The Taliban, Traitors, and Show Trials

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The fix is in.

All John Walker Lindh can do is sit in his jail cell and wait for his obligatory show trial: lights, camera, conviction!

I’m not particularly inclined to defend the so-called American Taliban. He enthusiastically embraced an authoritarian theology, and one might say he is simply getting a small taste of the same "justice" his friends enforced in Afghanistan. Either that, or he really is the incredibly stupid and impressionable young man his parents and lawyers claim he is, and I hate being in the position of defending either authoritarians or idiots.

But I digress.

No, the blatant injustice of Lindh’s situation is disturbing because we never know who may fall victim to it next.

Federal prosecutors have admitted that they really don’t have much of a case against Lindh. All they have are Lindh’s statements to a CNN camera crew, given while he was doped up on more painkillers than Chevy Chase after a pratfall.

But never mind that. Here comes a federal judge to the rescue.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled last week that prosecutors do not have to prove that Lindh conspired to kill Americans for Lindh to be guilty of conspiring to kill Americans. So there.

All prosecutors would love having to meet such a burden of proof.

Furthermore, the judge denied a request from defense attorneys for access to evidence that might show whether the Afghan camps Lindh attended were used for military training or for terrorist training.

If Lindh was involved in terrorist training, it is reasonable to think that he was training to kill Americans. But if he was involved only in military training, he most likely thought he would be fighting the Afghan northern alliance. How was he to know the U.S. Army would show up?

Every man is entitled to a fair and impartial conviction, it seems.

Even if Lindh is guilty of a real crime, we’ll never know, because he is never going to get a real trial.

He may, however, get some company.

Yasser Esam Hamdi is the second "American Taliban" to crop up. As soon as U.S. authorities realized Hamdi might be an American citizen, they whisked him away from his holding cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It seems the feds were worried that any U.S. citizen held at "Camp X-ray" might be able to mount a legal challenge to the conditions there, which, Pentagon officials assure us, are nevertheless consistent with the Geneva Convention.

Hamdi, it appears, was born in Louisiana to Saudi parents.

Federal officials also made certain that Hamdi touched down at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, rather than at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. That places Hamdi within the jurisdiction of the same federal court handling Lindh’s case.

Now, Hamdi awaits his day before the hanging judge, should the State Department determine that Hamdi is, in fact, still a U.S. citizen.

Of course, assuming either Lindh or Hamdi is guilty of any crime, that crime is certainly not treason.

The great libertarian legal theorist Lysander Spooner put treason in its place back in 1867.

The ever-sensible Spooner said that charges of treason should only apply to those who have explicitly pledged to uphold the U.S. Constitution, which would mean that treason is relevant only to those government officials and military personnel who violate their oaths.

If anyone is guilty of treason, it is those politicians who pass blatantly unconstitutional laws and plunge us into to unconstitutional, undeclared wars.

Politicians never try to hide their real crimes; they celebrate them during Rose Garden signing ceremonies.

Looking for traitors? You might start with every congressman who voted for the USA PATRIOT Act.

Sound harsh? Don’t worry. If John Walker Lindh is a traitor, then clearly being a traitor isn’t what it used to be.

Franklin Harris [send him e-mail] is a newspaper reporter and columnist in Alabama. His Web site is

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