Justice for the American Taliban

As Walker Lindh’s parents tour the country, we should reconsider how he is portrayed.

In November 2001 a then-20-year-old American was captured in Afghanistan alongside many other Taliban soldiers. The young man instantly was plastered all over cable news networks around the world and any chance he had at being “innocent until proven guilty” was thrown out the window.

Indeed, John Walker Lindh was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison for serving three months in the Taliban army. He avoided a life sentence because the nine other trumped-up government charges brought against him were dropped.

Lindh’s parents, who until now had kept their silence, have begun traveling the country telling their son’s story and calling on President George W. Bush to grant him clemency. They rightfully assert that before Sept. 11, 2001, – when their son got involved with the Taliban – Lindh’s actions would have been looked at with curiosity rather than hate.

It is unfortunate that the court of public opinion on Lindh is inextricably tied with the tragedy of Sept. 11. Lindh is the closest thing to Osama bin Laden for the many who still demand retribution, and the Bush administration is happy to make him a scapegoat. Many Americans who hate the man who became known as the American Taliban do not understand that the Taliban did not attack the United States, nor do they care that Lindh never took up arms against his own country. Lindh joined the Taliban because he thought they were freedom fighters, and he did so not to fight the United States, but to fight other Afghanis in their civil war.

It is ironic that the now-24-year-old will spend the next 20 years in prison for making the same mistake the past five presidential administrations made – aiding the Taliban – the same Taliban to whom the Bush administration gave $43 million in aid.

If Lindh is guilty of anything, he is guilty of being a naïve romantic. The misplaced idealism of the 20-year-old man caused him to make some poor choices, but his punishment is harsh and does not fit his crime.