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Initially threatened by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft with being tried as a traitor, Lindh was eventually charged with terrorism, consorting with Al Qaeda, and attempting to kill Americans. But he never went to trial. Instead, he pleaded guilty to just two relatively innocuous charges. But for those two charges-the first of which (carrying a grenade), probably innumerable Americans are guilty of, and the second of which (providing services to an enemy of the U.S.), could more properly be brought against a number of major U.S. corporations--Lindh had the book thrown at him by a compliant federal judge in Virginia. The judge, at the government's request, also hit him with a gag order barring him from talking about his experience. As part of his plea bargain agreement, Lindh was even forced to sign a statement saying: "The defendant agrees that this agreement puts to rest his claims of mistreatment by the United states military, and all claims of mistreatment are withdrawn. The defendant acknowledges that he was not intentionally mistreated by the U.S. military."
This outlandish and over-the-top effort to legally muzzle Lindh appears in a harsh new light now that we know the criminal nature of U.S. prisoner-of-war policies....
...In truth, the government's case against Lindh was always spurious at best. A 20-year-old, white, middle-class convert to Islam from Marin County, California, Lindh had only gone to Afghanistan in August 2001, scarcely a month before the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. At the time of his arrival there, the Taliban government, far from being an enemy of America, was still receiving funding from the U.S. government. Lindh, to the extent that he was ever a fighter with the Taliban (he hadn't had time for a decent "boot camp"training in weapons use), was in fact fighting the Northern Alliance, not America, at the time of the U.S. invasion. His attorneys maintain that he never was an enemy of his own country, and in fact had been trapped with the Taliban in Afghanistan by the surprise U.S. invasion.
What appears to have led Ashcroft and the U.S. government to drop its serious charges against Lindh, and to agree to a settlement on minor charges, was his defense attorneys' plans to go after testimony about his treatment from other Afghani captives being held at Guantanamo who had witnessed it.
Had those witnesses been permitted to testify in his case--as the judge had already said he would probably agree to, given Lindh's constitutional right to mount a vigorous defense--there would have been plenty of embarrassing evidence presented about torture and abuse at the hands of U.S. troops.
This sorry legal history raises a couple of very troubling questions...
Last, but certainly not least, Lindh himself, terrified at being railroaded to a potential death sentence or a sentence to life in prison without parole, and already a victim of torture and abuse at the hands of his federal captors, remains almost certainly wrongfully imprisoned-just one more victim of America's criminal violation of the Geneva Conventions and our own constitutional right to a fair trial.