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Justice Department Files Charges Against John Walker

Aired January 15, 2002 - 16:06   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Let's turn back to our lead story, the case of John Walker and the Justice Department's plans for prosecuting the one American caught fighting for the Taliban. Here now, CNN's Susan Candiotti -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, this had been an announcement that frankly had been expected for some time. And today was the day after President Bush apparently signed off on the decision to try John Walker in civilian court.

And, in fact, we now have for you what the charges will be. There are four counts. And the maximum penalty: life in prison. That involves the very first count which is conspiracy to kill American nationals overseas, that again is the count that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The other counts are providing material support to a terrorist organization, in addition to that, a participating in prohibited transactions with the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. Those counts carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Now, this announcement announced today by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who in essence said along the way after reading this long criminal complaint -- presenting that rather -- that John walker, along the way, according to the attorney general, had many opportunities to decide what actions he wished to take, and according to attorney general, he did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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. At each crossroad, Walker faced a choice. And with each choice, he chose to ally himself with terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And there was this revelation, according to the multi-page criminal complaint as well, it indicates that John Walker -- you will recall that he is alleged to have gone to Afghanistan and in that region of the world to receive training from terrorist organizations. And according to the criminal complaint, it said that Walker learned from one his instructors that Osama bin Laden, quote, "had sent people to the United States to carry out several suicide operations". That is a piece of new information, and that information coming to John Walker, according to the criminal complaint, sometime after he arrived in that region in June of last year.

This criminal complaint, we might also note, includes excerpts from a CNN interview conducted with John Walker, a particular interview that was done back in December. And the attorney general chose one excerpt, referring to it, now I will read one portion of it. According to this transcript, Walker says, "I started to read some of the literature of the scholars -- referring to the Taliban -- and the history of the movement and my heart became attached to them."

The U.S. attorney general did not rule out the possibility of additional charges. And he summarized by saying this, in so many words, youth is not absolution for treachery or an excuse to take up arms against your country -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Susan, was this the toughest thing they could have done? Clearly, it seems to me they could have put him up for a military tribunal, he could have faced military charges, even the death penalty. So where would you place it on the spectrum of what they could have done...

CANDIOTTI: I think it is...

WOODRUFF: ... in charging him?

CANDIOTTI: ... pretty much, according to the evidence that they have before them, according to the attorney general, this and to other experts, it is what was the they were expected to come up with. Certainly a more serious charge would have been one of treason, for which he would have faced the possibility of death penalty. But most experts agree that that would have been extremely difficult to prove. After all, at the very least, you would need a confession or at least two witnesses to speak out against you. Again, a difficult thing for them to try to come up with. And while he could have been tried by a court-martial, that again would have been very unusual because usually civilians are not tried in that fashion.

WOODRUFF: All right. Susan Candiotti, thanks very much.

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