Why John Walker Lindh Should Be Freed-- And Why He Won't Be

The semi-regular circus that might as well be called the John Walker Lindh Commutation Pledge Drive trotted itself out again Wednesday. It will probably do so every time any penny-ante terror suspect pleads guilty and gets a slap on the wrist from the American government-- an event that has occurred with some frequency and which occurred again last week in the case of Australian David Hicks. It will do so until some president, some day, realizes that what happened to Lindh in the federal court system back in 2002 was not justice or fairness or anything other than an unusually harsh result for an unusually pathetic young man.

No one argues that Lindh didn't deserve some form of punishment for fighting with the Taliban before 9-11 and then not abandoning his "colleagues" once the Twin Towers fell. This was a terrible mistake in judgment and for it Lindh deserves plenty of scorn. But Lindh did not commit any act of terrorism-- he never pleaded guilty to those charges and they were dropped as part of his plea deal. He never took up arms against U.S. troops. And contrary to what some of you might believe, he never had anything to do with the death of CIA agent John Michael Spann. (Note to commenters on this: Lindh was wounded and lying in the basement of the prison at Mazir E Sharif when Spann was killed-- above ground-- and no evidence has ever been produced, publicly anyway, to suggest that he was part of a conspiracy to kill the CIA agent or that he even knew about the plot beforehand). Moreover, Lindh was never charged with treason, much less convicted of it.

If you compare Lindh's conduct with the conduct of Hicks, you cannot fairly say that Lindh deserves a punishment that is four times longer. And if you compare Lindh's conduct with the conduct of Yaser Esam Hamdi, another U.S. citizen apprehended early in the war on terror on a foreign battlefield, the disproportionate treatment becomes even more apparent. Hamdi is free today. Lindh is scheduled to get out of federal prison in 13 more years.

That's the thumbnail sketch as to why Lindh deserves to have his prison sentence commuted by President Bush. But it will never happen. Even if the President is personally sympathetic to Lindh's plight, he has too much at stake politically to do an about-face and give the young man a break. Moreover, at least as of today, there doesn't appear to be the sort of relentless political pressure upon the White House-- say, by Congress or the public-- to declare that Lindh has served enough time for the crimes he committed. Without that political pressure from the Australian government on behalf of Hicks, it is unlikely that he would have gotten the sweetheart deal that he did.

So the John Walker Lindh Commutation Pledge Drive is destined to be with us until at least 2009, if not longer, long after Hicks joins Hamdi among the ranks of the free.

By Andrew Cohen |  April 5, 2007; 8:18 AM ET
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Walker Lindh, contrary to your assertion, deserves no punishment whatsoever. He belonged to the Taliban at a time when the US government was providing that organization with foreign aid via the Afghan government it owned and operated. He had nothing other than stupid parents who permitted and financed his foolish religious escapade. If he showed no contrition with the 911 attack, he only exhibited something he had in common with millions of Americans who had no sympathy for NYC in 2001. So if we are going to punish him on that basis, we need to apply the same justice to the red necked, right wing Christian freak-slobs who inhabit the bible belts of this nation and hate NYC.

Posted by: Sam Biggler | April 5, 2007 02:04 PM

Let anmyone who would join a terrorist organization anywhere in the world rot in jail. Let all parents who let their kid go o pakistan to study be warned by this pathetic man's experience...

and let the criminals in the whitehouse who joined forces with evil in outing a covert CIA operation and agent join Mr. Lindh in prison for treason against america.

Should his sentence be commuted to a shorter term... perhaps. Does he belong in jail? Absolutely.

Posted by: Long Beach, CA | April 5, 2007 02:04 PM

Mr. Cohen,
Mr. Lindh was part of the escape that cost John Spann his life. He then ran off & hid, instead of giving himself up to US Troops.

He appears to have belonged both to the Taliban & Al Queda.

This is more than a lapse of judgement.

Maybe you should consider instead, whether Hicks & Hamdi deserve greater punishment...

Posted by: Captain America | April 5, 2007 02:15 PM

Why would the commentator say Lindh had nothing to so with the death of CIA officer Spann? In American jurisprudence if you are an accomplice to a crime you get time, and if that crime was murder it doesn't matter which one of you pulled the trigger. Lindh and his Taliban friends staged a prison break and Spann was killed. Lindh is an accomplice and he deserves every day in jail. Let's stop worrying about traitors and start worrying about the good people. Forget Lindh - forever.

Posted by: Ironman | April 5, 2007 02:17 PM

Not anytime soon
But eventually
But only with a precondition that his US citizenship be revoked and he be expelled from this country and barred from entry
Let him go live with his new friends

Posted by: | April 5, 2007 02:37 PM

"penne-ante terror suspect"?? Are we now betting with pasta?

(I believe the expression is "penny ante")

Posted by: TonyO | April 5, 2007 03:57 PM

On the law and the facts Mr. Lindh committed no crime. He can thank the press and Ashcroft for creating an atmosphere of hate and revenge, having called him scum and a traitor, deserving the death penalty. The plea agreement was both a recognition of the government's weak case and the defendant's concern about a poisoned jury pool.

He was a kid, like many others who did stupid things in the pursuit of spiritual connections. 9/11 changed everything? No, we just forgot the stumps in our eyes.

Posted by: star chamber | April 5, 2007 04:10 PM

I believe Mr. Cohen may have a sympathetic streak. Mr. Lindh was certainly no child and choose freely a course of action that led to his arrest and confinement. My wish is that others, like Mr. Lindh who go abroad and trash the U.S.A. could join him.

Posted by: Dale Holte | April 5, 2007 04:19 PM

The Taliban were instrumental in kicking out the Soviets, bringing stability to a devastated Afganistan, and eliminating the heroin trade. They came to the U.S. and the U.N. in 1997 to aske for foreign aid and recognition as the legitimate government of Afganistan. They were told to take a hike. They were reprimanded for not allowing women to go to school. They replied that no one was going to school, because there was no money. Years later, when they threatened to blow up the colossal Buddhas, all the nations came up with money to save the statues. The Taliban was outraged: Money for statues, but not for schools and hunger? So they blew up the statues. Then came Osama, who gave them money. We know what Osama did. Bush ordered the Taliban to give him up. But Osama was their guest, good or bad. Moral dilemma. Good for Osama, bad for the Taliban. But now the heroin is back; the place is lawless; and one of the lawless groups is a resurgent Taliban. Bad choices all around. But the Soviet state was broken. Now it's resurgent. And now we waste our tax dollars there while our citizens in Louisiana wait for help; while millions can't afford health care; while schools beg for money; while the air, water, and weather continue to deteriorate; while Bush and Cheney and Gonzales and Rumsfeld are heretofore unscathed. Let's see: who are the idiots in this scenario? In the good ol' Yahoo S A?

Posted by: The name of the game is BS | April 5, 2007 04:33 PM

True, Lindh did not get what he deserved... Our greatest president, George Washington, would have had him hanged...

Posted by: gitarre | April 5, 2007 04:37 PM

Your full of methane... if you're just average, you fart 5 lbs of methane per day. I'd say you're doing more than your share. Lindl should have been shoot for treason. The SW Border Patrol fiasco... should end now... with the two Patrol men, now in jail, released with a million dollars compenstion each. And that drug running Mex either put in Gitmo or shiped to southern Venezuala... not compensation... oh give him a few tortillias, on second thought corn is too expensive a/c the ethanol fiasco.

Posted by: JFK | April 5, 2007 04:52 PM

Mr. Lindh's sentence was quite lenient. Does the crime of treason no longer exist in this country?

Posted by: John Harris | April 5, 2007 04:56 PM

I am amazed at the vitriole that divides the US. The Lindh case is: Animosity-v-Sympathy. Why not look at the facts of the case and the legal principles that should govern it: one of them is consistency. The moment the court and jail systems are used in an irrational and vindictive way the US ends up with injustice. Many of the attitudes that characterise views expressed in these Posts stem from the idea of punishing and hurting people that one disapproves of or does not like. It is an approach based on beliefs, not principles. Unless the US lifts its game it will continue to wreak havoc around the world. I see a very strong vigilante attitude that says: we know he's guilty so we will catch him , lynch him and then have a trial in which he will be convicted. After Lindh was brought back to the US the lawyer retained by his family publicly stated that he did not want to handle the case. The lawyer's law firm made similar noises to distance themselves from Lindh. Apparently, many people were not prepared to consider the circumstances of his actions calmly.

Posted by: Robert James | April 5, 2007 05:24 PM

I love how you people are so enraged by Lindh, but somehow, like Bush (our worst president ever), it's okay to not have Osama in custody almost 6 years later.

And as far as "we have people" pursuing him, that's a joke. If we wanted Osama, we'd have him. Don't fool yourselves. Instead, we invaded a country that was by far the weakest link in the "Axis of Evil."

Remember bin Laden? That dude who masterminded the 9/11 attacks? He'd be in jail by now if he grew up in California and God-forbid, traveled to Pakistan. Those damn Californians!

Well, hey, as long as we got some 20-year-old kid in a Federal Supermax, we've surely made strides against terrorism. Right?

P.S. For the "Ironmans" of the world, why are you so scared to use your real name? Very immature; should be "Scaredman."

Posted by: Ryan Pesicka | April 5, 2007 05:32 PM

Will all of you bloviating self-righteous holier-than-thou pontificators please try to remember that what happened to Lindt could happen to you if the circumstances so dictate.
Consider, for instance, the numbers of men rotting away for decades in Texas jails for the possession of negligible amounts of marijuana, while the big time dealers go free. Remember, justice does not come from courts of law. It comes from the barrel of a twelve guage pump action shotgun.

Posted by: Ruined Bruin | April 5, 2007 06:19 PM

You state Lindh's version of events as if they were established truth. They are anything but. Lindh seems to have been shot during the attempt by him and his fellow prisoners to kill their guards and escape. He may have been shot by Mike Spann himself -- we'll never know, since Lindh himself isn't talking and isn't credible regardless. And let's remember why they were rioting and trying to escape: one of the reasons was that they learned the CIA had arrived. What did Lindh do when he learned the Americans were there? Run into the arms of the Americans and explain himself as a lost kid who made a bad decision? No, he ran away from the Americans and barricaded himself, with his terrorist compatriots, inside the prison, which was itself a former fort(many of the escaping prisoners by that time were armed; whether Lindh was is unclear), and they continued fighting and did not come out until an assault team flooded the area with water many hours later. Lindh resisted until the end, even after he was wounded. Check your facts. Large chunks of the version of events that Lindh's father is spinning are just flat out lies, as many other journalists have shown. I can forgive the father, to some extent, but what's your excuse?

Posted by: Rational | April 5, 2007 06:29 PM

Is Lindh a traitor? This is the question. Does one have the right to be with a Party that the U.S. is not yet at war with? And if war is declared, what is Lindhs duty? If war breaks out, does he automatically become a traitor? Or is this just an exercise in our 1st amendment? We cannot change our Bill of Rights because we do not like what we see. After all, is this not the sole reason for our 1st amendment?
Please do not misinterpret me- I think he is a scumbag.But one of the basest points of our Constitution is the power to overthrow an oppressive government. Who is to judge that he thought this? You? Me? I will do a quote. Author unknow though it may be Ben Franklin, publisher emeritus--- You may disagree with my choice- but not my right to choose.

Posted by: jamie | April 5, 2007 09:20 PM

Let me see- Lindh was prosecuted via the Federal courts and remains imprisoned in a Federal prison. Hamdi was imprisoned without charges by the Navy and then released and returned to Saudi Arabia after he renounced his American citizenship. Padilla was declared to be an enemy combatant, and imprisoned without charges at Guantanamo. All three were American citizens and only one received anything like due process. Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Anyone with any legal brains (which I don't see a lot of, even from those who call themselves lawyers) might make the case that the Federal government made a "binding election" in its handling of the first case of this kind, with Lindh. Based on what normally passes as American legal precedent, the Federal government would then have to treat Hamdi and Padilla the same way they treated Lindh. It really, really bothers me that American citizens could be handled via these special tribunals instead of Federal courts. Because, in the end, Lindh got what he deserved, Padilla may have been tortured into mental illness, and Hamdi got off scott free. There's a lesson here. The legally-constituted American justice system is fully capable of being used for good outcomes in this struggle against terrorism and lawless groups.

Posted by: George Robertson | April 5, 2007 09:42 PM

Lindh is a scapegoat. I think he's vile, but in our legal system we punish people for what they do not their character and we can't prove that Lindh did all that much. It's becoming more and more excusable in this country to punish men for what and how they think and not what they've done. That scares and upsets me precisely because I love America. There's nothing less American than punishing "thought crime."

Posted by: Sam | April 5, 2007 11:35 PM

Lindh is a young man who followed his convictions to the ends of the earth, and is paying the price for casting his lot with the poor and pious of the Middle East. Like Pontius Pilate, the Department of Justice metes out horrific punishments to those whose actions challenge the rule of the Sadducees in Jerusalem. He's lucky he didn't get the needle. Good Friday.

Posted by: Mateus | April 6, 2007 01:35 AM

He had a political prosecution, and the whole guilt by association thing is more than a little stupid in the case of the CIA guy.

Posted by: Gentry | April 6, 2007 01:26 PM

The Bush Crime family has given billions of dollars to bin Laden through their intelligence channels. ArbustoBucks claims The My Pet Goat Lesson was planned in a cave in Crapistan. The Bush Crime family knows more about covert intelligence-operated flight schools around Florida's 13th District than any cave in Crapistan.

Posted by: My Florida My Boehner | April 6, 2007 01:35 PM

The link you provided under "what happened to Lindh" contains the following phase, "Walker Lindh was sentenced to 20 years in prison as part of an agreement..."

If he agreed to serve the time, what are we arguing about?

Posted by: Bob | April 6, 2007 01:41 PM

So some fellow posters think Lindh deserves freedom for "taking his 1st amendment rights against an oppressive government" in the United States, and being just "a young man who made a bad decision and ideologically disagreed with the US"? What about the Nazi saboteurs during WWII? Did they just make bad decisions? Were they just practicing their 1st amendment rights too, since they were ideologically in favor of the Nazis? What about John Wilkes Booth? Was HE exercising his 1st amendment rights to kill the president of an oppressive government?


Being with the Taliban in the first place wasn't a crime at the time, but it was his actions after 9/11 that condemned him. He chose to remain loyal to a regime, a regime that harbored an organization that killed 3000 Americans, over his own country. I do agree, however, that Hamdi, Hicks, Padilla, Lindh, et. al., should have their cases treated equally and be given their LEGAL rights.


But taking a stand in favor of Lindh, in light of his actions after 9/11, is morally indefensible. There was plenty he could have done to help his case after the US invasion, and he didn't do it.


The movement of relativism today in the popular consciousness turns violent traitors into "ideological dissenters". In our society, individuals must be held responsible for their actions. (And I'm not a Republican, either. Don't even get me started about the Bush administration...)

Posted by: Voice of Reason | April 6, 2007 02:30 PM

Lindh got what he deserved. Click the link below to read the article by Robert Young Pelton, the journalist who interviewed him at Qala Jangi prison after his capture.

http://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/2006/01/the_truth_about.html

Posted by: | April 8, 2007 07:47 AM

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