Rumsfeld: No decision on American Taliban
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An American captured after fighting with the Taliban will have "all the rights he is due" in military custody, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
John Walker, 20, was among a group of 80 fighters who surrendered last week after an uprising of Taliban prisoners of war outside Mazar-e Sharif. Rumsfeld said he had simply not gotten around to thinking about what Walker's status should be.
"We are looking at the various options at the present, and at that point where we've made a decision as to what we intend to do with him, we'll certainly let the appropriate people know," he said.
"You can be certain he will have all the rights he is due."
Walker suffered a bullet wound and was hit by shrapnel during the Taliban revolt at Mazar-e Sharif that left hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and a CIA operative dead.
He was in the custody of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, military officials at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, told CNN.
Walker, an American convert to Islam, said told CNN he joined the Taliban about six months ago -- before the September 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Walker's father, Frank Lindh, told CNN Tuesday his son used bad judgment in supporting the Taliban, but he "is not a traitor."
"John was there before the United States got involved, and he got caught up in something shouldn't have been caught up in," Lindh said. "But he didn't do anything wrong. He didn't go to make war against his own country."
Asked whether he considered Walker a traitor, Rumsfeld said he had drawn no conclusions.
Speaking Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live," Lindh described his son as "a good boy" to whom he wants to give a hug "and maybe a little kick in the butt."
Lindh expressed support for the U.S. effort to support the Northern Alliance and root out suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Lindh said his son was not fundamentally changed by his religious conversion, but some tension entered the relationship in October 2000 after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen killed 17 sailors.
Walker told his father he felt U.S. military forces had no business being in Yemen.
"I had a different point of view," Lindh said, noting he considered the disagreement to be "a healthy father-son debate."
Over the weekend, while in an Afghan hospital, Walker told a journalist he supported the September 11 attacks.
Lindh told CNN he believes his son was under extreme duress when he made the comments.
"Yes he did say that, but he was disoriented," Lindh said.
"He had just come out of this basement of this prison where he went through an ordeal that you and I could hardly imagine, with grenades coming down ... bombs exploding and men dying all around him."
He questioned whether his son would hold such a view in the long run, after he recovers from the ordeal.
Lindh said his son converted to Islam at age 16 after reading about the conversion of Malcolm X, the U.S. black Muslim leader.
Walker graduated from an alternative high school in the San Francisco area soon afterward and began attending a mosque. At age 17, he moved to Yemen where he spent a year studying Arabic and Islam, Lindh said.
Lindh last saw his son in November 2000, before Walker traveled to Pakistan to study in a mosque. Last May, Walker told his father he was going to spend the summer in the mountains where it would be cooler.
That was the last contact anyone in his family had with him. "We've been waiting and hoping and praying to hear some word from him," Lindh said.
It was during this time that Walker apparently became acquainted with the Taliban movement.
"I started reading some of the literature of their scholars and the history of the movement, and my heart became attached to them," Walker told CNN.
When the U.S. bombardment began October 7, he was fighting in northern Afghanistan, near Takhar.
The opposition Northern Alliance, backed by U.S. air power, began pushing back Taliban forces in early November, and Walker and his comrades retreated to Konduz before surrendering at Mazar-e Sharif.
Walker is not the only Western volunteer among the Taliban's ranks. At least two British Muslims were reported killed fighting with the Islamic militia in October. Rumsfeld said it is possible there other Americans had joined al Qaeda or the Taliban.
"What I know is that a couple of others have contended they are Americans. Whether they are Americans and where they may be, I don't know," Rumsfeld said.
The State Department confirmed Walker is a citizen by checking passport records and said it was trying to get in touch with Walker's mother, who is listed as an emergency contact on his passport.
-- CNN Correspondent Rusty Dornin and CNN.com Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.
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