X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
John Walker Lindh’s lawyers are waging their most important pretrial fight, hoping to keep jurors from hearing the U.S.-born Taliban soldier’s statements about meeting Osama bin Laden and knowing of al-Qaida operations. The legal dispute, to be argued this week before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia, could reverberate well beyond Lindh’s case to other prisoners captured in the war on terrorism. Lindh represents a new breed of defendant — someone originally picked up as an enemy combatant in a war zone and later transferred to the civilian court system. Ellis must determine whether such prisoners should be immediately advised of their right to remain silent and have an attorney present during interrogation. Lindh’s lawyers say yes. Prosecutors respond that the rule on questioning “has no place at the battlefield.” Several of the Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners now being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could find themselves in a similar situation if the government chooses to prosecute them in the criminal justice system. “I think we’re looking at new law where you have combatants against the United States,” said Michael O’Neill, a law professor at George Mason University and a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Legal experts said they were unaware of any precedents. Captured soldiers who are prisoners of war have rights under international treaties, and the military applies the usual civilian warnings to defendants prosecuted under its own military justice system. But POWs and military combatants usually are not switched to the civilian system. Personally, the stakes are high for Lindh since his statements form the backbone of his indictment. “If he loses and the statements go in, he’s going to have a very difficult time,” O’Neill said. “If Lindh wins (by having the statements suppressed), it all depends on what other information the government has against him.” Charges against Lindh include conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens, contributing services to al-Qaida and the Taliban and using firearms during crimes of violence. Three of the 10 counts carry maximum terms of life imprisonment for Lindh, who was captured in early December and transferred to civilian custody in late January. Beginning today, Judge Ellis will hear from witnesses including military officials who came in contact with Lindh, 21, after his capture. Defense lawyers argue that Lindh should have been advised of his rights by the military, not only from his first interrogation by U.S. forces but even at a CNN interview — just after his capture — in which special forces personnel participated in the questioning. The defense team also says any damaging statements were involuntary because Lindh was wounded and malnourished and at times was blindfolded, shackled and sleep-deprived. The government counters that military questioners were gathering intelligence from an enemy soldier, not conducting a criminal investigation. Rather than mistreating Lindh, prosecutors say he was cared for as well as American soldiers, spoke voluntarily at all times and, when interviewed by the FBI in Afghanistan, signed a paper waiving his right to a lawyer. While Lindh’s team disputes government accounts of Lindh’s statements, prosecutors contend he described enlisting in the Taliban; training at a camp the government says was run by al-Qaida; meeting with bin Laden in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001; and learning from others at the camp that the al-Qaida leader had sent operatives to carry out suicide missions against the United States and Israel. Beth Wilkinson, a former federal prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, said Lindh’s arguments shouldn’t be allowed to prevail. “You shouldn’t get to switch sides and invoke your constitutional rights as a sword against the government,” she said. Robert Precht, an assistant dean at the University of Michigan law school, said Lindh’s best chance is to argue that his statements were made during oppressive conditions of confinement. Lindh’s prison conditions are in dispute. “John, you’re eating as much as I am,” a U.S. sailor told Lindh according to the government. Prosecutors said that if an “underweight, filthy, soiled” Lindh had remained with his Taliban colleagues, he might have become a Taliban casualty rather than recover with U.S. medical care. The government says he was fed the same meals-ready-to-eat as U.S. soldiers. The defense counters Lindh was all but tortured and offered this description of his confinement in a metal shipping container at a primitive U.S. base in Afghanistan, Camp Rhino: “There was no light, heat source or insulation inside the container. Two small holes in the sides … allowed some light and air to enter. Military guards frequently shouted epithets at Mr. Lindh … and discussed spitting in Mr. Lindh’s food. “Mr. Lindh’s hands and feet remained restrained such that his forearms were forced together and fully extended, pointing straight down toward his feet. The pain from the wrist restraints was intense.” After an earlier hearing on Lindh’s claims that his rights were violated, Ellis ruled from the bench and rejected every defense argument. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.