American found with Taliban makes quiet court appearance

In Va., Lindh answers judge's questions, speaks with parents

January 25, 2002|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old American who authorities say left a wealthy San Francisco suburb to fight on a scorched desert battlefield alongside the Taliban, made his first public appearance here yesterday to face charges that he conspired to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

Wearing a dark-green prison jumpsuit with his arms at his side, Lindh answered quietly but clearly, "Yes, I do," when U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell asked whether he understood the charges against him.

Asked whether he had any questions, Lindh replied, "No, sir, I don't have any questions." The judge ordered Lindh held without bond.

Gone was the accent that Lindh had previously used in a television interview from Afghanistan, as if English were not his native language. Also absent were the long hair and beard he wore when he was captured in late November with Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Instead, Lindh appeared with a shaved head and slight facial hair, looking a bit dazed. A Pentagon spokesman said Lindh had asked to have his head and beard shaved several days ago while he was in military custody.

Lindh, who previously used his mother's last name of Walker but now goes by his father's last name, was charged last week in a criminal complaint with, among other things, conspiracy to kill Americans, giving support to al-Qaida and engaging in unlawful transactions with the Taliban. He could face life in prison if convicted.

Lindh is being held at an Alexandria detention facility pending a preliminary hearing set for Feb. 6. Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said the government was reserving the right to add further charges and might seek an indictment from a grand jury, instead of holding the hearing.

A trial date won't be set for some time.

Yesterday, Lindh's lead attorney, James J. Brosnahan of San Francisco, said Lindh spent 20 minutes earlier in the morning speaking with his parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, whom he had not seen in two years, through a glass partition while authorities listened. Brosnahan said he and Lindh's four other attorneys then met with him privately for 45 minutes. Four in the group, including Brosnahan, are former federal prosecutors.

At the hearing, held under tight security, Lindh blinked repeatedly but made no eye contact with his parents. Marilyn Walker often put her head down and closed her eyes.

Lindh glanced occasionally at David Kelley, an assistant U.S. attorney, who persuaded the magistrate that bail should be denied because he posed a flight risk and was a danger to the community.

In a sign of his legal strategy, Brosnahan argued after the hearing that Lindh had been denied an attorney, saying his client had repeatedly asked for one since the first days of December, when Lindh was taken into the custody by U.S. Special Forces.

"For 54 days, the United States government has kept [Lindh] away from a lawyer," Brosnahan said, adding that during that time, Lindh was not told of any charges against him. "He began requesting a lawyer almost immediately."

Brosnahan asserted that law enforcement officials had been aware since early December that Lindh wanted an attorney. The government countered that Lindh signed a statement waiving his right to an attorney before the FBI interviewed him Dec. 9 and 10.

Yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft said of Lindh: "John chose to join the terrorists who wanted to kill Americans, and he chose to waive his right to an attorney, both orally and in writing, before his statement to the FBI."

When pressed about whether he had ever been told that Lindh wanted an attorney, Ashcroft said only: "I'm not going to try and anticipate or talk about all kinds of other circumstances. Our complaint is based upon facts that are alleged clearly in the complaint."

Lindh, who converted to Islam when he was 16, was captured when he and some Taliban and al-Qaida troops surrendered. The group was taken to a prison compound near Mazar-e Sharif and later revolted in a bloody uprising that killed Johnny "Mike" Spann, a CIA officer. Lindh, who was shot in the leg, was taken to a medical facility, where medics and a television news crew discovered that he was an American.

According to the criminal complaint, Lindh spent nearly two months training in an al-Qaida camp and on one occasion met Osama bin Laden. The complaint says Lindh told federal agents that he knew as early as June that several al-Qaida members had been sent to the United States on a suicide mission.

Yesterday, his parents seemed sad but calm, flanked by their attorneys and several security personnel. The group has set up a temporary press room in Alexandria to handle calls from reporters.

Lindh arrived from Afghanistan on Wednesday evening aboard a military cargo plane that landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. Later that night, his parents tried to visit him at the detention center in Alexandria but were turned away.

After the hearing, Lindh's mother seemed near tears as she spoke of seeing her son.

"It was wonderful to see him this morning," she said. "My love for him is unconditional and absolute, and I am grateful to God that he's been brought home to his family, to me, to his home in this country."

Frank Lindh said his son was in good physical condition but added he was "troubled" that John Lindh received no further medical attention for his wound at Camp Rhino, a U.S. Marine outpost in southern Afghanistan.

He said his son never meant to do anyone any harm.

"John loves America," he said. "We love America. John did not do anything against America. John did not take up arms against America. He never meant harm to any American, and he never did harm any American."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.