Saturday, December 20, 2008

Family of 'American Taliban' renews petition to set him free

So-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh's family and attorneys again are urging President George W. Bush to release the Marin County man from federal prison.

Lindh, now 27, converted to Islam as a teenager and studied the Koran in Yemen and Pakistan before going to Afghanistan, where he fought for the Taliban before and after Sept. 11, 2001, until his unit surrendered to Northern Alliance forces that November.

He had faced charges that could have sent him to prison for life, including conspiring to kill Americans abroad, but pleaded guilty in July 2002 to one count of providing services to the Taliban and one count of carrying explosives during a felony — all terrorism-related charges against him were dropped.

"This is the last year that President Bush could consider giving a commutation to John Walker Lindh, and there are very good reasons to do that," attorney Jim Brosnahan said at a news conference Wednesday in San Francisco. "I've never eliminated the idea that President Bush might think it's the right thing to do, now that John has served seven years."

Raj Chatterjee, another of Lindh's attorneys, said others detained and/or charged in the "War on Terror" under similar or more serious circumstances have been released after serving less time.

"There's a fundamental principle of U.S. jurisprudence, and that is that prison sentences must be fair and similar cases should be treated similarly," he said. "It has Advertisementbecome abundantly clear that John has been treated differently."

Lindh's earlier petitions — at least three since 2004 — have been ignored.

Frank Lindh said they're still pinning all hopes on Bush because the events transpired during his administration, rather than waiting for Barack Obama to become president. Bush initially had referred to Lindh as a "poor fellow" who "has been misled," but later supported his prosecution.

Brosnahan said then-Attorney General John Ashcroft "lied to the public" about Lindh, perhaps because Ashcroft was frustrated at not having more high-profile defendants — such as Osama bin Laden or the Taliban's Mullah Omar — to charge. "It was an opportunistic decision on his part to convert John into some kind of synthetic person," he said.

It's time to rectify that, Marilyn Walker said.

"Our son never fought against American forces; he did not participate in terrorist activities of any kind," she said, noting he has admitted that joining the Taliban's army was a mistake. "This is the Christmas season, and it is a time of mercy. ... Please, Mr. President, show mercy for our son and for our family."

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