- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Federal prosecutors dropped most of the charges against John Walker Lindh yesterday in exchange for a guilty plea on two counts that is likely to send the American Taliban member to prison for 20 years.
"Justice has been well-served," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, the chief prosecutor in the case. "Twenty years, make no mistake, is a very tough sentence."
Under terms of the surprise plea deal, prosecutors dropped the most serious charges, including conspiracy to kill Americans, that could have put the 21-year-old Lindh in prison for life.
In exchange, Lindh pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and to carrying a firearm and explosives while fighting last year in Afghanistan for the militia, which harbored Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist group.
Although Judge T.S. Ellis III is not bound by the plea agreement, Lindh is scheduled for sentencing in October, and prosecutors are confident that the former Maryland and California resident will serve two consecutive 10-year terms.
Mr. McNulty said the resolution of the Lindh case will free government resources for efforts to prosecute terrorists and support the military campaign.
White House officials said President Bush approved an outline of the plea deal last week.
Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday said he was satisfied with the deal, and he said Lindh will be in prison "nearly as long as he has been alive."
By 9:30 a.m., the courtroom on the ninth floor of the Albert V. Bryan Federal Courthouse in Alexandria was filled to capacity by reporters expecting to see a pretrial hearing on Lindh's motion to throw out statements he made during his capture in Afghanistan in November.
When Lindh entered the courtroom, he smiled and his eyes brightened at the sight of his parents, older brother and younger sister in the second row. They all knew of the plea deal about to be announced.
Judge Ellis appeared to be as surprised as reporters in the audience when his opening of the hearing was interrupted by Lindh's lawyer, James Brosnahan, who announced that a plea deal had been reached "late [Sunday] night."
Lindh stepped up to the courtroom podium to officially enter the new plea. "I plead guilty. I plead guilty, sir," Lindh told the judge in a soft voice.
The judge asked Lindh a series of questions about his background and when and why he left the United States for Afghanistan.
"I attended some college in California, as well as Yemen," Lindh said. "In California, I studied courses in Western history and algebra. In Yemen, I studied Arabic language and Arabic studies.
"I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to November. During the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades," Lindh said. "I did so knowing it was illegal."
Lindh, who had been slated for trial Aug. 26, was found last year among Taliban members jailed after a deadly prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, that killed an American CIA operative, Johnny "Mike" Spann.
Bearded and grizzled from war, Lindh appeared in an interview with a CNN war correspondent, describing his allegiance to the Taliban.
During the weeks that followed, Lindh told FBI agents that he had met bin Laden at a training camp, where the terrorist leader thanked him for taking part in the jihad, according to federal prosecutors.
In court papers filed last month, prosecutors said Lindh gave up an opportunity to come clean in Afghanistan when he refused to answer questions from Mr. Spann, who was interviewing Taliban prisoners at Mazar-e-Sharif on Nov. 25.
Lindh told the FBI that it was just hours after Mr. Spann interviewed him that he heard shots and screams from the basement of the prison. When he tried to run, he was shot in the leg, according to court papers.
Mr. Spann was killed in the prison uprising, and although Lindh apparently did not participate in the battle, prosecutors were expected to argue that there is sufficient evidence to show that he was aware it had been planned; therefore, that he was a part of the conspiracy that led to Mr. Spann's death.
Mr. Spann's mother, Gail Spann, criticized the plea deal reached yesterday, saying it was not fair.
No references to Mr. Spann were contained in the deal. Outside the courthouse after the deal was reached, Mr. Brosnahan told reporters that charges of Lindh's "alleged involvement or overt act relating to the death of Johnny Micheal Spann" had been dropped.
Lindh, who grew up in a middle-class family in Marin County, Calif., before his journey to Afghanistan, will be 41 when freed from prison under terms of the plea deal.
The agreement also restricts him from making any profit from books or movies that will tell his story. The profits will be turned over to the government.
Lindh's father, Frank Lindh, said he was thankful the plea deal turned out the way it did.
"John has no bitterness," he said. "John loves America, and we love America. God bless America."
"I've always been proud of him. I'm still proud of him," said John Lindh's 24-year-old brother, Connell.
John Lindh's mother, Marilyn Walker, said her son went to Afghanistan to "satisfy his thirst [for Islam]," not because he had an "intention of fighting against the United States."
Through tears yesterday, she described him as a "kind, humble and loving son."


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