Lindh Back in U.S. to Face Charges
%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:HSG102-012302; AUDIO:317%)
WASHINGTON (AP) _ John Walker Lindh, the young Muslim convert accused of joining al-Qaida soldiers in Afghanistan, returned to the United States Wednesday under FBI custody to face criminal charges that he conspired to kill fellow Americans.
Lindh flew back aboard a military cargo plane amid extraordinary secrecy and security, two years after he left the United States for Yemen to study Arabic and Islam. He was captured in Afghanistan after a November uprising by Taliban prisoners in which a CIA officer was killed.
The cargo plane landed at Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington, said a law enforcement official, speaking on the grounds of anonymity. Reporters were not allowed near the area.
Attorney James Brosnahan said Lindh has a four-member defense team including himself. Brosnahan said in a statement that Lindh’s parents received a letter from their son Wednesday that was dated Jan. 8 and ``penned by a member of the U.S. military.″
The lawyer quotes Lindh as stating, ``It is comforting to know that you have found a lawyer.″ The letter then refers to Brosnahan.
Another member of the defense team, William Cummings, told ABC News he wants to get interviews Lindh gave the FBI thrown out, because no lawyer was present and Lindh _ who was wounded _ was in no physical condition to understand what was happening.
Lindh’s parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, who are from the San Franciso area, went to the Alexandria jail Wednesday night with attorneys in hopes of meeting with their son. But they emerged after about a half-hour saying they had been unable to see him.
``We’re a little disappointed, but the guard was able to tell us that he is in good condition,″ Lindh said of his son. Brosnahan said jail authorities felt the meeting should be put off until Thursday.
The FBI alleges in court papers that Lindh in June became a foot soldier for Osama bin Laden, who thanked him personally for ``taking part in jihad,″ or holy war. The FBI also claims Lindh learned within weeks of joining bin Laden about suicide teams being sent to America. Those allegations are largely based on statements Lindh made to investigators during two days of interviews in December, when Lindh waived his rights to speak with a lawyer.
``Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them,″ U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said. ``John Walker Lindh chose terrorists. Our American system of justice will allow Walker the rights and due process that the terrorists he fought side by side with sought, and still seek, to destroy.″
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday that President Bush believes that Lindh ``will now get the justice he deserves.″ Fleischer called the criminal charges against Lindh ``extraordinarily serious.″
``He will now have his day in court and he will be judged impartially and fairly,″ Fleischer said.
In an interview aired Wednesday on NBC Nightly News, Bush said he decided ``for a variety of reasons″ against trying Lindh for treason, adding, ``I also am pleased that he’s going to be afforded a chance to make his case in a court of law.″
First lady Laura Bush expressed sympathy for Lindh’s parents. ``I’m sure his parents are unbelievably crushed and, you know, worried and sick, everything that every parent feels when their children have a problem like he has,″ she said.
The interview, conducted as part of an NBC special on the Bush White House, was taped prior before Lindh’s return from Afghanistan.
Lindh, 20, will make his first courtroom appearance at 9 a.m. Thursday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., to answer to charges of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban. If convicted, Lindh could spend the rest of his life in prison.
``We’re prepared for every possible contingency,″ said John Hackman, deputy chief U.S. marshal for the federal district, who confirmed the schedule for Thursday’s hearing. U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell will preside. A four-car motorcade greeted Lindh’s helicopter and took him to an Alexandria detention center.
Hackman would not reveal where Lindh would be held overnight, but said, ``He’ll be in a safe and secure and humane area.″
Lindh was taken off the USS Bataan warship in the Arabian Sea by helicopter and transferred to another military plane at the airport at the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, officials said.
The Pentagon would not officially confirm the transfer, saying it would be dangerous to release any information about his movements. Journalists were kept away from the area at Kandahar where Lindh boarded the plane.
Lindh’s flight was probably similar to those of the detainees taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In those flights, the detainees were bound at the wrist with handcuffs and tape and wore blacked-out goggles.
``When people are moved, they are restrained,″ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday. ``It is not anything new. It is because in transit, movement from one place to another, is the place where bad things happen.″
At Thursday’s hearing, the U.S. magistrate will announce the charges against Lindh and ensure that he has a lawyer. The next step would be a detention hearing where bail conditions would be set. The case would then go to a federal grand jury.
Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.