken of John being interrogated by the two U.S. agents. They threatened John with death. John remained silent (Lindh believed the two agents were working for Dostum.) His only goal was to get to Herat so that he could get back to Pakistan.
Moments after this video is shot, the last of the remaining 400 or 500 prisoners, as they're brought out of the basement, jumped Dostum's guards, seized their weapons, and a melee broke out. Dostum's troops panic and begin to shoot down all the prisoners in the yard, most of them, like John with their hands and arms tied behind their backs. Dozens and dozens of these Taliban prisoners are killed on the spot. John gets up and starts to run. He is shot immediately in the thigh.
He lay on the ground there for 12 hours, pretending to be dead while the carnage continued around him. That night, some of the survivors managed to get back down into the basement of the building where they had been taken when they first were brought to the fortress. They went in among the dead and found the wounded and brought them down into the basement. John was one of them.
In the days that followed, there was a deliberate effort by Dostum, supported by the United States Special Forces, to simply exterminate all of the Taliban prisoners in the fortress. By the end of that week, most of them were dead. John and a group of them were still holed up. They were unarmed, they were wounded, and they were in the basement of the fortress. They dropped hand grenades down, they poured burning oil down. At one point, they attempted to drop a 1,000-pound bomb on the building, but it was misdirected and actually killed some of Dostum's troops, so they stopped with the bombing, but they continued to try to exterminate these prisoners.
There was a British journalist there named Luke Harding, and he wrote at the time that "Dostum's Northern Alliance and his British and American allies had only one plan: to kill all those in the compound." On Friday, the 30th of November, after six days, they flooded the basement with water from an irrigation stream and that killed many of the remaining soldiers down there in the basement. As Luke Harding wrote, "For those who had died, it had been a cold, terrifying, and squalid extinction." Harding wrote, "We had expected slaughter, but I was unprepared for its hellish scale."
John was discovered among the 86 survivors of this massacre in the basement of the building, and he instantly became an international sensation. He was quickly dubbed the "American Taliban" in Newsweek magazine which initially broke the story.
[...] John had the AK-47 bullet in his thigh and numerous shrapnel wounds. He was very near death when he arrived at Sheberghen. [...] Upon his capture, John was quickly transferred from Dostum's custody to the custody of the U.S. military. I would have thought at that point that John was in safe hands, and John himself thought the same thing because he said so in a brief letter that he dictated to the Red Cross who visited him that first day. But an order, emanating directly from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, instructed the U.S. military to "take the gloves off" in the questioning of John Lindh.
[...] John's bullet wound was left festering and untreated; he was blindfolded and bound hand and foot with tight plastic strips that caused severe pain. He was stripped naked and duct-taped and, in this condition, blindfolded, bound naked to a stretcher and then left in the cold in an unheated metal shipping container on the desert floor in Afghanistan.