A Petty Prosecution

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American conservatives are cheering Taliban John Lindh’s 20-year sentence (see for example, Washington Times editorial, July16). They would do better to step back and consider that if John Lindh can be coerced into a wrongful plea, so can they.

The federal charges against Lindh are trumped up charges. Lindh did not go to Afghanistan as a member of a conspiracy to kill Americans. Lindh was fighting with the Taliban against other Afghans prior to the events of September 11. The Taliban were trying to unify hitherto un-unifiable Afghan tribes under the banner of Islam.

The Taliban had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. The U.S. demand that the Taliban turn over bin Laden was totally unrealistic. Bin Laden had helped the Afghans fight off the Soviets. He had authority as an Islamic leader. The Taliban could not possibly turn over a prominent Muslim to the Infidel without completely losing credibility as an Islamic unification force. Moreover, for the Taliban to turn on bin Laden would require them to battle his troops as well as the Northern Alliance’s.

When Lindh went to Afghanistan he had no idea the U.S. would enter the war on the opposite side. Once the U.S. entered the fray, Lindh could not tell the Taliban he had changed his mind and simply leave. Afghans don’t trust one another, much less foreigners.

Once Lindh was captured, he could not talk to the CIA and expect to live when he was put back in a cell with the other prisoners. A person has a responsibility to preserve his own life.

It is a lie that Lindh "took up arms against his own country." The Taliban did not attack the U.S. The U.S. attacked the Taliban.

Lindh was coerced into a plea by U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, who held over his head a charge of "conspiracy to kill Americans," which carries a life sentence. No doubt but Lindh and his attorney realized that he was a scapegoat in place of Osama bin Laden, who escaped. Americans are demanding retribution, and Lindh is the only villain at hand.

To avoid a certain wrongful conviction carrying a life sentence, Lindh pled to providing "my services as a soldier to the Taliban" for three months, during the course of which "I carried a rifle and two grenades." Grenades, being explosives, apparently add to the sentence.

So Lindh is off to prison for doing what many American luminaries did in the Spanish Civil War when they fought and killed for the communists. What Lindh did was far less in my view than what Jane Fonda did when she went to Hanoi during the Viet Nam war to cheer on the communist enemy. Thousands of liberals evaded the draft without penalty.

Punishing Lindh is a very petty thing, an act unworthy of a great country. Lindh no doubt learned in his American schooling that his country was a racist, sexist, homophobic, hegemonic power that oppresses the rest of the world. He was given nothing to believe in about America except its unquestionable guilt.

He ended up studying Arabic abroad and encountered people who have a righteous belief in themselves. How is he any different from the American intellectuals who believed in the communist cause in the Spanish Civil War?

The kid got in over his head and was probably delighted to be rescued. That’s just the way we should have treated it. A rescue.

Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

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