By Jacqueline Marcus
When this photo appeared of John Walker Lindh, the country shamefully cheered. Now we need to categorically admit, that this young man was being tortured. He was in horrific pain from a wound and left strapped to a stretcher, mocked by soldiers, and by Americans who were not told the facts or circumstances regarding John Walker's situation. Look closely, make no mistake about it: this is torture.
Some important important facts have emerged since 2001. The corporate press, for example, failed to question the suicide hijackers who were mostly from Saudi Arabia. Instead, the focus was concentrated on Osama bin Laden. While the Bush administration targeted Afghanistan to apprehend bin Laden, “top White House officials personally approved the evacuation of dozens of influential Saudis, including relatives to Osama bin Laden, from the United States in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when most flights were still grounded,” according to a report in the New York Times two years later.
The U.S. Middle-East policies are relative at best. In a March 3, 2003, New Yorker interview, “Measuring Betrayal,” conducted by Jane Mayer with Amy Tubk-Davidson: “America’s shifting and sometimes secret alliances in the Near East truly do form the backdrop to the Lindh story.”
In the past, under the Reagan-Bush Sr. administrations, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden were supported by the U.S. military when the Taliban was fighting the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. “The Taliban were being supported financially — and, indirectly, militarily — by the United States. The U.S. bears some responsibility for arming and training a generation of young Muslims to be warriors.”
Now fast-forward to the 9/11 attacks, 2001. The masses demanded immediate revenge. Given that the Bush administration failed to capture Osama bin Laden, John Walker Lindh made for a terrific scapegoat. The right wing and corporate media had their “enemy of the state” and nearly the whole nation fell in lock-step with accusing fingers pointed to Lindh: A twenty-year-old kid caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why was John W. Lindh in Afghanistan at the worst possible time? What exactly were the charges against Lindh? Before attempting to answer these questions, it’s best to examine John Lindh’s interests during his teenage years.Of particular interest is John Walker Lindh’s philosophical quest for truth. His parents encouraged him as a young boy to read and think independently, virtues that run counter to a corporate-commercial society. Lindh was discontented with corporate ideas of happiness, which are linked to materialism and superficial status.
In search of absolute moral truths, Lindh became a student of Islam at a school in Pakistan. He learned Arabic, a difficult language to master, quite quickly in Yemen. As a teenager, he was profoundly moved by Spike Lee’s movie, “Malcom X.” The complete surrender and ritual of prayer, the discipline and religious laws allowed him to practice a life of purity. Islam appealed to him at a time when he was certainly vulnerable to such teachings and to whatever religious indoctrination came his way during his Middle-East travels. It’s just too bad that he didn’t choose a non-violent path because he was led to believe that a good Muslim must struggle (jihad) for justice, and if that means military defense and training, so be it. In this sense, John Walker Lindh is no innocent. He saw himself as a soldier. Most Christians also adopt a military stance as well.
This is a significant distinction, given the evidence, which is that Lindh should be regarded a “prisoner of war” instead of a criminal felon. He wasn’t a member of the CIA nor was he a U.S. military soldier who deliberately betrayed the U.S.Unfortunately, the Bush Justice Department ordered special administrative measures that prevent Lindh from speaking to journalists. With the exception of his brief statement to the court, Lindh’s side of the story has been censored — thanks to the Patriot Act, which undermines Constitutional guarantees for a right to a fair trial, and due process.
Why the secrecy? Why can’t reporters conduct a live interview with John Walker Lindh? Such totalitarian measures echo Saddam’s regime instead of ensuring the civil rights of American citizens.We learn from John Lindh’s Statement to the Court that he felt obligated to fight with the Taliban against the North Alliance warlords because he witnessed, first hand, the inhumane atrocities they committed against innocent civilians. He said, “The Northern Alliance warlords raped children, tortured and castrated Afghans.”
Ironically, the ruthless Northern Alliance terrorists, the thugs who maintain and support the heroin-Afghanistan-poppy fields, became the Bush administration’s allies.Certainly, communication about 9/11, and the Bush administration’s new policy of joining forces with the Northern Alliance against the ruling Taliban, must have been hard to ascertain in the middle of no-man’s land where Lindh was living at the time. Indeed, his own parents could not communicate with him. It’s not as if he could plug into a rock and go online, nor was there any way of using phones in the isolated desert of Afghanistan. This is a region where men still travel on camels.
So at the time that Lindh was captured, he labored under the presumption that the U.S. was still supporting the Taliban. As Lindh put it:
“I have never understood jihad to mean anti-Americanism or terrorism. I condemn terrorism on every level—unequivocally. My beliefs about jihad are those of mainstream Muslims around the world. I believe that jihad ranges from striving to overcome own personal faults, to speaking out for the truth in adverse circumstances, to military action in the defense of justice.”
No wonder Lindh was surprised to hear Bush’s accusation that the Taliban had supported Osama bin Laden’s attack against America. Lindh explains:
“I have also become aware of the relationship between the leaders of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s organization. Bin Laden’s terrorist attacks are completely against Islam, completely contrary to the conventions of jihad and without any justification whatsoever. His grievances, whatever they may be, cannot be addressed by acts of injustice and violence against innocent people in America. Terrorism is never justified and has proved extremely damaging to Muslims around the world. I have never supported terrorism in any form and never would.”
John Lindh may have been misguided by the Taliban’s authoritarian influence, for history tells us that this country has been a battlefield for centuries, but he was convinced it was a just cause: stopping the Northern warlords from raping Afghani children, looting and killing at random. He, himself, doesn’t fit a “terrorist” profile.
This is a young, intelligent man who took his studies seriously:
“When I began my studies in Islam, I had the ambition of one day teaching, writing, and translating Arabic texts into English. I still have these ambitions and hope to pursue my studies in Islam, the Arabic language, world history, linguistics, sociology and English literature. I hope to use this knowledge to serve Islam and the interests of Muslims in America and around the world to the full extent of my capability.”
From the get-go, the right-wing media-mob thoroughly lynched John Walker Lindh for simply growing up in Marin County, California. In this sense, Lindh is a political prisoner. It’s as if the right wing decided, “Well, Bush failed at capturing Osama bin Laden, but hey! We’ve captured one of those evil liberals from San Francisco instead!”
Returning to the government’s charges against Lindh, I’ll restate the summary from the New Yorker’s “Measured Betrayal”:
“The government charged Lindh with 10 felony counts relating to terrorist activities, the most serious of which was having conspired to kill U.S. nationals. Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly wanted to ‘make an example’ of Lindh, as the first American prosecuted by the Justice Department in the post-September 11th war on terror. But, rather than going forward with a trial, in the end both sides agreed to a deal in which Lindh pleaded guilty to only two counts: violating an executive order prohibiting U.S. citizens from giving their services to the Taliban, and committing a felony while carrying firearms.”
If the Taliban harbored Al Qaeda terrorists, then the U.S. is partly to blame for aiding and abiding the Taliban during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration could care less about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Instead, Dick Cheney was in the Halliburton-business of plundering Iraq, which sits on a sea of oil. The Bush White House ordered torture practices, and military force against Iraqis who stood in their way, including children.
Once again, we are confronted with a blatant hypocrisy. We condemned Al Qaeda for terrorist attacks against innocent civilians and at the same time the Bush Administration launched a pre-emptive terrorist attack against defenseless sovereign countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s been 9/11 every single day for the last three years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We all remember seeing John Walker Lindh, blindfolded and strapped naked to a stretcher. We know now that he was one more victim of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld torture program. Strapped naked to a stretcher, Lindh looked like he was being literally crucified. As shown by the photos of tortured Iraqis that finally surfaced from the dark cells of Abu Ghraib into public viewing, we can conclude from this that the Bush policy makers are sadistic and that they drew pleasure from the inhumane practice of torturing prisoners.
Indeed, the general public knew about the Bush’s torture program for over four years. As reported in a July 23rd, 2005, issue of the Washington Post, the Bush White House endorsed the practice of torture:
The Bush administration in recent days has been lobbying to block legislation supported by Republican senators that would bar the U.S. military from engaging in "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees, from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, and from using interrogation methods not authorized by a new Army field manual. (Saturday, July 23, 2005; Page A01)
There are many questions about this case that have not been answered, but the iron door is sealed on John Walker Lindh for twenty years with no access to reporters.
Amy Tubk-Davidson noted that one of the dynamic aspects of the Lindh story is that “almost everyone who worked with Lindh on the case, from the expert witnesses to the detectives and lawyers, came away unexpectedly taken with him. If these paid helpers are any indication, Lindh might have been very likable and persuasive on the witness stand.”
Perhaps that explains why Bush and Ashcroft locked Lindh up and threw away the key with a smirk and a wink.
Jacqueline Marcus’ editorials and letters have appeared in the Washington Post, Salon, Slate, CommonDreams.org, New Times, (San Luis Obispo, CA Cover story: “The Politics of Restraint”). Her poems have appeared in national university journals, The Kenyon Review, The Ohio Review, The Antioch Review and many more periodicals. Her book of poems, Close to the Shore, was published by Michigan State University Press. She taught philosophy at Cuesta College and is promoting solar energy on the island of Maui: firstname.lastname@example.org