- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

John Walker Lindh, an American fighting with the Taliban, was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday. Crying, he asked for America's forgiveness for joining the Islamist militia that harbored Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
Lindh, 21, who was captured last year after leaving an affluent background in Northern California to fight in the Muslim holy war in Afghanistan, also was sentenced to six years of probation when his prison term ends. He will be 41 when he gets out of prison.
"I understand why so many Americans were angry when I was first discovered in Afghanistan. I realize that many still are, but I hope that with time and understanding, their feelings will change," Lindh said in a 20-minute speech in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
In Boston, "Shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight and declared himself a disciple of Osama bin Laden and an enemy of the United States.
Reid, 29, who changed his plea from not guilty on Wednesday, answered guilty to all eight charges against him. The plea was accepted by presiding Judge William Young, who set sentencing for Jan. 8.
Asked by the judge why he had suddenly changed his plea to guilty, Reid said: "Because at the end of the day, I know I did the actions.
"Basically I got on the plane with a bomb," Reid said, alternately defiant and flippant. "Basically I tried to ignite it. Basically, yeah, I intended to damage the plane."
Told by the judge that prosecutors would detail his links to al Qaeda at his sentencing Jan. 8, Reid said: "I don't care. I'm a member of al Qaeda, I pledge to Osama bin Laden and I'm an enemy of your country, and I don't care."
Prosecutors said they would ask for a sentence of 60 years to life in prison, according to federal guidelines.
At the hearing for Lindh, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III accepted a plea agreement that Lindh reached in July with the federal government. The judge told the packed courtroom that prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence linking Lindh to the death of CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann.
Johnny Spann, the slain agent's father, addressed the court before announcing Lindh's sentencing. "The punishment doesn't fit the crime, to me," he said.
Under the agreement, prosecutors dropped a charge of conspiracy to kill Americans, which could have put Lindh in prison for life. In exchange, Lindh will serve two consecutive 10-year terms for "supplying services to the Taliban," and for carrying explosives while fighting with an enemy army.
"You made a bad choice to join the Taliban and to engage in that effort over there," the judge told Lindh, who moments earlier had declared that he went to Afghanistan because he believed it was his religious duty to assist his fellow Muslims in "jihad."
"Fighting for what you believe in is a virtue," Judge Ellis told him, "but only if what you believe is virtuous."
Lindh first entered the spotlight in November, when he appeared bearded and weary from war in an interview with a CNN correspondent. U.S. Special Forces fighting in Afghanistan found him among Taliban soldiers jailed after a deadly prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Mr. Spann, 32, the CIA agent, was killed in the prison uprising. He was the first American killed during the war in Afghanistan and is believed to have died shortly after interviewing Lindh at the makeshift prison, where Lindh was being held with other Taliban fighters.
Lindh told the judge that he played no role in the CIA agent's death.
President Bush had called Lindh "a pathetic figure" during an interview with The Washington Times. The president said that although he was angry that a U.S. citizen "took up arms against America," his greatest concern was determining "whether he murdered one of our fine citizens," CIA agent Spann.
"Had he done so, we would have thrown the ultimate book at him. But our people, our prosecutors, didn't feel that's the case," Mr. Bush told The Times' White House correspondent, Bill Sammon, in an interview for Mr. Sammon's new book, "Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism From Inside the Bush White House."
"A pathetic figure," Mr. Bush said of Lindh. "And now he gets to spend 20 years, no parole. And the decision he made puts him away for a long time."
Judge Ellis said many Americans will think the sentence Lindh got is too lenient while others will believe it is too severe. He said he would recommend the Federal Prison Board to place Lindh near his family in Marin County, Calif. He said special care would be provided to protect Lindh from other prisoners who might wish to hurt him.
Two high-security institutions in California where Lindh could be sent include one in Atwater and another in Lompoc. Atwater is newer, having opened in January, and both prisons hold just more than 1,000 inmates.
In the Boston proceedings, Judge Young denied a motion filed by Reid's attorneys that two of the charges be amended to remove charges that he received training from the al Qaeda network, which has accepted responsibility for the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.
The judge turned to Reid several times during the 80-minute hearing to ask him whether he was fully aware of the proceedings. "Do you understand?" "Is that right?" he repeatedly asked the defendant, who offered monosyllabic replies.
Reid attended the same London mosque as Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man so far indicted in connection with the September 11 attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people.
Investigators say Reid might have succeeded in blowing up American Airlines Flight 63 had he used a cigarette lighter instead of matches.
Reid was overpowered by passengers on an American Airlines Paris-to-Miami flight on Dec. 22 just 90 minutes after takeoff when a flight attendant smelled the burning match he used to try to ignite a small quantity of explosives hidden in the heel of his shoe.

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