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Judge Says No Need to Prove Lindh Killed

Hearing: The government does not have to show American Talib harmed specific U.S. citizens, jurist rules. The key is whether he knew Al Qaeda's general aims.


ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Federal prosecutors conceded in court here Monday that John Walker Lindh had no "personal involvement" in the death of CIA Agent Johnny "Mike" Spann, who was the first U.S. fatality in the ongoing war against terrorism.

But Judge T.S. Ellis III said the government does not have to prove that specific people were selected for murder. Rather, he ruled that prosecutors must show only that Lindh knew that the general aim of his involvement with the Taliban and Al Qaeda was to kill Americans.

In the daylong pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court, Ellis also denied a defense request that prosecutors immediately provide a detailed list of its evidence against Lindh, including whom he conspired with and what he allegedly did to foment terrorism against Americans. Lindh's attorneys say his grand jury indictment is "overly broad," thus difficult to defend against.

The hearing was the first of many court sessions to come as both sides prepare for jury selection in August. The trial against the 21-year-old former Northern Californian--the first of several trials stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terrorism--is shaping up to be a crucial test of the government's ability to bring terrorists to justice.

Spann was killed during a prison riot in Afghanistan shortly after failing to persuade Lindh to speak to him there about his involvement with the Taliban armed forces and his time at an Al Qaeda terrorist training facility.

At an earlier hearing for Lindh, Shannon Spann said he should receive the death penalty for her husband's death.

Prosecutors said that while Lindh is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, they are not alleging that any specific victims were targeted. Rather, they charge, Lindh was providing material and other services to the Al Qaeda and Taliban networks to further a "general goal" of killing Americans.

The government plans to show that Lindh knew his fellow conspirators were plotting to "kill anyone and everyone" who was an American national and that the goal of Al Qaeda was to kill Americans in "Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.," prosecutor John Davis said.

The indictment previously accused Lindh of deaths "around the world." It charges that Lindh conspired to murder U.S. nationals, to provide support and services to foreign terrorist organizations and to use firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence.

Davis said the government could prove, through Lindh's own statements to U.S. authorities, that he and the other members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda were intent on murdering Americans.

"The defendant knew after Sept. 11 that part and parcel of being in these organizations was opposing Americans in this war," Davis said.

Lindh's chief attorney, James J. Brosnahan, argued Monday that it was unfair for the matter to go forward without the defense team knowing exactly how the government intended to prove its case.

In arguing unsuccessfully for a detailed list of the evidence against his client, Brosnahan said he was unsure how to build the best defense without knowing key factors, such as who the alleged victims were and how Lindh allegedly helped the conspiracy.

"The allegations are so general, the defense really can't prepare," he said.

"We should know what the charges are," he added. "In Afghanistan there's still a state of war, and in Pakistan a state of difficulty, especially for Americans. It is 8,000 miles away from this courthouse."

But the judge ruled that the government, which has so far turned over about 1,000 pages of material to the defense, is not required at this stage to lay out its entire case. But, he warned, prosecutors will have to convince a jury that Lindh knew exactly what the Taliban and Al Qaeda were all about.

"The government," the judge said, "will have to show the defendant joined this conspiracy knowing it was designed to kill Americans." Explaining his ruling, the judge described Lindh's alleged crimes as similar to the work of Mohamed Atta and the other 18 hijackers on Sept. 11, who killed indiscriminately.

"You think Atta knew all the names of the people he was going to kill when he got on that plane?" Ellis asked rhetorically. " . . . Do you think any terrorist cares who he or she kills?"

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