- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have discussed possible prosecution options for American Taliban fighter John Walker, but have made no final decision on how to proceed in the case.
According to administration officials, several detailed options have been considered by Justice Department prosecutors and presented to Mr. Bush ranging from charges of aiding and abetting terrorists, which could result in a 15-year prison sentence, to charges of treason, which carry the death penalty.
Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker confirmed for reporters that Mr. Ashcroft had discussed options with the president but said "no decisions have been made."
Another department official cautioned that it would be incorrect to report that any single option was being considered over any other, or that anything had been ruled out.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday said the president is "continuing to receive recommendations about the best course of action" with regard to possible charges against Walker, but added that the Justice and Defense departments had not made a final decision.
"Neither has the president," Mr. Fleischer said. "And so I do not anticipate anything this week on this matter. I don't even know if anything will happen next week. The president thinks it's important to be thorough, to be deliberative, to be judicious. More information needs to be gathered. So there's nothing imminent.
"This is an extraordinary set of circumstances, to have an American who apparently was engaged in armed combat against the United States of America," he said. "There are people who have to be talked to, to determine what took place. There could be witnesses. So that's why it requires a lot of information gathering."
Final recommendations are expected to be made to the president by Mr. Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as well as Mr. Bush's national security team.
Several law enforcement authorities said the Justice Department's ongoing debate over what charges should be brought against Walker has been vigorous, and that concerns have been raised as to whether the strict standard of proving treason have been met.
Some senior department prosecutors have suggested that the technical hurdles of proving the charge of treason including two specific witnesses for each act or a confession in court to "levying war" against the United States might be hard to overcome, and that bringing Walker to trial of charges of treason might turn the 20-year-old into a "media martyr."
A charge of aiding the Taliban against the United States, under the new Patriot Act sought by the administration and passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks on America call for a prison sentence of 15 years or life imprisonment if death resulted from the offense.
Walker, of San Anselmo, Calif., was taken into custody by the U.S. military earlier this month in Afghanistan. He was at a prison in northern Afghanistan at which a bloody uprising by Taliban fighters resulted in the death of CIA operative Johnny "Mike" Spann. He is currently being held aboard the USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship, in the Arabian Sea.
James Brosnahan, a San Francisco attorney hired by Walker's parents, said in a statement that the family was heartened by recent administration comments. "We are encouraged that President Bush and other administration officials have said that no conclusions should be reached about John until all of the facts are known. We hope that all Americans will also withhold judgment until we know what all the facts are," the statement said.
Also yesterday, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the first thing that should be done with Walker is to take him to the site of the collapsed World Trade Center in New York "and show him ground zero and see how he feels after that."
"Taking up arms against one's own country is a very serious offense," said Mr. McCain, a POW during the Vietnam War. "If he fought against Americans, that is a very, very serious act."
Speaking with reporters from CNN three weeks ago, Walker acknowledged he had attended al Qaeda terrorist-training camps in Afghanistan and that he had seen fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden on several occasions. The Dec. 2 interview was aired in its entirety for the first time Wednesday.

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