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U.S. Denies Lindh Was Mistreated

Courts: Prosecutors ridicule defense's claims that American Talib merely sought adventure and was no traitor. His lawyers argue coercion.

July 02, 2002|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors categorically denied Monday that John Walker Lindh was tortured or deprived of medical care, food and sleep in the days after his capture in Afghanistan last November, and they contended that statements he made to U.S. military officials and the FBI should be allowed at his trial.

In extensive federal court filings in nearby Alexandria, Va., the government further ridiculed the notion by defense attorneys, in their court filings, that Lindh, a young man from Northern California who journeyed to South Asia in search of adventure and religious teaching, was merely a modern-day Ernest Hemingway and not a traitor to America.

"Hemingway never conspired with a group of thugs out to kill Americans," prosecutors said. "Hemingway never threw his lot in with an entity like the Taliban that protected and gave sanctuary to the heartless and depraved zealots that murdered more than 3,000 of his fellow citizens" on Sept. 11.

The Lindh statements are extremely critical to his trial, which is scheduled to begin at the end of next month.

His defense lawyers argue that he was coerced into cooperating with his captors after they blindfolded and bound him, at times naked, in a metal container, and deprived him of quality medical care and a proper diet.

They contend that he agreed to speak only after U.S. authorities promised to improve his conditions.

But prosecutors dismissed those assertions as "absurd."

They said Lindh spoke freely to his captors in six sessions during the first two weeks of December--before he was returned to the United States, where he faces trial and a maximum punishment, if convicted, of life in prison.

He is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and other offenses while fighting against the United States in Afghanistan.

"John Walker Lindh ... was treated with exceptional regard for his health, his safety and his security," the prosecutors said.

It now falls to U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to decide whether the statements should be allowed in Lindh's trial.

If he decides at a pretrial hearing scheduled this month that the statements were coerced and therefore not admissible, it could lead to a plea bargain.

Prosecutors have not released the context of Lindh's statements.

But on Monday they described bits of conversations, including one Lindh had with a U.S. Special Forces medic and a freelance journalist in which Lindh claimed his name was "Abdul Hamid."

He purportedly said he "definitely" had enjoyed fighting in a jihad, or holy war, and that "it is the goal of every Muslim" to be martyred in battle.

In two interviews with an FBI agent, Lindh gave a "highly detailed" account of his enlistment with the Taliban, his stint at Al Farooq terrorist training camp and "his knowledge that [Osama] bin Laden had sent operatives to attack the U.S. or Israel," prosecutors said.

They also said that, contrary to the images from Afghanistan of Lindh with wild, unruly hair and an unkempt beard, the young man knew what he was doing and was quite savvy when he agreed to talk.

"Having studied in Yemen and in Pakistan and joined a terrorist organization with other young Muslims from many nations, Lindh was far more worldly than most men his age," prosecutors said.

"And, as the son of an attorney, he had at least some notion of American legal concepts."

The government also sought to debunk the defense argument that Lindh was improperly cared for in the days before he agreed to talk. His medical records, parts of which were detailed by prosecutors Monday, show that on Dec. 2, "patient says he is feeling much better than yesterday" and "denies substantial pain."

On Dec. 5, Lindh "has been eating three MREs [military meals] per day with plenty of water. Strength continues to improve."

And on Dec. 8, Lindh had "no complaints, states he feels well...."

Prosecutors said Lindh was usually rested and alert when he spoke to interrogators and that the interview sessions were often broken up by periods of rest so as not "to tax Lindh's will."

"Lindh was articulate, thoughtful, quite careful in what he said," prosecutors said. He was "possessed of detailed recollections--all characteristics inconsistent with sleep deprivation."

If he was tired and confused or had trouble sleeping, the government said, it was "because it was cold, it was noisy, he was periodically roused for security checks, and he was shackled and/or secured."

In another case in the Alexandria courthouse, prosecutors said Monday that none of the 19 airplane hijackers was under surveillance before Sept. 11, and they denied claims by Zacarias Moussaoui that he had been watched by federal agents.

The prosecutors rejected assertions by Moussaoui, who is acting as his own lawyer, that the government knew of the 19 hijackers, had them under surveillance and facilitated their movement in and out of the United States, and that he too was being shadowed before Sept. 11.

"The U.S. government did not have any of the 19 under surveillance while they were in the U.S.," prosecutors said.

Moussaoui, who is to be tried after Lindh, faces the death penalty if convicted of charges involving conspiracy to commit terrorism in concert with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

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