Joining Taliban was 'a mistake', says Lindh

John Walker Lindh, interrupting nearly every sentence with a sob, expressed hope that Americans would someday forgive him while he serves a 20-year sentence for joining the Taliban army.

Tears flowed Friday from the moment that Lindh (21) told a hushed courtroom, his family and US District Judge TS Ellis III he wanted to atone for his conduct.

Lindh’s remorse in his sentencing proceeding was in stark contrast to Richard Reid’s laughter as the British citizen pleaded guilty in Boston on Friday to attempting to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his shoes.

And on what Attorney General John Ashcroft called a “defining day” in the war on terrorism, authorities announced the arrests of four people in Oregon and Michigan on charges of conspiring to wage war on the United States and support al-Qaida terrorists.

Lindh’s sentence was negotiated in advance last July, when he pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying explosives in commission of a felony. Each count carries a maximum 10-year sentence.

The Californian has been cooperating with the government and will take a lie detector test when the interrogations are finished.

The judge said he’ll take the unusual step of making the polygraph results public.

Ellis told Lindh that he accepted his acknowledgment of responsibility for breaking the law, but lectured him that “forgiveness is separate from punishment”.

“You were willing to give your life for the Taliban but not for your country,” the judge said.

Wearing a green jail jumpsuit, Lindh stood at a podium and spent much of a nearly 20-minute statement condemning the Taliban and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“I understand why so many Americans were angry when I was first discovered in Afghanistan. I realise that many still are, but I hope that with time and understanding, their feelings will change,” Lindh said.

Thanking the judge “for giving me this opportunity ...
to express my remorse for what’s happened,” Lindh added: “I made a mistake by joining the Taliban. I want the court to know, and I want the American people to know that had I realised then what I know now about the Taliban, I would never have joined them.”

Lindh told the judge that “Bin Laden’s terrorist attacks are completely against Islam, completely contrary to the conventions of jihad and without any justification whatsoever.”

“His grievances, whatever they may be, cannot be addressed by acts of injustice and violence against innocent people in America,” Lindh said.

Ellis said some Americans would think the 20-year sentence too severe and others would believe it was too lenient. One who took the latter view was Johnny Spann, the father of a CIA paramilitary officer killed during a prison uprising in Afghanistan where Lindh was present.

Spann said Lindh bore some responsibility for the death of Johnny “Mike” Spann, telling the judge: “My grandchildren would love to know their dad would be back in 20 years. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime to me.”

Ellis, however, said he never would have approved the plea agreement if the government had shown any evidence that Lindh was responsible for Spann’s death.

Lindh told the judge, “I had no role in the death of Johnny Micheal Spann” and assistant US Attorney Randy Bellows confirmed the government had no evidence to show that Lindh participated in the murder.

Lindh also told the court that he never understood jihad to mean anti-Americanism or terrorism and declared, “I condemn terrorism on every level unequivocally.”

He said he went to Afghanistan and enlisted in the Taliban army because he believed it was “my religious duty to assist my fellow Muslims militarily in their jihad against the Northern Alliance,” the Taliban’s internal Afghan enemies who eventually fought alongside the United States. - Sapa-AP

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