Defense tries to change image of American-born Taliban

Friday, June 14, 2002

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- From the Taliban soldier with unkempt hair to the courtroom defendant with a neat haircut and black-framed glasses, John Walker Lindh has physically transformed into the image his lawyers want a jury to see.

Since Lindh's return to the United States in January, a defense team of former prosecutors has tried to counter the government's portrait of a terrorist who hated America with that of a more sympathetic but misguided young man.

In recent weeks the lawyers have introduced evidence and arguments that Lindh sought refuge in Islam but wanted to escape the Taliban after being horrified by the Sept. 11 attacks.

They argue he was so afraid during his first encounter with U.S. Marines that he begged not to be killed after his surrender.

Clean-cut kid

"What they're saying is, 'He's a clean-cut kid, just like your son, who maybe was misguided and got caught up in something he shouldn't have got caught up in,"' Joseph Aronica, a former prosecutor, said of the defense strategy. "Now he looks clean-cut."

Lindh's chances of acquittal, in a district with thousands of retired and active government workers, may well depend on the defense's success in changing his image.

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