Ashcroft: Death penalty remains possibility for Walker
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Wednesday defended the charges brought against American Taliban fighter John Walker and said prosecutors are considering other evidence that could carry the death penalty.
Walker, 20, was charged Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, with four criminal counts. They include two counts of allegedly providing material support or resources to terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda and another group called Harakat ul-Mujahideen.
Walker also was charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad and engaging in transactions with the Taliban, the ousted regime in Afghanistan.
"We believe that the evidence that is available through his statements, which is the basis of the charges, provides charging for those crimes which are not death-eligible," Ashcroft said, adding that additional charges with a more serious penalty could still be brought against Walker.
"We have not foreclosed charging other crimes against this individual should other evidence be developed or other evidence be made available," Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft said Walker would be brought promptly to face the charges in northern Virginia, but he did not disclose the arrangements.
However, a senior Defense Department official said Wednesday that Justice Department officials soon will take custody of Walker who is on board the USS Bataan in the North Arabian Sea. The source said "intensive" discussions are under way on how and when he will be transferred to the Justice Department.
Ashcroft said that Walker's rights have been protected while he has been in custody and that he chose to make statements without an attorney present and with no coercion.
"Mr. Walker is an adult who made very serious decisions against the United States ... ," Ashcroft said. "No other individual has a right to impose an attorney on him or to choose an attorney for him."
A lawyer hired by Walker's family released a statement Tuesday complaining Walker had been interrogated for 45 days without access to an attorney.
"To the best of our knowledge, he has not even been informed that his parents have retained lawyers who are working on his behalf," said attorney George C. Harris.
Walker's family also released a statement in which they said the International Committee of the Red Cross has unsuccessfully tried to deliver their letters to Walker. "We have also written letters to John in care of the ship on which he is being held," they wrote, "but we have not had confirmation that any of those letters were delivered."
Ashcroft said he did not know whether Walker had received any mail while in custody.
The U.S. military took Walker into custody in December after a bloody prison uprising in northern Afghanistan. In the course of the uprising, which began November 25 in Mazar-e Sharif, CIA officer Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann was killed. Spann had interviewed Walker at the prison.
In its criminal complaint, the Justice Department cited an interview that Walker gave to CNN after the prison uprising. In the interview, Walker talked about his beliefs, his sympathy for the Taliban and his training.
In one excerpt cited in the complaint, Walker spoke of how his "heart became attached" to the Taliban.
But the basis for the indictments, Ashcroft said, came from Walker's statements to FBI investigators. Walker was read his Miranda rights but waived them, the attorney general said.
The criminal complaint also said Walker signed a waiver of those rights and agreed to be questioned by an FBI special agent December 9 or 10.
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