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U.S. defends treatment of American Taliban figher

Walker was wounded before being captured at a fortress holding Taliban prisoners near Mazar-e Sharif.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Tuesday defended its handling of the case of a young American Taliban fighter, responding to complaints from the man's lawyer and family that he has been denied access to an attorney.

"I don't think this is the typical case," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer when asked about Taliban fighter John Walker, an American. "This is a case where an American citizen was found in a country abroad, in which he was doing battle with the United States. It's not as if there was a lawyer on the street corner who was available at that moment. So, of course, constitutional rights will be obeyed."

Fleischer said the attorney general and Department of Defense have done "the appropriate thing" in holding and questioning Walker, 20. Their actions were "in accordance with the Constitution," given the "ground practicalities" of the situation, Fleischer said.

U.S. authorities are considering what charges to bring against the American captured while fighting with the Taliban. CNN's Susan Candiotti reports (December 18)

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"The president is more than satisfied that all (constitutional) rights are being fulfilled," Fleischer said.

Walker was taken into custody by the U.S. military after a bloody prison uprising in northern Afghanistan. He is being held on the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea.

When asked whether Walker would be handed over to the Justice Department, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, "We're still considering what to do with him. There's no decision yet."

The Justice Department is looking at several possible charges that carry a death penalty, including treason and murder of a U.S. government employee. CIA officer Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann was killed during the prison uprising.

He "enjoys all the protections that would go with prisoner of war status, but he is not a legal combatant, and therefore he is not legally a prisoner of war," Wolfowitz said.

'Withhold judgment'

James Brosnahan, a San Francisco, California, attorney hired by Walker's parents, said the family was heartened by recent administration statements.

"We are encouraged that President Bush and other administration officials have said that no conclusions should be reached about John until all of the facts are known. We hope that all Americans will also withhold judgment until we know what all the facts are," Walker's family said in a statement.

He also said the family is disappointed that a letter they gave the Red Cross on December 4 has yet to be delivered to their son.

"It is very painful to think that John has no idea his family is sending him love and support during the most difficult time of his life," Brosnahan said.

In a statement released Monday, the family expressed dismay that Walker has been interrogated for more than two weeks without his attorney present.

When asked why Walker has not been allowed to see an attorney, Fleischer said he is being held as a "battlefield detainee" and that "different arrangements" apply.

Fleischer replied "no, no" when asked if the administration was considering stripping Walker of his U.S. citizenship.

Bush has said that Walker would not face a military tribunal, but also said Monday that no decision has been made as to whether Walker would face charges in a civilian court or some other military proceeding.

The president also declined to say whether he believes Walker ought to face the death penalty for his action, as some -- including New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- have suggested.

In an interview with CNN about three weeks ago, Walker -- speaking from a hospital bed before he was taken into U.S. custody -- said he attended al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and saw Osama bin Laden many times while there.


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