White House: Decision on Walker not imminent
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush for the first time identified American John Walker as an "al Qaeda fighter" and announced Friday that Walker's attorney has contacted the White House to discuss how the government will prosecute the case.
"Obviously, Walker is unique in that he's the first American al Qaeda fighter that we have captured," Bush said. "And we've heard, the administration has heard, from his lawyer and we've told his lawyer that at the appropriate time we're going to proceed with Walker."
Walker, 20, was taken into custody by the U.S. military early this month after a bloody prison uprising at a prison in northern Afghanistan. He is being held on the USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea.
Walker's attorney, James J. Brosnahan, a partner in the San Francisco law firm of Morrison and Foerster, telephoned White House Counsel Al Gonzales on Monday to discuss the Walker case, senior administration officials said. Brosnahan and Gonzales spoke for about five minutes about government deliberations on Walker's judicial fate.
In a statement Friday, Brosnahan acknowledged having "some limited contact with the White House regarding John's case."
"We appreciate the many Americans who are keeping an open mind and waiting for all of the facts to emerge," he said. "John's parents and I continue to anxiously await some indication that the government will allow John access to his family and his attorney and will deliver the family's December 4 letter to him. We ask no more than that which the Constitution guarantees to all Americans."
Brosnahan has also been involved in well-publicized legal cases with a political edge. Brosnahan was associate counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation and was lead prosecutor in the perjury case against Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
Senior officials told CNN that investigators are still gathering facts in the Walker case, but that the Justice Department "has made some of its thoughts known." One official told CNN the president will review all relevant opinions, but an emerging theme in the Walker case is presenting what the official described as a "winnable case."
"The president knows the public will be supportive of him, whatever he decides," the official said. "The public wants the maximum. We will look at all options, but a consideration is having a winnable case."
Among the options under consideration by the Justice Department is charging Walker with violating a federal law that prohibits assisting terrorists and terrorist organizations, according to senior administration officials familiar with the case.
The law against providing material support or resources to terrorists carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each count, or a life sentence if death resulted from the offense, according to the Justice Department.
Officials stressed that there were other options on the table and nothing has been ruled out.
There has been considerable public debate about charging Walker with treason -- a crime that could carry the death penalty. While that has not been ruled out, it is the view of some senior Justice Department prosecutors involved in the case and some in the White House Counsel's office that the legal requirements for treason are onerous and could prove difficult to establish in Walker's case, the officials said.
CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King and Justice Department Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.
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