- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday rejected claims by the family of American Taliban John Walker that he was denied access to a lawyer during 45 days of captivity in Afghanistan, saying the 20-year-old made "a clear choice" to waive his rights and talk to FBI agents.
Walker, also known as John Walker Lindh, was accused Tuesday in a criminal complaint filed by the Justice Department in U.S. District Court in Alexandria with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals in the Afghan war and with providing support to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
The complaint is based on statements Walker made to FBI agents after he had been advised of his Miranda rights and had signed a document waiving his right to a lawyer.
"Each individual has a right to choose his or her own attorney. That's the way the American legal system works. And attorneys chosen by other individuals generally may provide assistance or otherwise participate to the extent that the individual charged makes that decision," Mr. Ashcroft said on NBC's "Today" show.
"Both in writing and orally he indicated he wanted to make statements absent an attorney and that's a right we respect in America. As much as family members may be concerned or want to be involved in cases, the right to an attorney is something that is reserved to an individual who is charged," Mr. Ashcroft told ABC's "Good Morning America."
The attorney general, during a round of morning television interviews, dismissed concerns expressed by an attorney hired by Walker's family who said Tuesday that the government's decision to charge Walker came after 45 days of interrogation.
Mr. Ashcroft said when Walker is returned to the United States to stand trial, he will have the "opportunity to be represented in court and will have the assistance of counsel."
George C. Harris, the attorney hired by the Walker family, said in a statement that the young man, a Muslim convert, had not been given access to a lawyer.
"Despite repeated attempts by his family and his counsel to see him, John has not been given access to a lawyer," Mr. Harris' statement said. "To the best of our knowledge, he has not even been informed that his parents have retained lawyers who are working on his behalf."
The charges pending against Walker do not carry the death penalty, only the possibility of life in prison if he is convicted.
But Mr. Ashcroft noted in announcing the criminal complaint Tuesday that additional charges could be filed that might involve capital punishment.
Any continuing investigation into the Walker case is expected to be handled by a grand jury now sitting in the federal court in Alexandria.
Mr. Ashcroft also said Walker would "be brought back very soon" to the United States to face the accusations, but declined for security reasons to say when and how.

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