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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