- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh politely told a federal judge yesterday in his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom that he understood charges brought against him of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens in Afghanistan and the penalties he faces.
"Yes I do, sir," Lindh told Magistrate W. Curtis Sewell during an appearance at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
Brought to the courthouse under heavy guard and wearing a dark green prison jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" stamped on his back, Lindh now shorn of the long hair and heavy beard Americans saw during his 54 days of captivity in Afghanistan listened passively as Magistrate Sewell explained the accusations and asked if he understood them.
"Yes, I understand," Lindh twice told the judge, adding when asked if he had any questions, including about the possibility of a life sentence, "No, I don't have any questions."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy I. Bellows asked Magistrate Sewell during the 15-minute hearing to hold Lindh until a Feb. 6 bond hearing.
The prosecutor said the 20-year-old Californian who is accused by the government of training at an al Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan and of being thanked personally by Osama bin Laden for joining the battle posed a "risk of flight and a danger" to the community.
San Francisco attorney James Brosnahan, hired by Lindh's family to represent the Islamic radical, told Magistrate Sewell that federal authorities ignored requests by Lindh for an attorney during his captivity in Afghanistan and aboard the amphibious attack vessel USS Bataan a preview to what is expected to be a major part of the defense case.
Mr. Brosnahan, who told the judge his client is now using the name John Lindh, is expected to argue that statements Lindh made to FBI agents in Afghanistan on which much of the government's case is based should not be allowed since he was denied access to an attorney.
Outside the court, Mr. Brosnahan told reporters that Lindh "repeatedly" asked for an attorney beginning Dec. 2 but that the government did not respond to his requests.
"John Lindh is presumed innocent. … We are confident the judicial system in our country understands how to deal with John Lindh and give him a fair trial," Mr. Brosnahan said. "Keep an open mind about a 20-year-old young man and find out what really happened."
Lindh's parents were in the courtroom during the brief hearing, and his father, Frank Lindh, later told reporters, "John loves America. We love America. He did not take up arms against America. John is innocent of these charges."
His mother, Marilyn Walker, said, "It was wonderful to see him. I love him and I am grateful to God that he is brought home to his family and his country."
Lindh did not look at his parents in court, instead staring straight ahead or glancing occasionally at the prosecutors. The elder Mr. Lindh said he met with his son for about 45 minutes before yesterday's hearing.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty argued that Lindh's constitutional rights had been vigorously protected and that a 12-page criminal complaint outlining four charges against the American Taliban member noted that FBI agents read him his Miranda rights to remain silent and to consult an attorney, and that he waived them both orally and in writing.
In the complaint, FBI agent Anne Ashbury said she read Lindh his rights before she questioned him about his involvement with the Taliban and bin Laden and that he "acknowledged that he understood each of those rights and then waived those rights."
"We're going to make sure as best we possibly can and I have great confidence that we will afford every right that is present under the law," said Mr. McNulty. "This is a very serious matter."
Yesterday's hearing was merely to identify Lindh as the man named in the complaint and to advise him of his rights. On the Feb. 6 date, Magistrate Sewell will hold a preliminary hearing to decide whether sufficient evidence exists to send the case to a grand jury. The government can pre-empt the second part of the hearing by obtaining an indictment in the next 10 days.
In the meantime, Lindh will be held at the Alexandria Detention Center, just a short distance from the courthouse. Zacarias Moussaoui, the first suspect charged in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, also is being held at that facility pending trial later this year.
The criminal complaint filed by the Justice Department in the Alexandria court charged Lindh with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals in the Afghan war and with providing support to bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
The charges pending against Lindh do not carry the death penalty, only the possibility of life in prison.
But Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that additional charges could be filed that might involve capital punishment. A grand jury could decide to indict Lindh with a capital crime, including Lindh's suspected role in the death of CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann, who died in a prison uprising in Afghanistan immediately after he had questioned Lindh.
Lindh arrived at the courthouse about two hours before the 9 a.m. hearing. There was an obvious security presence around the building, including armed agents on nearby rooftops.
"We're trying to prepare for every contingency," said John Hackman, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service. "It may be something from citizens who might not particularly care for Mr. Walker. There's a multitude of threats that we're preparing for."

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