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Lindh Is Fully Cooperating With Government, His Lawyers Say

Terrorism: Captured with the Taliban, American hopes to earn a 20-year sentence under plea deal.

September 01, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — John Walker Lindh's lawyers say he is telling federal agents everything he knows, and that he wants Americans to forgive him for joining the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The United States would be interested in Lindh's knowledge of other fighters he met as well as places he had been in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before his military training in Afghanistan, he spent time in a pro-Taliban border region of Pakistan.

In recent interviews, attorneys Tony West and George Harris would not describe the information Lindh is providing, and government officials refused to comment.

Lindh, a 21-year-old Marin County native, is undergoing debriefings with several government agencies as part of a plea agreement. He would receive a maximum 20-year prison term if officials are satisfied with his cooperation and the judge approves the deal at an Oct. 4 sentencing. Multiple agencies are attending the debriefings, West said.

Lindh "was not unique in being a Westerner who converted to Islam and decided to fight against the Northern Alliance," the anti-Taliban militia that became a U.S. ally, West said. "John ran into many Westerners who converted."

Lindh never contemplated that he would be fighting in a war that Americans would enter, the lawyers said. He now believes he made a terrible mistake by enlisting with Afghanistan's harsh former rulers and wants Americans to forgive him, the lawyer said.

Lindh understands Americans' extremely negative feelings toward him, West said. He wants his countrymen to know that he was not a terrorist and never joined Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, even though he met Bin Laden in a military training camp in Afghanistan.

"He understands Sept. 11 changed the way people view Islam and that he came into national consciousness at a time there was a great deal of justified national pain and anger," West said.

Lindh is confined to his cell except for debriefings, family visits and meetings with his lawyers. He hopes he will soon be allowed in an outdoor prisoner area.

Still a devout Muslim, Lindh reads the Koran and prays every day. He believes Bin Laden and the Sept. 11 hijackers acted contrary to Islam's teachings by attacking innocent civilians and--in the attackers' cases--committing suicide, the lawyers said.

Lindh pleaded guilty July 15 to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.

While living in a region dominated by Taliban supporters before Sept. 11, he became convinced that the Taliban sought to establish a pure Islamic nation and joined their army because he believed in what they were doing.

West and Harris said there were errors in the government's indictment. The principal mistakes, West contended, were allegations that Lindh trained in an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in June 2001 and, while there, was told before Sept. 11 that the terrorist network had dispatched about 50 people to carry out 20 suicide operations against the U.S. and Israel.

Harris said Lindh heard about Al Qaeda operations from others in his unit only after Sept. 11, and had no way of verifying what he heard.

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