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Archive for Sunday, September 1, 2002

Cooperative Lindh seeks forgiveness

September 1, 2002

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— John Walker Lindh's lawyers say he is telling federal agents everything he knows, and he wants Americans to forgive him for joining the Taliban military.

The United States would be interested in Lindh's knowledge of other fighters he met as well as places he had been in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before his military training in Afghanistan, he spent time in a pro-Taliban border region of Pakistan.

Lindh attorneys Tony West and George Harris, in interviews last week, would not describe the information their client is providing, and government officials refused to comment.

Lindh, 21, is undergoing debriefings with several government agencies as part of a plea agreement. He would receive a maximum 20-year prison term if officials are satisfied with his cooperation and the judge approves the deal at an Oct. 4 sentencing proceeding. Multiple agencies are attending the debriefings, West said.

Lindh "was not unique in being a Westerner who converted to Islam and decided to fight against the northern alliance," the anti-Taliban militia that became a U.S. ally, West said. "John ran into many Westerners who converted."

The lawyers wouldn't say whether the Westerners included Americans. Authorities know of one other U.S. citizen who fought with the Taliban: Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was born in Louisiana and is being detained by the military in Norfolk, Va. Lindh was in a Taliban unit consisting of non-Afghan fighters.

Lindh never contemplated that he would be fighting in a war that Americans would enter, the lawyers said. He now believes he made a terrible mistake by enlisting with Afghanistan's former harsh Islamic rulers and wants Americans to forgive him, West said.

Lindh understands Americans' extremely negative feelings toward him, West said. He wants his countrymen to know that he was not a terrorist and never joined Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, even though he met bin Laden in a military training camp in Afghanistan.

"He understands Sept. 11 changed the way people view Islam and that he came into national consciousness at a time there was a great deal of justified national pain and anger," West said.

"He made a mistake. He admits he made a terrible mistake. No one wants to be judged by the worst mistake they made when they were 20 years old."

Lindh is in the Alexandria, Va., Detention Center, and the government's rules of confinement do not permit him to give interviews.

He is confined to his cell virtually the entire day except for the debriefings, family visits and meetings with his lawyers. He hopes to soon be allowed in an outdoor prisoner area.

Still a devout Muslim, Lindh reads the Quran and prays every day. He believes bin Laden and the Sept. 11 hijackers acted contrary to Islam's teachings by attacking innocent civilians and in the attackers' case committing suicide, the lawyers said.

He spends much of his day reading, picking books from a library cart sent to his cell. His choices have included biographies of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela; works by Maya Angelou and James Joyce; and plays by William Shakespeare.

Lindh pleaded guilty July 15 to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during commission of a felony.

He went to school in Pakistan. While living in a region dominated by Taliban supporters before Sept. 11, he became convinced the Taliban sought to establish a pure Islamic nation and joined their army because he believed in what they were doing.

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