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It All Started with an American Taliban

It All Started with an American Taliban

By David Swanson

It began with that monstrous young man so evil we needed to blindfold him and strap him to a board, that confusing young man who looked like Christ but cast us in the role of crucifiers, that treasonous young man who brought dark and heathen evils across linguistic and cultural borders and brought torture onto the list of accepted government actions.

When you hear the phrase "American Taliban" you probably think of a young American who betrayed his country, aided its enemies, and – like Saddam Hussein – was behind the attacks of 9-11. John Walker Lindh was an American. That part is accurate. He converted to Islam at age 16 and traveled to Yemen to study classical Arabic and Islamic theology. In 2001 he went to Afghanistan to join an ongoing battle between a political group funded by Russia and another group funded by the United States. Lindh joined the group that was backed and funded by the Bush Administration. It was called the Taliban. Lindh trained to fight the Northern Alliance, not civilians, and not the United States. But, after 9-11, the United States attacked the Taliban, and Lindh attempted to escape and return to America.

Instead he and other soldiers were captured by the Northern Alliance and beaten senseless in the presence of two CIA officers, Johnny "Mike" Spann and Dave Tyson, who interrogated Lindh and threatened him with death on the spot. When some of the other prisoners rebelled (Lindh was not involved), Northern Alliance troops shot and killed scores of prisoners, many with their arms tied behind their backs. Lindh was shot in the leg. Spann was killed. (Though he was not involved, Lindh was later charged with conspiracy to murder Spann.)

When Lindh was finally in U.S. custody, Secretary of "Defense" Donald Rumsfeld's office told an Army intelligence officer to "take the gloves off" and ask Lindh whatever he wanted, only reading him his rights after he said something incriminating. The officer asked for a copy of the Miranda warnings and never received it and never read Lindh his rights. Instead, U.S. Special Forces tied his hands, put a hood over his head, drove him for hours, placed him in a dark room, and taunted him, denying his many requests for counsel.

The same day that Newsweek broke the story of the "American Taliban," Lindh's mother called the State Department, the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, all of which refused to help her. Lindh's father persuaded James Brosnahan to take the case the next day, by which point, in the words of Jesselyn Radack, Lindh

"was being discussed on every radio show, and images of him were constantly shown on TV. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Ashcroft, and Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain made inflammatory comments and prejudicial statements, none of them true, that Lindh was an al Qaeda fighter, terrorist, and traitor; fired his weapon; attended a terrorist training camp; supported bin Laden; and had foreknowledge of September 11th – even though the government from the first day of Lindh's capture was in possession of facts to the contrary."

Jesselyn Radack should know. Radack was a top graduate from Yale Law School in 1995 who went straight to work in the U.S. Justice Department. By the time our nation was adopting torture as an open and respectable practice, Radack worked in the Justice Department's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office. There she received a call from counter-terrorism prosecutor John De Pue who wanted her advice on the FBI's proposal to interrogate Lindh without allowing him access to counsel, even though his father had retained a lawyer who was demanding to meet with Lindh and demanding that interrogations cease. Lindh, meanwhile, had been blindfolded, stripped naked, bound to a stretcher with duct tape, taunted, threatened, and locked in an unheated metal shipping container in the bitter cold at a Marine base in Afghanistan.

Radack made a fateful decision. She took an action that was drastically out of place in the Ashcroft Justice Department, although she herself did not then realize how out of place it was. She told De Pue the truth. She told him that the FBI could not legally interrogate Lindh, knowing that his father had retained counsel on his behalf.

Radack recounts what happened next in her book "The Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of 'American Taliban'." The book interweaves an account of the Justice Department's retaliation against Radack for doing her job and making public what she had done, with an account of the Bush Administration's development of greater and greater use of torture, violation of rights, secrecy, and lies.

The Justice Department lied about how Lindh was treated. Michael Chertoff even perjured himself in the U.S. Senate. Senator Kennedy and others knew the truth and still voted to confirm Chertoff to head up efforts to keep our "homeland" secure. Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence and is under a gag order not to talk about it. Our government is torturing the innocent and guilty alike around the globe. And many secrets are being kept secret by those who know better, because they've seen what has been done to Radack and others like Bunnatine Greenhouse, James Yee, Sibel Edmonds.

The Justice Department aggressively attacked Radack, costing her a job there and a later job with a private law firm, threatening her license to practice law, damaging her reputation, denying her income, placing her on the "no-fly" list, and endlessly harassing her. Her book recounts the hell she went through.

As we watch the Libby trial unfold, let's bear in mind that this is what it is about: retribution against Joe Wilson who told the truth about the lie that launched the war. His wife was collateral damage.

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