Posted 2:15 p.m. Dec. 8
By Patrick W. Higgins
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
A man claiming to be an American citizen and believed to be a Taliban soldier was taken into custody by U.S. Special Forces following a prison riot near the Afghanistan town of Mazar-e-Sharif this week.
John Phillip Walker Lindh, a 20-year-old who refers to himself as Abdul Humid, was one of 86 survivors following the Northern Alliance’s three-day campaign to suppress a Taliban prison riot.
Lindh, along with Taliban soldiers, two of which also claim to be Americans, emerged from the underground cells after the Northern Alliance bombarded the complex with firebombs, rockets, and eventually a flood of water, causing many prisoners to drown.
Lindh was taken to a Turkish-Afghan hospital where American soldiers promptly took him into custody, treating his gunshot wounds and interrogating him about his involvement with the rebel government.
In an interview with Newsweek, Lindh’s parents, Frank Lindh and Marilyn Walker insisted their son, born in the District of Columbia and raised in Silver Springs, Md., and later in San Francisco must have been “brainwashed” by the Taliban leaders.
Born and raised as a Catholic, Lindh expressed an interest in the Islamic religion as a teen, according to his parents. After high school, he moved to Yemen to study Arabic, then migrated to Pakistan to study the Koran at which point his parents lost contact with him. Lindh resurfaced last Saturday, clad in a beard and covered in soot and dirt beyond recognition.
At this point, U.S. military and federal officials refuse to label Lindh as an American or a prisoner of war, and are equally vague on his future.
“I do know a bit about the various options and I have not landed on one at the moment,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Associated Press. “You can be certain he will have all the rights he is due.”
As the facts are slowly being pieced together, the debate over the legal future of Lindh is intensifying as legal scholars are speculating federal charges of treason and seditious conspiracy, and have not ruled out the possibility of a military tribunal.
Military tribunals were re-established by President Bush in November following a 60-year hiatus. These controversial makeshift courts allow the U.S. military to investigate, prosecute, and punish, even by death, non-Americans suspected of terrorism.
In this case, Lindh’s claimed American citizenship would automatically absolve him from such a trial, forcing Rumsfeld and the government to explore other options.
“The military order does permit not prosecuting Americans before the tribunals, but the President can always issue a new order,” said Sean Murphy, a law professor at George Washington University.
Treason is the only U.S. law which is clearly defined in the U.S. Constitution which states: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
Throughout U.S. history, the charge of treason has only been levied 30 times due to its complex grounds for prosecution. If Lindh is tried and convicted however, the crime is punishable by death as stipulated by Congress.
Seditious conspiracy is defined by federal law as “if two or more individuals … conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof…”
Though intended for crimes committed within U.S. jurisdiction, legal scholars emphasize the possibility of this charge being brought against Lindh in a slightly altered form.
While the legal future of the 20-year old American remains unclear, students’ opinions are lucid and fairly unanimous.
“It was a conscious decision. He chose to be there and to do what he did. He should be put on trial like anyone else,” said Sue Song, a freshman at George Washington University.
Other students favored a more stringent response by the government.
“He should be subject to some sort of punishment. He went there on his own will, and I think we should fry him,” said Sean Rose, a freshman at George Washington University.