John Walker Lindh's Blues: The First GWOT Prisoner

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As I explained in May, “Lindh was never sent to Guantánamo (even though he had been designated as Guantánamo prisoner number 1 — ISN number 001), because the horrors of Guantánamo were only for foreigners, and not for anyone in possession of an American passport.” Instead, as I also explained:

[H]e was moved to Camp Rhino near Kandahar, where he was stripped naked, blindfolded, bound to a stretcher with duct tape, held in a shipping container ringed with barbed wire and interrogated by the US military and the CIA, who reported regularly to Donald Rumsfeld (and where soldiers scrawled “shithead” on his blindfold and told him he would be hanged).

He was then held on two ships (the USS Peleliu and the USS Bataan), and was brought to the US on January 22, 2002, and charged on February 5 on ten charges relating to his alleged involvement with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In July 2002, he was persuaded to accept a plea deal, which led to a punitive 20-year sentence, announced on October 4, 2002, which he is still serving in at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute, Indiana. He is held in one of the Communication Management Units (CMUs) for mainly Muslim prisoners that have come under intense criticism from human rights activists, as I explained in two articles in April, and, as a result of his plea deal, is prevented from speaking publicly and is also permanently prevented him from challenging anyone in authority about his shameful abuse in US custody prior to his trial.

Following his op-ed in the New York Times, Frank Lindh has followed up with a  full-length article about his son, which was published in the Observer on July 10, and I’m cross-posting it below for a variety of reasons. Frank Lindh tells his son’s story in a compelling manner, but he also strikes to the very heart of the terrible and deliberate confusion at the heart of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — the cynical decision to equate soldiers with terrorists, and to hold both categories of prisoner without any rights whatsoever.

Describing how “the US has, for 10 years, been affected by post-traumatic shock,” Frank Lindh specifically points out that his son is not a terrorist, and, crucially, cites evidence given by the author and journalist Rohan Gunaratna, who “conducted a lengthy interview with John, and prepared a written report for the American court to which John was brought for trial,” explaining, “Those who, like Mr. Lindh, merely fought the Northern Alliance cannot be deemed terrorists. Their motivation was to serve and to protect suffering Muslims in Afghanistan, not to kill civilians.”

Lindh also points out that, in December 2001, prior to his son’s return from Afghanistan to face what was surely the most prejudiced trial in modern US history, a Justice Department lawyer cut through the disgraceful propaganda emanating from the mouths of Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft, by stating, simply, “At present, we have no knowledge that he did anything other than join the Taliban.”

Lindh acknowledges that his son was guilty of “misplaced idealism,” and that his “decision to volunteer for the army of Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban was rash, and failed to take into account the Taliban’s mistreatment of its own citizens.” However, he adds that “his assessment of the Northern Alliance warlords was neither exaggerated nor inaccurate. The brutal human rights violations committed by the Northern Alliance were thoroughly documented in the US department of state’s annual human rights reports throughout the 90s.”

This is certainly true, and Frank Lindh provides an important service in an age of forgetfulness not only by running through the US history of involvement with Afghanistan in the 1980s, as supporters of the mujahideen against the Russians, but also by digging up references to American support for the Taliban prior to the 9/11 attacks.

However, what remains of particular importance is that cynical manipulation at the heart of the “War on Terror,” in which soldiers were confused with terrorists, and everyone was deprived of their rights. Lindh faced this when he was tortured in Afghanistan and then subjected to little more than a show trial, with the punitive sentence that his father is seeking to overthrow, but for those held in Guantánamo the twist was that they were labelled as “enemy combatants,” and, on February 7, 2002, in a particularly vile presidential order, George W. Bush decided that they were not protected by the Geneva Conventions.

Under President Obama, the direct torture that followed on from this decision has come to an end, but the confusions remain. Of the 171 men who are still held at Guantánamo, the President has only designated for trial (or subjected to trial) 36 of them, although he maintains that he can continue to hold everyone under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which has become the justification for holding forever prisoners who were involved, however tangentially, with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban.

The result is that other soldiers from other countries, who did not do “anything other than join the Taliban,” are held alongside the handful of genuine terrorist suspects at Guantánamo, and still , essentially, regarded as one and the same. Congress is content to allow this unjust charade to continue, the right-wing judges of the D.C. Circuit Court, who are now dictating detainee policy — after the Supreme Court demonstrated that it was no longer interested, despite giving the prisoners habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008 — apparently believe that everyone in Guantánamo is a terrorist, without proof being required, and President Obama cannot be bothered to remember what is right and what is wrong.

The 20-year sentence given to John Walker Lindh is a disgrace, but so too is the open-ended detention of the majority of the men in Guantánamo, who did nothing more than Lindh — the 58 Yemenis still held because of Congressional scaremongering and Obama’s cowardice, the 31 men held because they cannot return home safely, and because America is unwilling to provide them with a new home, and, I can say with confidence, the majority of the 46 other men that the President, disgracefully, wants to hold forever because he regards them as dangerous even though he has no evidence against them that would stand up in any court.

As Frank Lindh calls for the release of his son, I call for the release of 135 of the 171 men still held at Guantánamo — all those who will not be tried, and who, in the absence of any more compelling information, have, like John Walker Lindh, been subjected to abuse and dressed up as terrorists when they are no such thing.
[Please go to Andy Worthington's site for more here: 'America’s ‘detainee 001′ – the persecution of John Walker Lindh'
by Frank Lindh,'-  The Observer, July 10, 2011]

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