- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press sued the Justice Department yesterday for access to American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh’s petitions to have his 20-year federal prison sentence shortened.

The federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, said the government has improperly refused to turn over Lindh’s pleas to have his sentence reduced on the grounds that doing so would be an unwarranted invasion of his privacy.

AP’s attorneys, in letters to the Justice Department and in the lawsuit, however, said Lindh “is a ‘high-profile public figure’ whose ‘privacy interest in his petition is low to nonexistent.’”

Lindh’s attorney, James Brosnahan, also has told the news cooperative that he would have turned over the documents himself, but he can’t under the terms of Lindh’s imprisonment.

The Justice Department did not comment on the lawsuit.

Lindh, 25, was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 in the U.S.-led effort to topple the Taliban regime after the September 11 attacks.

Prosecutors charged him with conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists. He pleaded guilty to lesser offenses in 2002, including carrying weapons against U.S. forces. He avoided a potential life sentence and agreed to withdraw claims that he had been abused or tortured in U.S. custody.

The AP said it suspects that Lindh “contends in his petition that he was prosecuted and convicted unfairly in the immediate wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and that he was not, in fact, knowingly fighting the United States in Afghanistan.”

The president decides whether to commute sentences or pardon people who have been convicted of crimes and have completed their sentences, usually on the recommendation of the Justice Department’s pardon attorney.

Lindh, who is being held at the medium-security federal penitentiary in Victorville, Calif., first applied for clemency in September 2004 and followed up on his request 15 months later. Justice officials told him that it would be at least a year before a decision is made.

AP first sought the records on Jan. 4. Nine days later, the department replied that it could release the documents only with Lindh’s written consent, according to the lawsuit. But Lindh is barred from making any public comment on the matter, including consenting to the release, under the terms of his plea agreement, the lawsuit said.

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