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John Phillip Walker Lindh (born February 9, 1981) was captured as an enemy combatant during the United States'marker 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. An American citizen, he is now serving a 20-year prison sentence in connection with his participation in Afghanistan'smarker Taliban army. He was captured during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangimarker, a violent Taliban prison uprising where American CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed.

Lindh received training at Al-Farouq, an alleged Al-Qaeda training camp located in Afghanistanmarker. There, he attended a lecture by Osama bin Laden before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Lindh had previously received training with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, an internationally designated terrorist organization based in Pakistanmarker.

Lindh went by Sulayman al-Faris during his time in Afghanistan, but prefers the name Hamza Walker Lindh today. In early reports following his capture, he was occasionally referred to by the news media as just "John Walker".

Youth, conversion and travels

Lindh was born in Washington, D.C.marker, to parents Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh. He was baptized but not raised Roman Catholic, and grew up in Silver Spring, Marylandmarker. When he was 10 years old, his family moved to San Anselmo, Californiamarker. Lindh suffered from an intestinal disorder as a child. At age 14, Lindh's health improved and he enrolled at Redwood High Schoolmarker as a freshman. He then transferred to Tamiscal High School in the Tamalpais Union High School District, an alternative school offering self-directed, individualized study programs. While there, he studied world culture, including Islam and the Middle East. Lindh subsequently left the school and eventually earned a GED at age 16.

As an adolescent, Lindh participated in IRC chat rooms. He became a devoted fan of hip-hop music, and engaged in extensive discussions on Usenet newsgroups, sometimes pretending to be an African American rapper who would criticize others for "acting black". The Spike Lee film Malcolm X impressed him deeply and sparked his interest in Islam.Although his parents did not officially divorce until 1999, their marriage was in serious trouble throughout Walker's adolescence, due to the fact that his father was a practicing homosexual and would often leave their Marin residence for extended periods to live in San Francisco with another man. Frank Lindh stated that they had been effectively separated since 1993. He recently remarried to his male partner of 10 years; the ceremony was performed on election day just before the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in Californiamarker.

In 1997, John Lindh officially converted to Islam and began regularly attending mosques in Mill Valleymarker and later San Franciscomarker. In 1998 Lindh traveled to Yemenmarker, and stayed for about 10 months to learn Arabic so that he would be able to read the Qur'an in its original language. He returned to the United Statesmarker in 1999, living with his family for about eight months before returning to Yemenmarker in February 2000, whence he left for Pakistanmarker to study at a madrassa. While abroad, Lindh sent numerous emails to his family. In one, his father tells him about the USS Cole bombingmarker, to which John replies that since the American destroyer was in the Yemenmarker harbor, it was an act of war against Islam and therefore justified. "This raised my concerns", his father told Newsweek, "but my days of molding him were over. John Lindh's Strange Trip Long, Strange Trip to the Taliban. Newsweek December 17, 2001 Lindh had just turned 20.

Lindh decided to travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Afghani Taliban government forces against the Afghan Northern Alliance fighters. His parents state that he was motivated by stories of atrocities perpetrated by Afghan Northern Alliance army against civilians. He traveled to Afghanistan in May 2001 [2303], contrary to reports after his arrest that implied or stated that he traveled to Afghanistan to kill Americans after 9/11. American soldiers were not deployed in Afghanistan at the time he joined the Taliban government forces, making his alleged motivation of killing Americans doubtful. However, it should be noted that after the September 11th attacks, he knew the United States was now fighting alongside the Northern Alliance, yet he chose to stay and continue the fight. [2304]

Though much has been made of the fact that Lindh did meet Osama bin Laden, his association with bin Laden was only a passing encounter and not an affiliation. [2305]

Capture and interrogation

Lindh was captured on November 25, 2001, by Afghan Northern Alliance forces, and questioned by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer Johnny "Mike" Spann and another officer at General Dostum's military garrison, Qala-i-Jangimarker, near Mazār-e Sharīfmarker. As shown on British Channel 4 news, Spann asks Lindh, "Are you a member of the IRA?" He was asked this question because an Iraqi in the group identified Lindh as an English speaker when asked by Spann. Lindh had been told to say he was "Irish" in order to avoid problems. Moments later, around 11a.m., the makeshift prison was the scene of a violent Taliban uprising, known as the Battle of Qala-i-Jangimarker, in which Spann was killed along with hundreds of foreign fighters. According to other captives interviewed by Pelton, Lindh was fully aware of the planned uprising, yet remained silent and did not cooperate with the Americans. Lindh did not report his American citizenship to his captors, despite the fact that it might have provided him better treatment.

After the initial uprising Lindh found refuge in a basement bunker after taking a bullet in the right upper thigh, hiding with a group of Saudismarker, Uzbeksmarker, and Pakistanismarker. He was found seven days later on December 2, 2001, when Northern Alliance forces diverted an irrigation stream, drowning many, and eventually flushing out Lindh and about 80 survivors from the original 300. The Northern Alliance captors then pinned Lindh's elbows behind his back.

Lindh initially gave his name as "Abd-al-Hamid" but later gave his birth name when interviewed by Robert Young Pelton for CNN. Pelton brought a medic and food for Lindh and interviewed him about how he got there. Repeatedly Pelton asked Lindh if he wanted to call his parents or have Pelton do so, but as Pelton knew, Lindh was receiving his first medical treatment since being shot in the leg and had been given morphine by a medic prior to Pelton's interview. Lindh's parents maintain that Pelton acquired footage that was prejudicial and manipulative, and that Pelton contributed to the poor image of their son by sharing the footage with the world community without context. Lindh said during the interview that he was a member of Ansar (an Arabic word meaning "Supporters" or "Helpers"), a group of Arabic-speaking fighters financed by Osama bin Laden. Lindh said that the prison uprising was sparked by some of the prisoner guards smuggling grenades into the basement, "This is against what we had agreed upon with the Northern Alliance, and this is against Islam. It is a major sin to break a contract, especially in military situations".

Upon capture, Lindh was given basic first aid and then questioned for a week at Mazār-e Sharīfmarker, before being taken to Camp Rhinomarker on December 7, 2001, the bullet still within his thigh. When Lindh arrived at Camp Rhinomarker he was stripped and he was restrained to a stretcher, blindfolded and placed in a metal shipping container, which was procedure for dealing with a potentially dangerous detainee associated with a terrorist organization. While bound to the stretcher his picture was taken by American military personnel. While at Camp Rhinomarker he was given Tylox for pain and Valium. He was later to complain that as military personnel passed the echoing cargo container around each 24 hour cycle, they hammered on its metal sides and shouted abuse and threats. He remained in severe pain from the bullet that remained in his leg. The photograph of him naked was cropped so as not to show his leg wound. On at least one occasion he was interrogated while naked, drugged and with the bullet still in his leg. On December 8 and 9 he was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker (FBI). He was held at Camp Rhinomarker until he was transferred to USS Peleliu on December 14, 2001.

He was interrogated before the operation on December 14. While on the Peleliu, he signed confession documents while he was held by the United States Marine Corps and informed his interrogators that he was not merely Taliban but al-Qaeda, though his father later asserted he was not involved in, and unaware of, al-Qaeda. On December 31, 2001, he was transferred to the USS Bataan, where he was held until January 22, 2002, when he was flown off the Bataan to begin the journey back to the United States to face criminal charges. While on the USS Bataan, Attorney General John Ashcroft, on January 16, 2002, announced that Lindh would be tried in the United States.

His attorney claimed to the press that he asked for a lawyer repeatedly before being interviewed but he did not get one, and that "highly coercive" prison conditions forced Lindh to waive his right to remain silent. Although the FBI asked Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Departmentmarker ethics advisor, whether Lindh could be questioned without a lawyer present, her advice that this should not be done was not followed.


On February 5, 2002, Lindh was indicted by a federal grand jury on ten charges:

  • Conspiracy to murder US citizens or US nationals
  • Two counts of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations
  • Two counts of providing material support and resources to terrorist organizations
  • One count of supplying services to the Taliban.
  • Conspiracy to contribute services to Al Qaeda
  • Contributing services to Al Qaeda
  • Conspiracy to supply services to the Taliban
  • Using and carrying firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence

If convicted of these charges, Lindh could have received up to three life sentences and 90 additional years in prison. On February 13, 2002, he plead not guilty to all 10 charges.

A photo emerged from his captivity of him being held, naked and bound, wearing a blindfold. After being captured and taken to a room with a single, sealed-off window, Lindh reportedly had his clothes cut off him and was duct-taped to a stretcher and placed in a metal shipping container for transportation, procedure for potentially dangerous inmates with suspected terrorist ties. Lindh was reportedly not allowed release from the stretcher when he needed to urinate or defecate. However, numerous sworn statements from soldiers caring for him dispute this. They claim not only was he allowed to urinate and defecate, but that each time a soldier was required to clean the bucket afterwards to maintain sanitation for Lindh. Lindh was held for over a week in U.S. custody before his wound was treated and the bullet removed.

The court scheduled an evidence suppression hearing, at which Lindh would have been able to testify about the details of the torture to which he claimed he was subjected. The government faced the problem that a key piece of evidence — Lindh's confession — might be excluded from evidence as having been forced under duress.

To forestall this possibility, Michael Chertoff, then-head of the criminal division of the U.S.marker Department of Justicemarker, directed the prosecutors to offer Lindh a plea bargain, to which, Lindh would plead guilty to two charges: — serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons. He would also have to consent to a gag order that would prevent him from making any public statements on the matter for the duration of his 20-year sentence, and he would have to drop any claims that he had been mistreated or tortured by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and aboard two military ships during December 2001 and January 2002. In return, all other charges would be dropped.

Lindh accepted this offer. On July 15, 2002, he entered his plea of guilty to the two remaining charges. The judge asked Lindh to say, in his own words, what he was admitting to. Lindh's allocution went as follows: "I plead guilty", he said. "I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to December. In the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades. I did so knowingly and willingly knowing that it was illegal." On October 4, 2002, Judge T.S. Ellis, III formally imposed the sentence: 20 years without parole.

As another result of Lindh's plea bargain, a Son of Sam law was invoked. Any and all profits made from book deals or any movies about Lindh's experience will be automatically handed over to the federal government. Lindh, his family, his relatives, his associates and his friends will be unable to profit financially from his crimes and/or experiences.

Lindh's attorney, James Brosnahan, said Lindh would be eligible for release in 17 years, with good behavior. This is because, although there is no parole under federal law, his sentence could be reduced by 15 percent, or three years, for good behavior. In addition, Lindh agreed to cooperate "fully, truthfully and completely" with both military intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the terrorism investigation.


In January 2003, Lindh was sent to a medium-security prison in Victorvillemarker, northeast of Los Angelesmarker. On March 3, 2003, Lindh was tackled by inmate Richard Dale Morrison, who assaulted Lindh as he knelt in prayer and then ran away; Lindh was left with bruises on his forehead. On July 2, 2003, Morrison was charged with a misdemeanor count of assault.

Lindh was held at ADMAXmarker in Florence, Coloradomarker, the federal Supermax facility for a short time. He is currently serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, Terre Hautemarker at Terre Haute, Indianamarker. In April 2007, citing the reduced sentence for the Australian prisoner David Hicks, Lindh's attorneys made a public plea for a Presidential commutation to lower his twenty year sentence.

In January 2009 the Lindh family's petition for John's clemency was denied by an exiting President Bush in one of his final acts in office. According to the US Justice Department, all "special administrative measures" in place against Lindh expired on March 20, 2009 as part of a gradual easing of restrictions on the prisoner.

Media references

  • In 2002, former President George H. W. Bush referred to Lindh as "some misguided Marin Countymarker hot-tubber". The comment (in which Bush also mispronounced "Ma-RIN" as "MA-rin") provoked a minor furor and prompted a retraction of the statement by Bush.
  • Steve Earle recorded a song about Lindh entitled "John Walker's Blues". It was released on his 2002 album Jerusalem.
  • Hot Buttered Rum String Band, several of whose members hail from Marin, released a song about Lindh's trial, "The Trial of John Walker Lindh", on their 2002 album Live at the Freight and Salvage.
  • Alternative hip-hop group/label anticon. appeared on a DJ Krush song about Lindh named "Song for John Walker", released on Krush's 2003 album The Message at the Depth.
  • Lindh was the subject of a musical, John Walker: The Musical, in the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival and was covered in The New York Times, New York Post and CNN.
  • An episode of Law & Order was based on Lindh's story. The main character was a young man from a middle-class background who converted to militant Islam allegedly due to his fear of women.
  • In a National Geographicmarker documentary, Taliban Uprising, the only video of Lindh speaking since his capture is shown.
  • In the South Park episode Fun with Veal, Randy Marsh compares the boys to "little John Walkers".

See also


  1. Original Indictment John Walker Lindh Indictment
  2. Statement of Facts U.S. Department of Justice
  3. Truth About John Lindh (speech) Frank Lindh
  4. Black Like Me: John Walker Lindh's hip-hop daze, by James Best
  5. John Lindh Usenet Postings John Lindh
  6. Truth About John Lindh Richard Young Pelton
  7. Original Indictment John Lindh Indictment
  8. [1]CNN Article
  9. Government Motion to Compel Discovery FindLaw
  10. Military AR 15-6 Investigation Sworn Statements of Soldiers Caring for Lindh
  11. The Trials of Jesselyn Radack and The Woman Who Knew Too Much
  12. Transcript of John Ashcroft - February 5, 2002
  13. U.S. troops took photos of blindfolded Walker Lindh April 12, 2002
  14. Military AR 15-6 Investigation Sworn Statements of Soldiers caring for Lindh
  15. Walker's Transcript of the his time in US custody
  16. - 'I plead guilty,' Taliban American says - July 17, 2002
  17. Federal Bureau of Prisons
  18. Johnson, Carrie, "Prison Officials Are Loosening Restrictions On Taliban Supporter", Washington Post, March 18, 2009, p. 6.
  19. From hot tub to hot water | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited
  21. Taliban Uprising National Geographic Documentary

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