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Aired June 18, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: Loose Talk. An American who fought with the Taliban apparently confessed to crimes that could send him to jail for life. Was he mistreated? Was he misled? Was he just too honest for his own good?

Hello, and welcome.

For months, John Walker Lindh's own parents could find no trace of him, and then, late last year, he was suddenly on television, quickly becoming the best known American soldier in Afghanistan. And, to many Americans, quickly becoming the worst traitor in the U.S. war on terror. Much of what we know from Walker Lindh we learned from his own words in a televised interview, and the government did interviews of its own. Now, his case is in court, and his lawyers are fighting against those conversations.

On our program today, in the words of John Walker Lindh.


MANN: John Walker Lindh was born to an affluent California family and raised as a Catholic, but he was drawn away by the appeal of Islam and his desire to study the Quran. He moved to Pakistan, immersed himself in his adopted faith, and then went to Afghanistan and took up arms for the Taliban. Beyond that simple account of his movements, much else is in dispute. Both the details of exactly what he did and what U.S. law calls for in his case are being debated by prosecuting and defending attorneys. Walker Lindh is charged by the U.S. government with conspiring to murder Americans, providing services to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and using weapons in violent crimes.


JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: John Walker Lindh chose to fight with the Taliban, chose to train with al Qaeda, and to be led by Osama bin Laden.


MANN: But his lawyers say Walker Lindh was a simple soldier who committed no crime and is, therefore, protected by a doctrine known as combat immunity.

The case is now beginning its slow movement through the courts.

CNN's Bob Franken begins our coverage -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and the movement now is about a confession, a confession that he's alleged to have made that is considered vital to the prosecution, the U.S. government's case, the most serious charges against him. But his lawyers are claiming that that confession was invalid and must be suppressed, to use the legal term. They've already said that partly the reason is he was not read his Miranda rights, the right to an attorney, that is part of the U.S. procedure, the procedure that the police officials are supposed to go to, in this case, military and FBI interrogators.

In addition to which, the motions that were filed today, they said that he was presented with charges 48 hours after, which is supposed to be the deadline, nor was he given access to his attorney, not only in 48 hours, which is what the law requires, but 55 days later. Therefore, they said, the confession, the alleged confession is fatally flawed. Now, all of these motions come a day after defense attorneys had a lousy day in court.


FRANKEN (voice-over): No, said the Judge, nine times no. So John Walker Lindh left the courthouse facing the same charges he faced when he arrived. All the defense requests were denied.

He'll be returning to the same courthouse. Motions to dismiss or change venue because of prejudicial publicity were denied, even though this building is only nine miles from the Pentagon, where the attacks by terrorists on September 11 are still a burning memory. "One would have to go to planet Pluto," said the judge, "to find those who had not heard of this."

Nevertheless, he was confident a fair and impartial jury could be impaneled here. The judge ruled that Lindh is not covered by the international principle of combat immunity. President Bush declared him an unlawful combatant. Even so, the judge was not willing to accept the administration argument that the courts had no right to even consider the questions, nor did he accept the defense argument that Lindh had been the victim of selective prosecution.

The defense contention that Lindh was exercising his constitutional right of association while fighting for the Taliban was also rejected.

Lindh's lawyers tried to put their best face on the case.

JAMES BROSNAHAN, WALKER LINDH LEAD ATTORNEY: We thrive on adversity, as you may have noticed, and we have a secret weapon. We have a secret weapon, and his name is John Lindh.

FRANKEN: Lindh's father, mother, and sister sat in the front row. As he departed, John Walker Lindh, the son and brother, nodded a silent greeting. And, before the Judge left, he ordered a three-week investigation in to the leaks of confidential e-mails published in Newsweek, expressing questions by some lawyers in the Justice Department about the interrogation of Lindh. That interrogation is being challenged by defense attorneys who want to suppress an alleged confession that is considered vital to the government's case. That hearing is scheduled next month.


And there's a hearing scheduled tomorrow. It is a hearing that will be conducted almost, probably all of it, in secret. It is a hearing about what classified material is necessary for the legal defense of John Walker Lindh.

The hearing about the confession is considered the best prospect for defense attorneys. The conditions of the confession, John, are considered very dicey. And that hearing, as I said, is going to be on July 15.

MANN: Bob, before you go, how much is known about what he is actually said to have confessed to?

FRANKEL: Well, the government says that he confessed to fighting against American forces, and the most serious charge that he is facing in his indictment is one that he committed violence against American troops. That's the one that could result in his being in prison for life, if he's found guilty. But it is based on this confession, and defense attorneys say they have strong arguments that that confession should go away, and if the confession would go away, that would make the prosecutors' case much more difficult.

MANN: Bob Franken, thanks very much.

We take a break, and then we'll listen to John Walker Lindh. Stay with us.


MANN: When a journalist stumbled on him in December of 2001, John Walker Lindh was gaunt, malnourished, and wounded. He had been a prisoner of the Northern Alliance, a survivor of brutally repressed uprising, and then a prisoner of U.S. forces, as well. He spoke his English, his native language, with apparent hesitation and difficulty.

Welcome back.

John Walker Lindh was lying on a hospital gurney when journalist Robert Pelton had a chance to interview him. The tape was widely broadcast at the time, but we thought we'd show you a few moments now. You'll hear some other voices, as well as medical and military personnel come in and out of the conversation.


ROBERT PELTON, JOURNALIST: How long have you been in Afghanistan?

JOHN WALKER LINDH: About six months.

PELTON: What was the antibiotic? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Penicillan, or maybe third generation?


PELTON: What was the analgesic you gave him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, just one Amadol.



PELTON: Morphine. I will give him morphine, OK.


PELTON: Why didn't you ask some Americans or foreigners to help you when you were first in (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

LINDH: I was in (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I didn't know any Americans (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PELTON: If you were a noncombatant, were there any -- there were no aid groups, not outsiders.

LINDH: In Konduz?


LINDH: At the time, I was -- I was unable to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- actually, when I came back, when we withdrew from the heart, we walked by foot maybe more than 100 miles. Afterwards, I was very sick for the whole period, until we came to Mazar-e-Sharif (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I wasn't really in a condition to be able to research those sort of things.

PELTON: Were you with the Taliban all the time, or were you doing something else?

LINDH: The Taliban have a separate branch in the army: Afghans, and they have non-Afghans. I was with a separate branch, the non-Afghan (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PELTON: What is the non-Afghani branch called?

LINDH: It's called (UNINTELLIGIBLE -- Ansar).

PELTON: Is that the same as the 055 Brigade?

LINDH: I'm not familiar with.

PELTON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I was with the Taliban in 1995.

LINDH: Really.

PELTON: Yes, and they're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the 055 Brigade and ...

LINDH: It has, they have a number name. I don't remember the number.

PELTON: You have a slight accent (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LINDH: I haven't spoken English with native speakers in several months. I've been speaking Arabic.


LINDH: I've been living, I've been living overseas for about two years or so.

PELTON: Did you enjoy the jihad? I mean, was it a good cause for you?

LINDH: Definitely.

PELTON: Is there anything that I can broadcast, something you'd like to say to anybody? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I don't think your wounds are life threatening. That's the good news.

LINDH: I really -- it's difficult for me to, you know, any interesting statement on anything at this point. My mind is (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PELTON: Let's let the morphine take effect, and you can relax.

Thank you for talking to me.

LINDH: All right.


MANN: And so from John Walker Lindh as he was being drugged on account of the war he waged for the Taliban. Government interrogators have had their own conversations with him, and they're a big part of the evidence that prosecutors want to bring to court.

Joining us now to talk about the case is -- we've had some technical problems. We'll be trying to resolve them, and we'll be back in a moment. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember aiming the gun at the lady teacher?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Do you remember pulling the trigger or trying to shoot the gun again?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you remember shooting the teacher, right?

BRAZILL: A little bit, yes.



MANN: That young man, Nathaniel Brazill, was sentenced to 28 years in prison last year for shooting and killing his schoolteacher. Brazill said he brought a pistol to school and aimed it, but that he didn't intentionally pull the trigger. In court, though, he admits he did pull it.

Is that a confession? If it was, was it enough to send a 14-year-old boy to jail for that long?

Welcome back. We're hoping to talk more about John Walker Lindh in a moment, but right now, we're going to move ahead and talk about confessions in general. To most of us, a confession closes the case. We can wonder about witnesses, about the evidence, about the lawyers' arguments, but not about something as simple and certain as a person who admits that they did it. Maybe we should wonder.

Joining us now to talk about that is Richard Ofshe, professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, who was written extensively about confessions that turn out to be false.

Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

Let's start with the premise that we were just alluding to, that for most of us a confession is the gold standard, a symbol that justice is being done, that the right verdict or the right conclusion is being reached. How certain should we be of that? How certain are you after having done your research?

PROFESSOR RICHARD OFSHE, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKLEY: Well, I can tell you that while it's probably fair to say, most of the time, a confession that actually demonstrates that someone knows about a crime and can tell police things that the police don't necessarily know is something that ought to be taken very seriously, on the other hand, false confessions occur with regularity in this country. We've seen example after example of exactly that happening. And one has to pay attention to how the confession was obtained, what the position of the person was, what the police did, and whether or not a person was coerced, made to believe that this was the best thing for them to do. If those kinds of things happened, confessions can be suspect and extremely dangerous.

MANN: Is it always obvious why people confess to crimes that they didn't commit? Is it always terrible police work or bad mistreatment?

OFSHE: Pretty much. There are people who are particularly vulnerable. There are people who are handicapped and vulnerable for that reason. There are people who are unbalanced and want the attention and so, voluntarily falsely confess. But in the main, false confessions come about because of police misconduct. It's that simple.

MANN: How often do people confess under circumstances that you would consider good or ideal, when they are well rested, when they're sober, when they're feeling physically safe, when the police have been careful and are courteous? Do people tend to confess without being pushed, without being under duress?

OFSHE: Make true confessions or make false confessions?

MANN: Confessions of any kind. Is it common for people to confess if everyone is giving them the benefit of the doubt?

OFSHE: Well, police interrogators don't give anybody the benefit of the doubt. Their job is to convince someone that they believe or hope committed the crime to make the admission that they committed the crime, and then to give a detailed account, that is the confession, as to what happened. So an interrogation is never an even-handed situation. It's always an attempt to get a confession.

Now, it can be done in ways that comport with the law, or it can be done in ways that are very dangerous and capable of producing false confessions. So you have to tell me how was the interrogation done before anybody could answer that question.

MANN: How much does videotape help us because these days, we're seeing so many either court hearings or actual police interrogations captured on tape?

OFSHE: Videotape changes everything because the first thing that'll happen is it will eliminate, in main, bad police conduct. No knowledgeable interrogator is going to put something on tape that they know they're not supposed to do. So by and large, if a record is made of an interrogation, if that's a policy, then we can anticipate that a lot of problems will suddenly disappear.

The second thing is someone can know with absolute certainty whether or not a person confessing volunteered information that demonstrates that they have unique special knowledge of the crime that links them to the crime in a way in which they'll never be able to repudiate.

Recording interrogations is the key to having professional police work and producing confessions that will stand up in court and in front of anyone in the world.

MANN: Well, one of the intriguing things about this is that when these confessions are made on videotape, inevitably they end up on television. And a lot of people who never go into court, know very little about the case, are shown 15 seconds or 20 seconds of videotape and think they know what happened, and that the police have found the guilty party. Should the rest of us trust what we see on television when our acquaintance with a case is confined to that little bit of testimony that is billed as a confession?

OFSHE: No, because it may be dramatic to show a tape of somebody saying yes, I did it, but that doesn't mean that that's the truth. There are much more important things that go on in the taking of a confession that demonstrate that the person should be held responsible for the crime, but those don't make good television.

MANN: Richard Ofshe, the University of California, Berkley, thank you so much for talking with us.

OFSHE: Thank you very much.

MANN: U.S. government interrogators have had conversations with John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, and they have what are being billed as confessions.

Joining us now to talk about what they have and what they found is former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey.

Would John Walker Lindh be in the kind of trouble he is in now if he had just kept his mouth shut?

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Hardly any trouble at all. There would be suspicions. There would be concerns. But they would have a very difficult time making the kind of case they have now. There would be some kind of charges, but he wouldn't be looking at life (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's all because he talked, and talked way too much.

MANN: He talked to a journalist, and that journalist put the tape on air. We broadcast a little bit of it, in which he said he fought with the Taliban in a unit that was devoted to non-Afghan nationals, foreigners who had come in to fight alongside, and that he thought the jihad the Taliban were waging was a good idea. Is that the kind of thing he said, do you think, to the government, and are those the kinds of words that got him into trouble?

COFFEY: Those words hurt him a lot, and in fact, the defense has signaled that they are going to try to exclude not only the statements made during the course of the police-type interrogation, the interrogation done by the FBI on December 9, not only the statements that he made in military custody to police questioners, but they're also going to try, if they can, to exclude the statements made to CNN, not just because those statements are damaging, but because they sort of lead to the whole trail of other confessions and indicate that this was a young man who was willing to talk. That's why the defense has to exclude that, in hope that the jury will never hear those words.

MANN: Do you think that's going to succeed? Are there good legal grounds to throw these confessions out?

COFFEY: Well, it's going to be tough. Let's take, take it a piece at a time. How do you exclude evidence when somebody speaks to a reporter? A reporter doesn't have to read you your Miranda rights or warn you that what you say could be used against you, and of course, as your previous expert was talking about, videotape captures the person right as they are speaking. What the defense has argued is that the CNN reporter was, in effect, accompanied by members of the U.S. armed forces. So in effect, it was sort of like a government questioning. But that's a tough argument.

On the other hand, when people are conducting military interrogations, the government is going to take the position, and has taken the position, if they area seeking military information for military purposes, to protect our nation from terrorists, that they don't have to give you a lawyer, they don't have to read you your rights, that they need to do what the military needs to protect our country.

So those are going to be very tough arguments, and of course, it all culminates in the incredibly damaging statements that were made to the FBI. If those statements are heard, this case is lost even before the jury selection begins, on August 26.

MANN: What did he tell the FBI?

COFFEY: Well, he told the FBI, for example, that in June -- well before September 11, obviously -- that he knew and that throughout the training camp they knew that terrorist suicide attacks were being planned against U.S. interests and against Israelis. He did nothing. He stayed with them, gave no warning, nothing that could have saved the lives, perhaps, of thousands. And after 9/11, he didn't walk, he didn't bolt. He stayed there full aware of the horrible atrocities that had been inflicted on other Americans. If the jury hears that, they're gonna want to put him in jail and throw away the key. So those kind of statements are going to absolutely decide this case one way or another, if they're allowed in.

MANN: Can any judge be expected to resist the enormous pressure that the war on terror has generated for a conviction in this case? Can any judge throw those statements out knowing what the uproar would be?

COFFEY: In any close case, the government is gonna win as long as we are fighting the war on terrorism. There has certainly been some judicial decisions dealing with some issues which have gone against the government in the last few weeks, but this is a close call, and a close call is going to be ruled in favor of the prosecution.

MANN: I read somewhere that, in fact, the arguments that John Walker Lindh's attorneys are making are the kinds of arguments that lawyers make when they think there's no real way to substantively win the case. They go for technicalities instead, without re-alleging or asserting that John Walker Lindh is guilty or innocent. Do you think that's true? Is this the kind of strategy you would take if you're on the losing side?

COFFEY: Well, I think any lawyer would have to try to fight the admission of these confessions. And let's face it, they paint a pretty harrowing, horrific picture of physical abuse, psychological trauma. If everything they said were believed, they'd have a real shot at getting some or all these statements excluded.

But in the final analysis, a lot of what is going to be decided is did the FBI agent refuse? According to Lindh, he says he asked for a lawyer when that interrogation began. Did the FBI essentially refuse to allow him access to a lawyer or ignore his request for a lawyer? And who are you gonna believe, the FBI -- heroic people who are fighting to protect us -- or America's most notorious defendant, John Walker Lindh?

MANN: Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney, thanks so much for talking with us.

COFFEY: Thanks for inviting me.

MANN: That's Insight for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann.

The news continues.





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