By Karen Gullo ~ The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old Californian who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, was charged Tuesday with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens. He will be tried in a civilian court and could face life in prison.
After weeks of deliberations, the Bush administration opted against a military trial or charges that would carry the death penalty.
Lindh, who converted to Islam at 16 and is alleged to have trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. He will be transferred from a U.S. military ship for trial in the United States.
Described as intelligent
Attorney General John Ashcroft said Lindh admitted in interviews with the FBI that he met Osama bin Laden and knew bin Laden had ordered the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
"He chose to embrace fanatics, and his allegiance to those terrorists never faltered," said Ashcroft. "Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them. John Walker Lindh chose terrorists."
Lindh learned in early June that bin Laden had sent people to the United States to carry out suicide operations, according to an FBI affidavit. The document described an odyssey that began with Walker's conversion to Islam in 1997, later training in Pakistan and Afghanistan and last year joining the Taliban.
Friends have described Lindh as an intelligent young man who wore full-length robes to high school and went by the name "Suleyman" after his conversion to Islam. After his capture in December, his parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, had asked the public to withhold judgment about their son.
James Brosnahan, a lawyer for the separated couple, could not be reached Tuesday. A spokeswoman at his law office in San Francisco said he was "issuing no statements at this time."
"We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values, but we cannot ignore that he did," said Ashcroft. "Youth is not absolution for treachery, and personal self-discovery is not an excuse to take up arms against your country."
On front lines
While Lindh was charged with conspiring to kill Americans, it's not clear from the FBI affidavit whether he actually engaged in combat against American forces.
He was deployed to the front lines to fight against opposition northern alliance forces.
Then, after Sept. 11 his position was bombed by U.S. airstrikes and he retreated, surrendered and was taken into custody, the affidavit said.
Ashcroft said Lindh "had knowledge of the American forces in the theater ... and knew that participants in the conflict were not limited to ... members of the Northern Alliance."
Lindh also is being charged with providing support to terrorist organizations and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban, the attorney general said.
The Bush administration had considered whether to charge Lindh in a civilian or military court and whether to charge him with treason, which carries the death penalty.
Ashcroft suggested that proving Lindh committed treason would be difficult, but he left open the possibility that other charges could be filed as evidence is developed.