Jewish World Review June 22, 2004 / 3 Tamuz 5764

Paul Greenberg

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John Walker Lindh heard from | Just as a legalistic memo defending torture was being leaked out of the Justice Department's inner sancta, the Los Angeles Times was giving all of us a peak at some of the separate but equally legalistic arguments being set forth in defense of John Walker Lindh.

You remember Mr. Lindh, also known as Abdul Hamid when he was with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and as Suleyman al-Faris before that, when he was about to begin training with al-Qaida. How could anyone forget him?

Mr. Lindh is now doing 20 years for supporting the enemies of the United States. But he turned up in the news again when some of his legal complaints were made public. According to this account, he was never read his Miranda rights after being captured.


After all, the only thing Mr. Lindh had done was take up arms with the Taliban and his al-Qaida buddies. And, oh yes, he'd also been caught up in a prison revolt at Mazar-i-Sharif that cost the life of the first American combat death in Afghanistan - a CIA agent named Mike Spann. And hundreds of others.

But instead of being furnished with a lawyer by the GIs he'd been shooting at a moment before, Mr. Lindh/Hamid/al-Faris was humiliated, stripped, interrogated and even subjected to the familiar good cop/bad cop routine by a couple of CIA agents. How beastly of them.

Call it Lindh's Law. For every lunatic action out of the Justice Department, like its straight-faced defense of torture, there is an equal but opposite reaction from those it prosecutes: No pressure must be used to encourage prisoners to talk.

According to John Walker Lindh's lawyers, the war on terror is to be conducted like some kind of proceeding in criminal court. It still is being conducted that way in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who may or may not have been the 20th hijacker on September 11, but who was certainly part of the al-Qaida plan to attack this country sometime. His case has been lingering in the courts for two years now as defense and prosecution maneuver, and it remains the best argument around for why military tribunals are needed to deliver swift and effective justice.

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Should we treat terrorism as just another problem in law enforcement? Been there, done that. That's the way terrorism was viewed in the '90s, which may explain why it was so effective. Back then al-Qaida was considered just another criminal conspiracy, like the mob. Even though it had declared a world war on America. (See Osama bin Laden's fatwa published in an Arabic newspaper in London early in 1998, which nobody seemed to notice till September 11, 2001.) But now we're told Mr. Lindh's civil rights were violated when he wasn't furnished a lawyer and a Miranda warning as soon as he was captured.

As for Mike Spann, the CIA agent killed at Mazar-e-Sharif, his rights went unmentioned in this news story. He was the kind of fighter this country needs if the war on terror is to be won - the kind who will inevitably be lost as they volunteer for the most dangerous missions. In short, he was worth an infinity of John Walker Lindhs to his country.

It is because of Mike Spann, and many others like him, that some of us can sit in clean, well-lighted offices, comfortable and secure, and argue the civil rights of the John Walker Lindhs of the world.

For some reason a picture from one of the Egyptian-Israeli wars in the Sinai came back to me when reading of Mr. Lindh's complaints about his treatment. It showed a huge mound of belts. It seems the Israelis, on capturing Egyptian units, had all the POWs remove their belts. How undignified, how humiliating. Were the Israelis aware that this might be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention? Well, at least they knew this much: It's not easy for a man to join a prisoner uprising when he's got to hold his pants up at the same time.

If only the prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif had been watched more carefully, even stripped and humiliated and put on bread and water if that's what it would have taken to keep them from staging their revolt. If it could have been prevented, Mike Spann might still be alive to tell his side of the story whenever Mr. Lindh appears at the inevitable parole hearing.

In the meantime, periodic dispatches will inform us of how poor young Lindh was denied legal counsel or never read his rights or otherwise mistreated merely because he had knowingly taken up arms on the other side of this worldwide conflict.

And 20 years from now - less with time off for good behavior - the usual quarters will probably hail him as a martyr when he walks out of prison still in his early 40s. Who will remember Mike Spann then? Does anyone outside his family and service buddies remember him now? We all should.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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