- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

In his first court appearance, Taliban soldier John Walker told a federal judge "Yes I do, thank you" when asked today if he understood charges that he conspired to kill his fellow Americans in Afghanistan.

Walker, wearing a green prison jumpsuit, his previously long hair and beard shorn, stood straight with his arms at his side throughout the 15-minute hearing, glancing several times to prosecutors at his right. He never turned to look at his parents, sitting two rows behind.

In a sign of legal arguments to come, Walker's attorney, James Brosnahan, told reporters after the hearing that Lindh had "asked for a lawyer, repeatedly asked for a lawyer," from Dec. 2 on, "and the officials who have commented on this case knew that."

But Attorney General John Ashcroft said Walker, 20, had signed a statement waiving his right to an attorney before he spoke to the FBI on Dec. 9 and 10.

"John Walker chose to join terrorists who wanted to kill Americans, and he chose to waive his right to an attorney, both orally and in writing, before he was questioned by the FBI," Mr. Ashcroft said.

Defense lawyers already have said they would challenge the statement's admissibility because an attorney wasn't present. Walker was recovering from a battle wound at the time.

During the hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell also asked Walker whether he understood the penalties, which could include life in prison.

"Yes I do, sir," Walker said in a quiet voice that could still be easily heard in the courtroom.

Walker spoke a third time when the judge asked whether he understood that he would be kept in custody until a preliminary hearing, set for Feb. 6.

"No sir, I don't have any questions," Walker said.

The young man's parents, who saw their son for the first time in two years during a private meeting shortly before the hearing, asserted afterward that he is innocent.

"John loves America. John did not do anything against America," Frank Lindh told reporters. "He is innocent of these charges."

Walker's mother, Marilyn Walker, fought tears as she said: "It's been two years since I last saw my son. It was wonderful to see him this morning. My love for him is unconditional and absolute.

"I am grateful to God that he has been brought home to his family, me, his home and his country," she said.

Heavy security surrounded Walker's arrival at the federal courthouse here, just a few miles from the Pentagon, which was extensively damaged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Snipers stood on the roof and armed officers were outside the building.

Walker was represented in the courtroom by four attorneys, including Mr. Brosnahan of San Francisco, who told reporters he first met his client this morning for 45 minutes before the hearing.

"He was very helpful," Mr. Brosnahan said of his client. "You can imagine that this young man was not fully aware of the intensity of the publicity."

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kelley said the government was insisting that Walker remain in custody because of the risk that he would try to flee and because of his potential danger to the community. Sewell granted the request.

Mr. Brosnahan told the judge that Walker did not learn the precise charges against him until the day before.

Judge Sewell then set the Feb. 6 hearing to determine whether Walker would continue to be held in custody.

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