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In what could become the highest profile case of his career, San Francisco-based Morrison & Foerster partner James Brosnahan is representing John Walker, the U.S. citizen who joined the Taliban and was recently captured in Afghanistan. “We have asked our government for safe passage for John’s parents and me to visit with John as soon as possible,” Brosnahan said in a statement. “We also asked that no charges be filed against John until we have had an opportunity to speak with the United States government.” Brosnahan on Tuesday declined to discuss the case further. One of the best-known litigators in the Bay Area, Brosnahan, 67, has handled other highly publicized political cases. Most notably, he represented Kevin Artt, an alleged member of the Irish Republican Army, in his legal battle against extradition to the United Kingdom. The case ended last year when the U.K. government dropped its extradition request. Brosnahan was also part of a legal team that investigated the murder of Irish attorney Rosemary Nelson. Known for her defense of Irish nationalists, Nelson was killed by a car bomb in 1999. But the case against Walker has far greater political ramifications. It raises questions about what constitutes war and acts of treason. Legal scholars said several legal arguments could be presented in Walker’s defense. “The obvious issue is there is no declared war here,” said Jesse Choper, a constitutional law professor at Boalt Hall. “That’s going to make a difference.” Choper said Walker could claim as a defense that he was brainwashed or that he had no knowledge that he was fighting the United States. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday that Walker, who grew up in Marin County, had dropped his father’s last name and instead used his mother’s. His father, Frank Lindh, is an attorney for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Lindh could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, a professor at Stanford Law School, said Walker could be charged with the commission of a war crime, treason, or held as a prisoner of war for engaging in a military combat operation. If the latter course is taken, Cuellar said an argument could be made that the United States had not formally declared war on Afghanistan or the Taliban regime. “Treason is more of a legal thicket,” Cuellar said. “The publicity and embarrassment of not being able to make a case of treason” may deter the government from bringing such a charge. Cuellar and Choper said U.S. officials are unlikely to try Walker through a military tribunal. President Bush signed an executive order last month establishing a military tribunal to try non-U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. The government “can’t revoke his citizenship,” Choper said. “He would have to voluntarily relinquish it.” If the government tries to broaden the executive order there would be “growing opposition” to a tribunal, Cuellar said. “It’s a huge headache” for the government, Cuellar added. “They planned to have a nice tidy distinction” between foreign and domestic acts of aggression. It’s not clear, however, if the headache will extend to Brosnahan’s firm, Morrison & Foerster. Representing a member of the Taliban — albeit an American citizen — may become something of a political and public relations hot potato. But the firm’s chairman, Keith Wetmore, wasn’t ready Tuesday to tackle the public relations aspects of taking on the case. “It’s too early in the representation,” he said.

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