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Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Both sides seek to delay trial until mid-November

February 13, 2002

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— John Walker Lindh pleaded innocent Wednesday to a 10-count federal indictment that charged him with conspiring to kill Americans while a Taliban soldier, and aiding Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

"Not guilty, sir," Lindh said after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III asked, "How do you plead to all the charges."

It was Lindh's third appearance at the federal courthouse since he was brought back to the United States by military aircraft on Jan. 24. His parents, John Lindh and Nancy Walker, were there for the arraignment, as they had been for his previous court appearances. Also present were Johnny and Gail Spann, the parents of CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann, who was killed in a prison uprising in Mazar e-Sharif in November, shortly after questioning Lindh.

Lindh no longer has the shaved head that he had in his initial appearances and his black hair, still closely cropped, was starting to grow back. He was clean-shaven, a sharp contrast from the long beard and long-hair scene in televised images of him from Aghanistan.

Lindh answered, "Yes" and "Yes" and "Correct, sir," when the judge asked whether he had seen the indictment and had reviewed it with his attorneys.

Ellis did not set a trial date, but said that as a target, he would like jury selection to begin in late August. He scheduled a hearing for Friday to set a trial date and go over a pre-trial schedule, which would likely include hearings on handling classified information in the case.

The government and defense counsel had suggested in motions Tuesday that the trial not begin before mid-November, but Ellis said that was too long to wait.

"November is too far," Ellis said, adding that he was thinking of a trial in September.

Outside the courthouse, Spann's parents said they were there to see justice done.

"Tell them, Americans will not tolerate traitors," Spann told reporters on the courthouse steps.

"We sent our son ...to a faraway land to fight against evil so we could continue to live and enjoy the freedom that we live in today," he said. "But as we all know, freedom is not free. Bodies have come home draped in flags, and Mike's was the first."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows said he expected the government's case to take two weeks.

In asking for a November trial, the defense had said it would need time to conduct overseas investigations, handle classified information, argue for suppression of evidence and allow the effects of prejudicial publicity to fade.

Federal prosecutors said they disagreed with a delay due to publicity, but accepted the other reasons for a November date.

Until now the two sides have agreed on little, with prosecutors portraying Lindh as a cold-blooded killer who hated America, and the defense contending he signed up to fight the anti-Taliban northern alliance, not the United States.

Lindh, who just turned 21, could face life imprisonment if convicted of the major charges.

The defense said in the motion that "due to the high level of prejudicial publicity, passage of time will be necessary in order that the defendant receive a fair and impartial trial."

The federal courthouse in Alexandria is just a few miles from the Pentagon, where suicide hijackers crashed one of the four airliners they commandeered on Sept. 11.

Pointing out that the indictment describes Lindh's conduct in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the defense said it would conduct interviews abroad. Lindh's lawyers also served notice that pretrial hearings would be required on the handling of classified information.

Lindh trained in an Osama bin Laden camp in Pakistan and stayed after he was told bin Laden "had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel," the indictment charges.

Bin Laden is the No. 1 suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lindh's lawyers have argued in court and to the news media that the government is relying on a tainted FBI interview of Lindh in Afghanistan, conducted without a lawyer present. The government countered that Lindh signed a paper waiving his right to an attorney.

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