- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

The widow of the CIA officer fatally shot moments after questioning American Taliban John Walker Lindh criticized yesterday the deal that ensures that her husband's prisoner will be freed as he reaches middle age.
"We as a family believed in the charges that were laid against Mr. Lindh. We believed in the government's case. And we felt strongly that if they had pursued those charges that they would have been able to convict him on the ones that were laid," said Shannon Spann, who met and married Johnny "Mike" Spann while both were training as CIA agents.
The Spann family's assessment that abandoning the prospect of a life sentence was a bad deal came as two families each pondered the fate of a son the heroic former Marine captain who was killed at Mazar-e-Sharif prison during Thanksgiving weekend and an admitted criminal whose father likened him to Nelson Mandela.
"I told John when he came back from Afghanistan, when I first met him, that Nelson Mandela served 26 years in prison. He's a good man, like John," Frank Lindh said after his son admitted helping the Taliban promote terrorism, which he knew violated U.S. law.
"President Bush, Mrs. Bush, anyone who knew John, would be proud to have him as a son. He's a really good kid," said Mr. Lindh, who said he would ask future presidents to use their clemency power to shorten his son's sentence.
In addition to pleading guilty to one count of the 10-count indictment, Lindh, 21, also admitted carrying an AKM rifle and two grenades while fighting with Taliban forces, which doubles the maximum sentence to 20 years. He can get three years off for good behavior, but federal prisons no longer offer parole.
Details of the agreement include the prospect that Lindh may spend some of the next 17 years in solitary confinement under a national security provision allowing isolation and a ban on press interviews for four months at a time.
In challenging a decision that President Bush approved, Mr. Spann's family members said they suspect Lindh was involved in Mr. Spann's death.
"He was there at the time. I think the evidence suggests that the prison uprising on that day wasn't a sort of spontaneous event but that it was pre-planned in some manner, and so certainly [he] had opportunity to have knowledge of those plans prior to the events that happened," said Mrs. Spann, who remains on leave from her CIA job.
Lindh was never charged with complicity in Mr. Spann's death, nor with treason.
Attorney General John Ashcroft called the plea bargain an "important victory" that brings justice for a man who allied himself with terrorists and fought "shoulder to shoulder alongside the Taliban."
"I don't think it's a victory to the American people, to the ordinary people. I don't think it is a victory to my son, Mike, who gave his life," said Gail Spann of Winfield, Ala. "As Mike's mom, I would like for Mike to have had 20 years to live."
Among the conditions that Lindh accepted was agreeing to be grilled by intelligence agents and undergo polygraph testing.
"To get a full debriefing and presumably a truthful one, would be something the government was willing to give this deal to get," said M. Gordon Widenhouse Jr., a criminal lawyer in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Lindh must also testify when called for military or civilian trials, abandon assertions that military forces mistreated him and give the government any money he receives for telling his story.
When a reporter asked whether his client will write that story, chief defense lawyer James Brosnahan said, "I don't know. It's going to be up to him. If he does, you'll read it. I guarantee you that."
The plea agreement was applauded by criminal lawyers with defense and prosecution backgrounds, virtually all of whom agreed that the deal avoided real risks for the prosecution and defense.
"It seems to be a very fair result for both sides," said Neil Sonnett, a top Miami defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor who said the government case had some weaknesses. "Prosecuting the case might have subjected the government to revealing evidence they didn't want to reveal at this point," he said.
Both sides worried about the fate of Lindh's videotaped interview with a CNN free-lancer in which the bearded and bedraggled Californian defended his actions as a convert to Islam and described his jihad as an experience that was all he had expected.
"He spoke in a way that was coherent, pretty articulate and, again, acknowledged that as far as he was concerned, this whole jihad thing was a good idea," said Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney for Miami, now a defense lawyer. "Very few analysts really believe that those confessions were going to get excluded, and if admitted, that's essentially the end of the [defense] case."
A separate videotape fragment showed a bound Lindh refusing to answer Mr. Spann's question just moments before the start of the prison rebellion in which the CIA agent died.
"We watched on TV as Mike stood in front of him and tried to talk to him, gave him every opportunity to say, 'Hey, I'm an American, get me out of here. I shouldn't be here. I don't want to be here.' He didn't do that. Mike would have died for him that day to get him out of that fort if he had just asked for help. He didn't. He didn't want to," said Mr. Spann's father, also named Johnny Spann.
The head of Lindh's defense team seemed to concede that, making the decision sound like desperation over the prospect that Virginia jurors would view his client as an enemy of the United States.
"It happens in time of war that there is an excitement about what's going on, and a lot of that was in this case, as I view it," Mr. Brosnahan said. "People are somewhat frightened. They are upset. It would have been difficult."
Mr. Spann's widow said she appreciated Lindh's admissions.
"I'm gratified that Mr. Walker has found it within himself to be able to accept responsibility for his actions overseas. I think that's not a small thing, really, for me on a personal level," Mrs. Spann said yesterday on CNN's "American Morning." "I'm taking some small comfort from the fact that he has admitted his guilt."


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