Whatever happened to Johnny Walker Lindh?
by Drummond, Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 11:19:15 PM EDT
While in military custody he was apparently tortured into some kind of confession and brought back to the US to face 11 charges involving several death penalties. I don't remember that we were ever really given the details of those charges. Because of the coerced confession the case started to go south for the prosecution very quickly, and the government offered him a plea bargain of two counts (fighting with the Taliban and carrying weapons) with a 20 year sentence.
Salim Muwakkil of In These Times has an article in the current issue, and the following passage boggles my mind:
Once eligible for several death penalties, Lindh pled guilty to only one of the 11 charges initially lodged against him--providing assistance to the Taliban government in violation of the economic sanctions imposed by President Bill Clinton, a charge completely unrelated to terrorism. But Lindh still received a 20-year sentence and a gag order that bars him from relating the specifics of his ordeal.What exactly was the government so anxious to hide, and why did the press let everybody off the hook? It may be that the gag order was discussed in the news, but I don't remember it and was shocked to learn it from this article. Shame on me for not paying attention at the time either?
In retrospect, Lindh was "the first American to get Abu-Ghraibed." This insight, foretelling the pull of brutality in the war on terror, was one of many offered by Tom Junod in an article featured in Esquire's July 2006 edition. Junod's piece, headlined, "Innocent: Can America and Islam Coexist?" eloquently tells Lindh's horrific tale.
Now 25, Lindh is confined to a federal, medium-security prison in Victorville, Calif. He is allowed no visitors except his family and attorneys, and none of them can publicly reveal anything he says. The government has complete access to his communications and forbids him from speaking Arabic, in which he is fluent.
I was starting to type a "don't get me wrong, Lindh deserves what he got," but I'm not even so sure that anything he did was particularly evil. It sounds like a kid who took a wrong turn and got caught in the wrong place at the worst possible time.
Muwakkil's piece references , by Tom Junod. Very compelling reading, including the following passage:
He is a better person than you or I. He has gone away, but his story hasn't, because his story is about something no prison can extinguish. Even in prison, he has a glow, a light on his face. He has a spiritual presence. His list of don'ts stretches further than your list of dos, and his list of dos keeps him occupied in the vast chronological wasteland of prison. He's very kind. He has no anger, no dark testosteronal currents. He has a sad story to tell, but he doesn't tell it as a sad story. He is not bitter. He's funny, in fact. His father, on the lecture circuit now, says that when he visits his son in prison, they sit for five and six hours at a time, talking, laughing. The guards look at them. Not that he's flippant, a wiseguy. He's very, very serious. He's very concerned about the poor--so concerned that he's lived among them. He's committed to social justice, though he's the first to admit that he's made some bad decisions in that regard. But that's another thing about him. He never lies. He never changes his story, even when he has every reason to. He's very consistent, to put it mildly.He's been assaulted by a fellow inmate, but other than that his prison time seems to have been "uneventful," except for the expected indignities of imprisonment as described in great detail in the Esquire article. The article also challenges even my lingering assumption that he took a "wrong turn," and provides quite the narrative of his life. Hamza, as he now calls himself, may be confused under my secularist standards, but he seems far from evil. If you aren't sold on the article, here's one more piece of enticement.
Still, Hamza is careful. The greatest fear of his father and mother is simply that he will be killed in prison, and it is probably Hamza's, too. He doesn't go where there is a lack of supervision. He doesn't play sports, and he doesn't spend a lot of time out on the yard, except on Fridays, when after Friday prayers some of the brothers find a corner in the yard and talk about God and nobody dares mess with them or with Hamza. Well, almost nobody: "A Christian guard--a good, decent man--told me something one day," says Shakeel Syed. "He said, 'Some of us try to provoke him once in a while. We try to make him mad.' Then he said, 'We fail miserably.'Or this one:
Take another look. Now Hamza is on a plane, being transported to an ad hoc American base set up outside Kandahar called Camp Rhino. He still has the bullet in his thigh. He can't walk, but his wrists are bound so tightly that he begins to scream. He says, "Please don't kill me," and a soldier tells him to shut up. Later he's duct-taped to a stretcher, naked, and put in a shipping container. Soldiers are spitting in his food and taking souvenir pictures of him and his blindfold emblazoned with the word SHITHEAD. Who is the righteous one? And who is favored by God?You know you want to read it, even if you don't. Kudos to Esquire, a magazine I normally wouldn't even bother to glance at in the Supermarket line.
So again, where is the media scrutiny of this gag order? Were they even interested? In 16 years we may find out precisely what the government was so desperate to hide. If he makes it that long.
But hey, for equal time and perspective, let's just remember that he's a scumbag. It's easier that way in any case.
Photos are courtesy of Google and Frontpagemagazine.