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Kiriakou writes: "Remember John Walker Lindh? The media called him the American Taliban. Lindh was arrested in northern Afghanistan in November 2001."

(photo: The Washington Post) John Kiriakou.
John Kiriakou. (photo: The Washington Post)

The American Taliban Meets American Politics

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

25 May 19


emember John Walker Lindh? The media called him the American Taliban (sic; taliban is the plural of talib, which means “student” in both Arabic and Pashto). Lindh was arrested in northern Afghanistan in November 2001 at a fortress being used as a prison called Qalat e-Jangvi. Lindh had been fighting alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance when he was caught in the middle of a firefight between the Taliban and US troops. All but 80 of the estimated 500 Taliban fighters were killed.

A CIA officer also was killed. Johnny “Mike” Spann had interviewed Lindh a few hours before he was attacked by Taliban fighters, overwhelmed, and murdered. Mike Spann was a colleague of mine in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. He was the first CIA officer killed in the line of duty after the September 11 attacks. His death was major news, and he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Spann’s death was an easy and obvious good guy/bad guy scenario. Mike Spann had dedicated his life to public service. He had a young wife and a six-month-old child. He had served in the Special Forces. And he had volunteered to go to Afghanistan for the CIA just hours after the attacks.

Lindh, on the other hand, was the proverbial “lost soul.” He was the middle child in a nuclear family, born in Silver Spring, Maryland, and raised in San Anselmo, California. His father was an attorney and his mother a progressive activist. Lindh, though, was restless. He dropped out of high school and earned a GED at the age of 16. That same year, he converted to Islam. At 17 he traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, and at 18, he joined the Taliban.

Many Americans were shocked on November 25, 2001, when Lindh, looking filthy and emaciated, with a long beard, and having been wounded, was arrested by US forces at Qalat e-Jangvi. And most Americans were out for blood. The word “treason” was bandied about in news reports of his arrest, and talking heads on the cable news networks talked about a sentence of life without parole for “aiding the enemy.”

But that’s not what happened. Lindh hadn’t committed treason, a crime which is specifically defined in the Constitution. He hadn’t aided the enemy or supported a terrorist group. The Taliban, after all, was not listed as a terrorist group by the State Department. The United States was not at war with the Taliban. (Indeed, the US has not been legally at war with anybody since December 7, 1941.) Lindh hadn’t borne arms against the United States. He was in Afghanistan fighting the US-allied Northern Alliance.

Lindh was initially charged with ten felonies, which could have resulted in a sentence of life plus 90 years. Instead, the Justice Department, recognizing the weakness of its case, offered him a plea bargain: Plead guilty to “supplying services” to the Taliban and to carrying an explosive in the commission of a felony and all other charges would be dropped. The two sides agreed on a sentence of 20 years in a federal penitentiary. (Lindh would also be prohibited from speaking about his case until 2022, and he would not be allowed access to the internet for the same period. Furthermore, he would not be allowed to email any individual or organization to discuss Islam or any information relative to his case.) He agreed.

That sentence has finally expired. John Walker Lindh was released from prison on May 23, and the outrage was immediate.

Senators Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) wrote to President Trump decrying Lindh’s release and asking why he was released from prison “early,” how many other “terrorists” will be released before 2025, what will be done to reduce terrorist recidivism, and where “released terrorists” will be relocated. They went on to say in their letter – utterly incorrectly – that “Central Intelligence Agency officer Johnny Michael Spann was killed in the Mazar-e Sharif uprising in Afghanistan in November 2001. He was the first American killed in the global war on terrorism. Mr. Lindh, an American who was captured along with Taliban fighters by U.S. forces in November 2001, is believed to have had direct involvement [italics mine] in Spann’s death.”

First, where have Shelby, Hassan, and any other senators been as more than two million Americans were incarcerated in recent years? Where were they when Congress was slashing funds for programs that would have reduced recidivism? Second, are they so clueless as to not understand that when a prisoner serves his time and is released, that’s the end of it? There is no “relocation.” It’s irrelevant whether Lindh is still radicalized or not. And if they’re so opposed to radicalization, then where is the funding for federal de-radicalization programs that have been proposed repeatedly over the past 20 years?

Talk is cheap, and Congress has blown it. If they had really wanted to reduce criminal recidivism, there has been ample opportunity to do so. But they ignore the problem until they can score cheap political points. Mark my words: When people forget in the coming weeks that John Walker Lindh has been released, Shelby and Hassan will lose all interest in the issues raised in their letter. There won’t be any changes to sentencing policy or to the Bureau of Prisons at all. They’ll forget all about it.

As for John Walker Lindh, the man did his time. He paid his debt to society. It’s all over. It’s time for the rest of us to move on.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration's torture program.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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+8 # xenonman 2019-05-25 14:44
CIA scum (like Spann's family) always scream bloody murder when one of their kind gets hurt. (or if they can a scapegoat like Lindh to blame things on).

Actually, about 119 CIA cowards have been killed on duty since the vile Agency was founded. In that same period how many hundreds of thousands of US military personnel have perished, but without the fanfare or glamour?
+16 # coberly 2019-05-25 17:00
i hope it is true that Lindh is truly out, and that he will be forgotten by the evil people who call for his endless punishment. the prosecution of his case was sickening.

unfortunately we are not done with official lynch law in this country, as Kiriakou knows.
+22 # 2019-05-25 17:06
As usual, solid, important reporting. Can't speak enough about the horrors of our criminal justice system. I hope these two senators are among others asking Trump not to pardon soldiers & others convicted of war crimes. What sort of message does that send to those troops acting legally, & to those who took risks reporting them? We demand Our Soldiers, & all Americans, work, fight & die for just causes only, upholding Our Constitution, & Republic, of, by, & for The People, nothing less. I request these two senators & all other legislators demand a pardon for John Kiriakou. I also believe that there are much more important problems than those associated with Manning & Assange.Manning has already testified; prison is being used as coercion against her.Assange has done time, essentially prison, for years, punishment for any US crimes he may have committed.Ameri cans do NOT want any more time & money spent on Assange.As one of many much higher priority concerns, I request that our troops in Africa are monitored & protected from Ebola, & that this outbreak is monitored, contained, and halted with expediency.

Pardon Kiriakou and all other whistleblowers who were criminally charged, pardon and release Manning & all other whistleblowers currently incarcerated. These rare heroes speak out with great risk, and demand that the line beyond decency and humanity is not crossed. We owe them immense gratitude; we otherwise would not know the truth. If we are not that Beacon, who would be?
+7 # boredlion 2019-05-25 22:07
Hear, hear to all three of you ! I second your comments, as well as JK's well-considered and - argued op-Ed.

Beware of glorifying the police/spook state, or you'll soon regurgitate what you ate.
+11 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-26 06:18
o.c. -- the founders of the US recognized that the 4th estate, as the press is sometimes called, was an essential part of the checks and balances on government. At the time the US emerged, the "press" was quite independent and hostile toward abuses of power by governments. It was the same in Europe as in the US.

A strongly independent and principles press really was essential to democracy. The right of the people to know what their government is doing is essential to democracy, as all the FF's understood.

It is precisely because of the role of the press in democracy that it has been under savage assault in the US for more than 100 years. Really it was in the 1920s that the theory of the press changed. The NYT led the charge is proclaiming that the purpose of the press was to "manufacture consent among the masses for policies desired by the ruling elites." NYT writer Walter Lippman wrote in 1926 a book called Propaganda and he said this was the role of the press in democratic societies. The press was needed to keep the masses from becoming ungovernable mobs.

The constitutional experiment as you refer to is over. The "Age of Democracy" ended in the early 20th century with the rise of corporate control of governments or fascism. The US has led the world in fascism for 100 years. We are not a democracy and probably never will be.

Brave voices like Assange, Manning, Kiriakou will be crushed if they speak too loudly. We see that every day.
+4 # DongiC 2019-05-28 03:26
RR, Your remarks are very disturbing; precisely, because I am unable to refute them. Our government looks more and more fascist every day. And, whistle blowers like Assange, Manning, and Kiriakou had better watch out. And, they are so brave.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-05 06:52
Yes, it disturbs me as well. We need a good and very principles media. That's one reason why I try to be very hard on news organizations like the WashPo, NYTimes, and many others. They are destroying the essential component of democracy.
+1 # coberly 2019-05-30 10:56
john lindh is not a free press issue. rather those jailed for betraying the secrets... of evil in our government... are victims of the same reign of terror we are seeing everywhere as true tyranny establishes its power.

it will take more than blog comments to defeat that tyranny, if possible, though that is probably the best place to begin. i do not have the courage or strength to be a leader. but it will take a real mass movement of brave people ... if it is not already too late.

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