Charley Reese: Charges against Lindh overstated : LUSENET : Zonkers : One Thread

Charley Reese: Charges against Lindh overstated

Published Monday, February 18, 2002 11:30 AM CST

John Walker Lindh, if he can receive a fair trial — and that’s a huge if — will probably be acquitted of all charges.

Maybe it is because we haven’t found the leadership of al-Qaida, or the Taliban, or the man who sent the anthrax letters, but the Justice Department seems to be almost hysterically determined to make a scapegoat out of an American kid who is guilty, it seems to me, of nothing but bad judgment and even worse luck.

Let’s try to calmly review the facts as we know them:

This kid converted to Islam. That’s not a crime. Thousands of people do that every day around the world. It’s one of the faster-growing religions.

He went to Yemen to improve his Arabic. That’s not a crime.

He went to Pakistan for further study of Islam. That’s not a crime.

He went to Afghanistan, became enamored of the Taliban and signed up in its army. That’s not a crime.

Because he could not speak the language of the Afghans but was fluent in Arabic, the Taliban (according to his lawyer) sent him to al-Qaida for military training. That’s not a crime.

After he completed his training, which is the same training we provide our own soldiers (though probably not as thorough), al-Qaida tried to recruit him for a terrorist mission, either in the United States or Israel. Young Walker said “No” and returned to the Taliban as a common soldier. That’s not a crime, and it’s to his credit.

At this time, the Taliban was fighting the Northern Alliance, which, far from being an American ally at that time, was on our “dirty guys” list, so that was not a crime. The mission that resulted in the Sept. 11 attacks had been put into operation long before this kid even arrived in Pakistan. There is no way he would have had any advanced knowledge of it. He was Taliban, not al-Qaida, and the Taliban, however bad we think it is, was the legitimate government of Afghanistan and not a terrorist organization.

At what point he knew, if he ever knew, that the United States had decided to attack the Taliban and make itself an ally of the Northern Alliance, I don’t know. I suppose that will come out in the trial. Bear in mind that this kid was a lowly soldier in a country with virtually no televisions or radios and very little contact with the outside world. And having been a private in our own Army, I can tell you that neither the brass nor the political bosses make it a habit to tell you what their plans are.

Perhaps when we started bombing the hell out of the Taliban, he realized what was going on. What was he supposed to do? Report to his commanding officer and say, “Sir, now that the United States is assisting our enemy, the Northern Alliance, I’m going to have to desert”? He would have been shot.

More to the point, men who fight together form a bond, so it’s no surprise that this idealistic kid chose to stay with his comrades, with whom he had shared dangers and hardships. But to say that a lowly soldier fighting in the trenches is conspiring to kill Americans is absurd on its face. At the time he joined the Taliban, we were not at war, and there was no reason for him to think we ever would be.

Part of this kid’s problem is the notoriously sloppy use of language by politicians and journalists. We call these training camps “terrorist training camps,” but the training is the same, as I said, as the type our own soldiers receive. There is no such thing as terrorist training. There is only training in military skills. It’s how you use the training, not the training itself, that determines if you are a terrorist.

I have on my desk two manuals that explain in great detail, complete with diagrams, how to make letter bombs, package bombs, booby traps and explosives from commonly available chemicals, along with all sorts of other unconventional ways to maim and kill. Who published them? The U.S. government. They are training manuals used by our special-ops people and have been commercially available since 1977. Does possession of this knowledge make me a terrorist? No. A Chinese firecracker is all the explosive stuff I want to deal with. I bought the manuals when I was thinking about writing a spy novel.

It is no credit to our government to try to make a monster out of a kid who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and has done no harm to any American.

-- Anonymous, February 20, 2002

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