Frank Lindh, father of Taliban member and American citizen John Walker Lindh, told a CU audience Tuesday night why he thinks the U.S. government “betrayed” to his son.
John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban following the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I have a simple proposition for you tonight,” stated Lindh. “My proposition is that John Lindh, contrary to what you might think, did not betray the United States of America. The United States of America betrayed John Lindh.”
In his presentation, sponsored by Boulder public radio station KGNU, Lindh said that his son was in Afghanistan for religious reasons and never once intended to take up arms against United States armed forces. Lindh also said that prejudice from both the media and powerful government officials immediately following his detention led to an unfair trial for his son.
“Never before in the history of this country has any criminal defendant been subjected to anything approaching the statements by government officials against my son,” said Lindh.
Lindh began the presentation by giving a biography of his son, highlighting his attraction to Islam, which came after watching the movie Malcolm X when he was 12. John Walker Lindh formally converted to Islam at age 16, and moved to the Middle East soon after. In the spring of 2001, John Walker Lindh wrote to his parents to tell them that he would be spending his summer in the mountains bordering Afghanistan to avoid the heat. This story, however, was a cover, as John Walker Lindh actually went into the mountains to serve in the Taliban army.
Lindh explained that his son volunteered for the army for the purpose of fighting against the Northern Alliance, an organization vying for control of Afghanistan and committing crimes against Muslims in the process. He also said that at the time his son agreed to join the Taliban forces in April 2001, the United States had endorsed the Taliban, presenting it with a $43 million dollar grant to eradicate opium use.
Following Sept. 11, in the middle of John Walker Lindh’s service with the Taliban, the United States switched from backing the Taliban to backing the Northern Alliance.
John Walker Lindh was stuck in the middle of a war, said his father, and was trying to escape when American troops found him a prisoner in a Northern Alliance fortress. Lindh said that his son saw his discovery by American forces as a rescue and not as a capture.
After U.S. forces brought John to an army hospital, Lindh said that CNN reporter Robert Pelton unethically interviewed him.
While Pelton’s crew videotaped John Walker Lindh being carried away in a stretcher, John Walker Lindh stated, “You don’t have permission to film me. If you are concerned about my welfare, don’t film me.”
John Walker Lindh was then given a morphine shot by hospital officials, and, delirious with exhaustion and morphine, proceeded to tell his whole story to Pelton.
The airing of this interview on CNN, Lindh contends, is where the media backlash against his son began.
“In the highly emotional atmosphere in the United States after the 9/11 attacks, the tape only served to arouse enormous animosity against John in the general public,” Lindh said.
Lindh went on to cite the various parties he said are responsible for contributing to the prejudice against his son. Lindh provided quotes they made to the media concerning John Walker Lindh. Among those he cited were Senator Hillary Rodman Clinton, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, former president George H. Bush, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Lindh claims that public statements made by these figures made his son’s jury biased before court was even in session.
“The whole idea of our constitution and the rights of a criminal defendant is that you don’t presume someone is guilty just because they happened to be there,” Lindh said. “Everything is off-kilter if the government throws out all this prejudicial commentary outside the courtroom so that by the time you panel a jury, it’s all over. The jury is already convinced before they ever assemble.”
John Walker Lindh eventually pleaded guilty on two charges – serving the Taliban and carrying illegal weapons. He is now serving a 20-year prison sentence without parole.
His father repeatedly said that John Walker Lindh was not convicted on any sort of terrorism charges whatsoever.
Lindh asked all members in the audience to write to President George Bush and request commutation, or the reduction of a prison sentence, for his son.
Lindh concluded the presentation with a question and answer section. The audience was varied, comprised of Muslims, local citizens, CU students and a soldier who recently returned from Afghanistan.
Lindh has been speaking publicly about his son’s case since early 2006, following several years of silence about the trial. He is now actively fighting for a commutation of his son’s sentence.