Walker charged with murder conspiracy
By John King
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- American Taliban fighter John Walker will be brought back to the United States to stand trial on multiple charges, including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
The charges do not carry the death penalty, but the 20-year-old Walker could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters. He said additional charges could be filed.
"John Walker Lindh chose to fight with the Taliban, chose to train with al Qaeda and to be led by Osama bin Laden," Ashcroft said.
"We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values, but we cannot ignore that he did.
"Youth is not absolution for treachery, and personal self-discovery is not an excuse to take up arms against one's country. Misdirected Americans cannot seek direction in murderous ideologies and expect to avoid the consequences," Ashcroft said.
The criminal complaint, filed in the federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia, also charged Walker with two counts of allegedly providing material support or resources to terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda and another group identified as Harakat ul-Mujahideen.
The charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, or life if death resulted from the act. The charge of conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals carries a possible life sentence.
A fourth count alleged Walker engaged in transactions with the Taliban.
Members of Walker's family released a statement Tuesday saying they were "heartened by news reports that John will soon be coming home."
"We now hope that we will see our son soon and give him the love and support he needs. We are grateful to live in a nation that presumes innocence and withholds judgment until all of the facts are presented," the statement said.
George C. Harris, an attorney hired by Walker's family, issued a statement complaining Walker had been interrogated for 45 days without access to a lawyer.
"To the best of our knowledge, he has not even been informed that his parents have retained lawyers who are working on his behalf," Harris said.
He also called on government officials to "cease their public speculation about this case and respect the presumption of innocence."
Ashcroft said Walker waived his Miranda rights to have counsel present and to remain silent after having them read to him. The criminal complaint said Walker signed a waiver and agreed to be questioned by a special agent of the FBI on December 9 or December 10.
The complaint said Walker learned this past summer from one of his instructors at a training camp in Afghanistan that bin Laden "had sent people to the United States to carry out several suicide operations."
The federal government has alleged that bin Laden was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks in which four commercial jets were hijacked and crashed.
"The criminal complaint filed today describes a series of crossroads John Walker Lindh encountered on his way to joining not just one, but two terrorist organizations," Ashcroft said.
"At each crossroad, Walker faced a choice and with each choice he chose to ally himself with terrorists."
The complaint referred to Walker, a former California resident, by several names. He has identified himself as John Walker in interviews, but his father's last name is Lindh. The complaint also lists the aliases of Suleyman al-Faris and Abdul Hamid.
Walker was taken into custody in early December by the U.S. military following a bloody prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan that began November 25. During the uprising CIA officer Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann was killed.
Spann and another CIA agent, who has not been identified, were interviewing Taliban prisoners, including Walker.
Walker will be transferred from U.S. military custody and handed over to the FBI, Ashcroft said. He was being held on the USS Bataan, a warship in the Arabian Sea, as of Tuesday.
In its complaint, the Justice Department cited an interview Walker gave with CNN after the prison uprising in which Walker talked about his beliefs, his sympathy for the Taliban and his training.
In one excerpt of that interview cited by the complaint, Walker spoke of how his "heart became attached" to the Taliban.
Ashcroft said "the basis for the indictments" came from statements Walker made to FBI investigators.
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