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A boy and his dogma (The John Walker Lindh Story, As Told By His Father...)
Pacific Sun ^ | Fri Mar 22, 2013 | Joanne Williams

Posted on 04/02/2013 10:12:55 PM PDT by nickcarraway

From American teenager to 'American Taliban'—the John Walker Lindh story, as told by his father...

In 2001, in the opening throes of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the nation learned that one of its own had been captured as an Afghan fighter—an American Taliban—and that his formative years had been spent in safe confines of San Anselmo.

Decried by none other than George H.W. Bush as a defining example of what one expects from "Marin County hot-tubbers," 20-year-old John Walker Lindh became, to some, a national symbol of anti-Americanism and a progeny of Marin's moral relativity and entitled liberalism. While to others he's been seen as a convenient scapegoat for a Bush administration desperate to create a war narrative replete with heroes, villains and traitors. But to his father, John is a beloved son whose youthful choices, wise or unwise, have taken him on a journey no parent wishes for his or her children. Here's the real story, according to Frank Lindh.

—Jason Walsh, editor

"My body is in prison but my mind is not incarcerated. Prayer is like breathing to me."

—John Walker Lindh

"American Taliban" screamed across the headlines when John Walker Lindh, a young man from San Anselmo, was discovered in a dank basement in a remote area of Afghanistan in 2001. The media storm started then but John Lindh's journey to Afghanistan had its roots many years before. "John's interest in Islam started when he was 12 and became acquainted with the history of Malcom X, the African-American Black Muslim leader," his father, Frank Lindh, said. At age 16 he became a Muslim and adopted the djellaba, the traditional men's floor-length garment. Picture a dark-haired 16-year-old as he rode his bicycle from San Anselmo each week to a mosque in Mill Valley, where he studied and converted to the Muslim faith, leaving his Catholic upbringing behind. He yearned to learn Arabic in order to read the Koran in its original language, an imperative of all Muslim scholars.

Frank Lindh, an attorney with the state Public Utilities Commission, drew the largest crowd ever at a Seniors for Peace meeting at the Redwoods retirement community in Mill Valley earlier this month, with a moving account of how his now 32-year-old son landed in a special wing at a medium security federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana, for the past 10 years, with at least six more to go.

A tall, serious man with a trimmed beard, a poised demeanor and kind eyes, Frank Lindh used PowerPoint to explain John's metamorphosis that took him to Yemen at age 20 to study Arabic and then to Pakistan for a few months. Later John made the journey over the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan as an armed fighter. He believed he was helping the Afghanistan people against the Northern Alliance, led by a brutal Afghan warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum whose militias were terrorizing villagers and extorting money from them. It was Afghan against Afghan in tribal warfare that goes back generations, and was fed by the failed Soviet invasion. "John was a peaceful young man. He was named after John Lennon and John Marshall, the outstanding chief justice of the Supreme Court," Lindh said. "John told me 'I need to learn the Muslim faith, I need to read the Koran in Arabic,'" and so from 1998 to 2000 he went to Sana'a, Yemen, to study Arabic and the next year to a madrassa (Islamic school) in Pakistan to memorize the Koran in Arabic. "He loved the culture, he went native," Lindh said. "He was full of youthful idealism, not terrorism."

Frank Lindh and John's mother, Marilyn Walker, were in contact with John through email until he went to Takhar in remote Afghanistan to join the Taliban, where he was given two hand grenades and a rifle, regular issue to Taliban fighters, to fight the Northern Alliance. The Russian-backed warlords were notorious for human rights violations through the 1990s—and by the turn of the century the Taliban's reputation wasn't much better. By 2001, the Taliban government maintained control over the rest of the country with a harsh version of Islamic law. "People ask us if John had our permission to go to Afghanistan. He did not. We knew nothing about his intention to join the Taliban," Lindh said.

Ironically, in April 2001 the U.S. granted $43 million to the Taliban government for opium eradication. This aid was, according to The New York Times, a "first cautious step toward reducing the isolation of the Taliban" by the Bush administration. That year John enrolled in an Afghan army infantry training camp. He met Osama bin Laden, who helped fund the training camp, but Al Qaeda terrorist training and planning were conducted separately and were highly secretive. John told his parents he knew nothing about the terrorist training camps. In September 2001, as America reeled in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, John Lindh arrived at the front line in Takhar. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials were drawing plans for Operation Enduring Freedom—the invasion of Afghanistan intended to destroy Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization and remove the Al Qaeda-friendly Taliban from power.

On Oct. 7, the U.S. aerial bombing started and the fighters retreated to Kunduz, where Gen. Dostum, emboldened by U.S. support for the Northern Alliance, offered "safe passage" of Taliban prisoners in return for $200,000 in cash. But Dostum was a shape-shifter, imprisoning and slaughtering the prisoners held at the ancient Qala-i-Jhangi fortress in the desert as they sat with their elbows tied together. ••••

ON A SUNDAY morning in late November 2001, while in the custody of Gen. Dostum's troops John Lindh was interrogated at Qala-i-Jhangi by two American secret CIA agents, Mike Spann and David Tyson.

"John didn't know they were American or CIA," Lindh said, "and he was afraid to say anything." Minutes after the agents left the former Redwood High School student, Taliban prisoners rioted. According to reports, the agents were swarmed. In the ensuing melee, hundreds of Afghans from both sides were killed in what was to become known as the Battle of Qala-i-Jhangi. Among the dead was Spann—the first American killed in the invasion of Afghanistan. Among the 86 Taliban survivors discovered days later in the basement of the fortress, known as the "Pink House," was John Walker Lindh, who lay wounded after a brutal attack by Dostum's forces.

"John was among the few who survived a vicious assault on the basement prisoners, many of whom died either by hand grenades thrown down on them, a purposely flooded floor, where the wounded drowned, and an oil-induced fire." Other Taliban prisoners asphyxiated in locked shipping containers.

"John was declared a terrorist and sent to [the U.S. base] Camp Rhino in Afghanistan where he was held naked and untreated for a gunshot wound for two days in an unheated shipping container," his father said. Denied Red Cross access or contact with his family, John refused to talk about his experience, afraid he would be shot.

Back in the U.S., John was tried on charges of terrorism and at 20 years old was sentenced to 20 years. "He had no legal counsel for 54 days," Lindh said, "and was denied his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination."

According to Lindh, throughout this period, in public announcements in the press, no official—including President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. John McCain, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft and then-Sen. Clinton—defended John Walker Lindh; in fact they made prejudicial remarks against him, declaring him a terrorist because he made "attacks on Americans."

"Fortunately we were able to find a heroic attorney to represent John—James Brosnahan of Morrison and Foerster in San Francisco," Lindh said. "His defense was founded on the facts that John went to Afghanistan well before 9/11, with the sole intent of helping civilians. He never fought against America, he had no involvement whatsoever with terrorism and the government's case was built on torture, innuendo and highly prejudicial pretrial statements and media coverage."

Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo remarked, in a memo of Dec. 21, 2001, "We emphasize that our information as to Mr. Walker's (sic) activities is very sketchy." Elsewhere, a Department of Justice ethics lawyer wrote, "At present we have no knowledge that he did anything other than join the Taliban."

In a plea agreement in July 2002, John admitted to one substantive charge only, serving as a soldier in the Taliban army, a "violation of U.S. trade sanctions." He admitted to carrying arms and as part of the agreement he had to waive any claims of torture. "John still has scars from torture," his father said. Still, he was given a 20-year prison term and is in isolation in a federal prison where there are some 45 other prisoners, most of them Muslim. ••••

RECENTLY JOHN SUCCESSFULLY sued for the right to pray five times a day. As an adherent of the Hanbali school of Islam he believes that congregation with fellow Muslims for all five daily Salat prayers is mandatory. (The U.S. government filed no appeal and group prayer was set to begin March 13.) “We can visit him only through a glass partition and a telephone,” Lindh said, “but he retains his amazing spirit.” He didn’t want to agree to the plea deal because he had never waged war against Americans or provide services to Al Qaeda.

John, his father and mother can speak on the phone once a week. All personal mail is monitored. Because of a court decree he is allowed to engage in contact sports, play cards and watch movies and television, including Muslim videos in the Arabic language. He lives alone in a one-person cell with a bed and toilet/sink unit.

"John was a serious kid, but he also had a wonderful sense of humor," his father recalled. "He was playful and smart, good with languages and music. He was a wonderful brother to his sister and older brother. Today he remains a deeply spiritual person with tremendous physical courage. The government created a myth and it's hard to get out of it."

Responding to questions from the audience, Lindh said John's siblings, Connell, 34, and Naomi, 24, have never suffered any negative repercussions or hostility at school or work as a consequence of their brother's notoriety. "Nor, for that matter, have Marilyn or I ever had any difficulties in our daily lives with hostility from ordinary people.

"Of course, having John incarcerated is a hardship and a heartbreak for all of us. But the fact he maintains such high spirits despite everything is a great source of comfort, and makes all the difference in the world for us. John himself has never shown any sign of post-traumatic stress or depression, even after long periods of solitary confinement. He is quite remarkable in this respect."

Although Frank Lindh's audience of some 200 men and women was respectful, an anonymous caller a few days before expressed disgust about this program. As a precaution the Redwoods management asked the Mill Valley police to make a round or two during the event. All remained quiet. A spokesman for Seniors for Peace thanked Frank Lindh, because "you spoke to us of justice, courage and honesty."

Lindh a hand

If you are sympathetic to the fate of John Walker Lindh you may write to Sen. Dianne Feinstein and President Barack Obama asking for clemency and a pardon for him. His projected release is in 2019.


Frank Lindh responded to a variety of questions in our correspondence—not all of which fit smoothly into the flow of our finished story. Here are a few excerpts of particular interest. —Joanne Williams

If John were to marry would he ask his wife to wear the hijab or other Muslim dress? I don't know how John would answer that question about his future wife. I do know he certainly hopes to be happily married some day, after regaining his freedom.

Where would John fall on the religious spectrum between moderate and fundamentalist?

I would not describe John as a "fundamentalist" at all, because it suggests a kind of closed-mindedness. He remains (and has always been) an intellectually curious and open-minded person. So, the term "fundamentalist" definitely is not descriptive of John. By the same token, however, he is what I would characterize as very traditional in his adherence to the Islamic faith and its various doctrines.

How do you handle your differences of opinion regarding faith?

John and I talk about religion a lot during our visits. I still adhere to my Roman Catholic faith, and John to his adopted religion, but we find a lot of common ground despite the differences. He has never attempted to "convert" me or his mother or brother or sister to his adopted faith.

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; US: California
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To: Moltke

Everybody who reads this: remember John Michael Spann and remember to damn Taliban Johnny to hell.

21 posted on 04/03/2013 3:52:00 AM PDT by miss marmelstein ( Richard Lives Yet!)
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To: nickcarraway

Bush’s whole operation went to hell when he...........
Failed to prosecute for treason....
....then HANG, this SOB.

22 posted on 04/03/2013 4:37:40 AM PDT by Flintlock ("The British are coming" to TAKE OUR GUNS!--Paul Revere)
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To: Moltke

Don’t forget “He was jus’ turnin’ his life around!”

Anyway, if GHWB called the Lindh’s “Marin County hot-tubbers”, he was being too kind. Whacked-out liberal kumbaya fruitcakes is more like it.

23 posted on 04/03/2013 6:37:24 AM PDT by elcid1970 ("The Second Amendment is more important than Islam.")
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To: nickcarraway

” That year John enrolled in an Afghan army infantry training camp. He met Osama bin Laden, who helped fund the training camp”

His first big mistake. Well right after being dumb enough to turn Muslim.

24 posted on 04/03/2013 7:57:55 AM PDT by Georgia Girl 2 (The only purpose of a pistol is to fight your way back to the rifle you should never have dropped.)
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To: nickcarraway
How do you handle your differences of opinion regarding faith?

In the case of the muslim "faith," I defer to Vlad the Impaler and Charles Martel.

25 posted on 04/03/2013 11:34:43 AM PDT by RobinOfKingston (Democrats--the party of Evil. Republicans--the party of Stupid.)
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“He was a confused teenager whose father turned queer. Where is that written?”

And his father choosing to be a queer had a profoundly negative impact on his son. As I recall daddy divorced mommy to go live with his new main squeeze.

26 posted on 04/03/2013 2:37:35 PM PDT by saneright
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