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Report: American Taliban trained with al Qaeda

Michael Isikoff
Michael Isikoff  

(CNN) -- The fate of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh has been a hot topic in Washington and elsewhere since his capture during a prison uprising at Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.

Newsweek magazine broke the story of how Lindh, who was raised in suburban Marin County, California, wound up fighting for the fundamentalist regime. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, who reported that Lindh trained at al Qaeda terrorist camps, spoke Monday with CNN's Jack Cafferty.

Here's a transcript of their conversation.

CNN ANCHOR JACK CAFFERTY: When American John Walker (Lindh) was captured fighting for the Taliban, the president described him as "a poor fellow." Then his father, Frank, came on this show, and others, asking Americans not to rush to judgment of his son.

Now, Newsweek magazine is reporting that John Walker was no innocent in Afghanistan.

Joining us now with more is Newsweek's Michael Isikoff. Michael ... let me read you a little quote out of the piece. "According to administration sources" -- these are people that you've talked to "he also admitted to being a member of al Qaeda, training at its camps. He participated in terrorist exercises, including learning to use explosives and poisons. He met with visiting al Qaeda officials, including Osama bin Laden. He also admitted he was instructed in how to act in airports, so as not to attract police attention."

So which is he? Misguided youth, or willing terrorist?

NEWSWEEK REPORTER MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, certainly I think these debriefings of him by Pentagon people -- by military people in Afghanistan -- kind of raise some questions, at least about some of the initial accounts from his father -- and even the president's words, describing him as a "poor fellow." I think these debriefings, as they circulated last week, were pretty startling to a lot of administration officials.

We knew he obviously was fighting with the Taliban. His father suggested he was sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time. But admitting he was actually engaging in training at terrorist camps and terrorist exercises throws a whole new cloud on that.

And this is also going to be interesting, because you've got a lot of administration people here closely looking at what to do with him: whether to charge him, what to charge him with. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked for a list of crimes he could be charged with, and wanted to know whether they carry the death penalty.

On the other hand, you have some administration officials who say he may be more useful as a cooperating witness for getting top al Qaeda people in military tribunals, if we indeed capture them. So there's...

CAFFERTY: I'm sorry to interrupt, but New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani weighed in on the subject over the weekend. You were talking about Attorney General John Ashcroft and this debate that seems to be going on what to do with Walker: what to charge him with, if anything, and what punishment is appropriate. Here's what the mayor of New York had to say:

RUDY GIULIANI (on tape): I don't know all the facts of the case, but I certainly think that serious consideration should be given to the maximum penalty that the law allows. And when you commit treason against the United States of America, particularly at a time when the United States of America is in peril of attack and further attack, I believe the death penalty is the appropriate remedy to consider.

CAFFERTY: Mike, there seems to be some question -- and I don't know why I find this amusing -- about him not being given his Miranda rights at the time that he was captured.

ISIKOFF: Exactly. This is going to be a fascinating legal issue that people at the Justice Department and the Pentagon are wrestling with right now. Walker was debriefed by military people for at least the first week, who were questioning him for tactical information on the battlefield.

Remember, he was fighting with the Taliban. He could describe where Taliban troops had been, and they needed tactical battlefield information. It was in the course of that debriefing that he made a lot of these admissions.

Now the problem is: Can you use them in a court of law -- especially a civilian court of law -- if he's prosecuted by the Justice Department?

His lawyer has been making an issue about this and saying he is going to challenge the use of any of that information, because he was not read his Miranda rights, and he did not have a lawyer present.


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