John Walker Lindh indicted, accused of conspiring to kill Americans in Afghanistan
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A federal grand jury indicted John Walker Lindh on 10 charges Tuesday, alleging he was trained by Osama bin Laden’s network and then conspired with the Taliban to kill Americans.
Lindh’s lawyers, nonetheless, pleaded for his release until trial, and said “highly coercive” prison conditions forced him to waive his right to remain silent — and confess his activities as a Taliban soldier to the FBI in Afghanistan.
With his arraignment scheduled for Monday, the indictment accused Lindh of conspiring to provide support to terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, supplying services to Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers and possessing weapons during violent crimes. Lindh faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
“John Walker Lindh chose to train with al-Qaida, chose to fight with the Taliban, chose to be led by Osama bin Laden,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “The reasons for his choices may never be fully known to us, but the fact of these choices is clear.
“Americans who love their country do not dedicate themselves to killing Americans,” Ashcroft told a Justice Department news conference called to announce the charges.
The indictment supersedes a criminal complaint that was based on statements Lindh made to the FBI in Afghanistan in December.
The indictment said that in May or June last year, Lindh agreed to attend an al-Qaida training camp “knowing that America and its citizens were the enemies of bin Laden and al-Qaida and that a principal purpose of al-Qaida was to fight and kill Americans.”
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the indictment said, Lindh remained with his fighting group “despite having been told that bin Laden had ordered the attacks, that additional terrorist attacks were planned and that additional al-Qaida personnel were being sent from training camps to the front lines to protect bin Laden and defend against an anticipated military response from the United States.”
Ashcroft sought to address charges by Lindh’s lawyers that his confessions were improperly obtained, and that his civil rights had been violated.
“At each step in this process,” he said, “Walker Lindh’s rights, including his rights not to incriminate himself and to be represented by counsel, have been carefully, scrupulously honored.”
Asked if the government considered asking the grand jury to charge Lindh with treason, U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said, “As far as other charges, we have the opportunity or right to have a superseding indictment if the evidence justifies that.”
Earlier Tuesday, lawyers for Lindh asked that he be released pending trial, contending there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and no danger that he would flee. A hearing is set for Wednesday on the government’s bid to continue holding Lindh without bond.
“There are no allegations and no evidence that he ever so much as fired a shot, even at (U.S.-backed) northern alliance soldiers,” Lindh’s defense team said in a written motion.
The filing also contended that the government’s charges, based on an FBI affidavit, are so weak that they are “insufficient to establish probable cause for the crimes charged.” In addition to contending Lindh was no risk to flee, the lawyers also said he had no history of violent or dangerous conduct.
McNulty said the government would answer the charges by Lindh’s lawyers at Wednesday’s hearing. But he noted that the indictment includes a charge that under federal law carries “a presumption that a person would be detained” until trial.
The lawyers asked that Lindh be permitted to stay with his father, Frank, and said he would be willing to use electronic monitoring devices to track his movements. The hearing was to be held before U.S. Magistrate W. Curtis Sewell.
Lindh was apprehended by U.S. authorities and northern alliance allies in Afghanistan in early December after a prison uprising, during which a CIA agent was killed. The 20-year-old was brought back to the United States by military aircraft on Jan. 23 and appeared in court the following day, with his parents looking on.
In the court papers filed Tuesday, the defense team portrayed Lindh as a man who never attempted to harm any civilian and contended there was “no evidence that Mr. Lindh made any attempt to engage in combat with United States military forces.”
The lawyers said that the entire case against Lindh was based on an FBI interview Dec. 9-10 in Afghanistan without a lawyer present and argued this was “insufficient to establish probable cause for the crimes charged.”
Ashcroft has said that Lindh signed a paper waiving his right to an attorney during the FBI interview, but the defense said Lindh agreed to do so under “highly coercive conditions.”
The lawyers said Lindh had been held incommunicado for eight days, provided minimal food and medical attention for a gunshot or shrapnel wound and was kept inside a metal container during severely cold weather.
The defense also contended there was no evidence that Lindh played any part in the prison riot by captured Taliban and al-Qaida soldiers that resulted in the death of CIA agent Micheal Spann.
“Even according to the facts alleged in the affidavit, however, the only services ever provided by Mr. Lindh were as a foot soldier for the Taliban,” the motion said.