Parents of 'American Taliban' Want Commutation

The parents of a young Californian who joined forces with the Taliban are again asking President Bush to commute their son's prison sentence.

John Walker Lindh was called the "American Taliban."

He has been locked up ever since he was captured in Afghanistan and is now serving a 20-year sentence.

But Lindh's parents say others convicted of more serious crimes got lesser sentences.

Frank Lindh, Lindh's father, said his son is a proxy for Osama bin Laden.

"The entire country turned on our son as if he were the terrorist, as if he had perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. It was this overwhelming and emotional response and it was like being in a vortex. It was a real nightmare for all of us in John's family," he said.

Frank Lindh is an attorney for the local utility company, and Marilyn Walker has been a stay-at-home mom for their three children.

John was their middle child. They have an older son and a daughter, who just began college this year.

Serious Charges Dropped

Both parents were raised as middle-class Catholics, as was John until he was attracted to the Muslim faith after seeing the Denzel Washington film about Malcolm X.

At 17, he told his parents he wanted to go to Yemen to study Arabic.

"I did with John research as best I could," Lindh's mother said. "I talked to people about the school he was looking into to attend. And I got encouragement that it was safe and the fact that many kids go abroad to study."

But they didn't know that he would go on to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Lindh's parents have been criticized for poor parenting from angry e-mailers and for their residence in affluent Marin County.

"All three of our kids have grown up here. The schools are good. The neighborhoods are friendly. It's got a strong community sense. There are good family values in Marin. There are very wealthy enclaves in Marin, but most people who live here are just middle-income people," said Frank Lindh.

He says people assume that their son was a terrorist fighting against Americans. But he said John was merely a foot soldier in the Taliban army in the fight against another Afghan Army, the Northern Alliance.

And all but one of the charges brought by the Justice Department against John Walker Lindh were dropped. He was not found guilty of terrorism; he was not found guilty of murdering CIA agent Johnny Spann. The judge told Spann's father in court that there was no evidence of that. In the end, Lindh pleaded guilty only to violating a Clinton administration regulation that prohibited economic aid to the Taliban.

"Well, I was grateful that the deal was presented because John was facing three life terms, and at the time there didn't seem to be any hope for mercy from a jury," Lindh's mother said.

Lindh's trial had been scheduled on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in northern Virginia — near the Pentagon where many had been killed in the terrorist attacks.

Lindh's parents and others supporting the commutation of his 20-year sentence say the sentence was out of line with others charged with similar crimes.

David Hicks, an Australian, pleaded guilty to terror charges and was sentenced to nine months.

Yasser Hamdi, who was with Lindh in the Taliban military, also got a lighter sentence.

Sentence Inequities

Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department ethics adviser, quit when Walker was denied a lawyer at his interrogation.

"The administration declared Hamdi an enemy combatant, litigated the case all the way up to the Supreme Court, and, then, after they lost, set him free," she said.

Hamdi had spent less than four years in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But these three men share one thing — they all agreed not to sue the government for what they say were abusive interrogations.

And Lindh can't even talk about it. After the plea bargain, the government bound him and his parents with a gag order.

Frank Lindh says such gag orders are necessary to keep convicted terrorists from communicating with each other.

"In the case of John Lindh, they're not necessary for any legitimate purpose. It would be wonderful if you could interview John Lindh and find out what kind of person he is. But because of the gag order he's not allowed to be interviewed, and we're not allowed to tell you what we know or what we know from John," he said.

Without a sentence commutation, even with good behavior, John Lindh faces another 13 years in prison.

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