John Walker Lindh"Dumb-ass" may be a subjective term, but it's difficult to think of any better way to describe John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban.
Lindh grew up affluent, in the rolling, mellow hills of Marin County, in Northern California. It's peaceful and temperate up there in wine country, where the sun always shines and even the ugly people are beautiful.
It's kind of hard to understand how one goes from spoiled wine country glitterati-spawn to filthy Kalashnikov-wielding mujahideen. No, scratch that. It's completely impossible to understand how one goes from spoiled wine country glitterati-spawn to filthy Kalashnikov-wielding mujahideen. One can only stare in befuddled amazement and contemplate the depths of stupidity of which humans are capable.
In November 2001, U.S. forces in Afghanistan were sorting through the aftermath of an al Qaeda prison riot when they stumbled across a scrawny, mud-caked American college boy. John Walker Lindh spilled his guts to a rolling CNN camera before the CIA got its hands on him, which is the only reason you've even heard of him.
It's All Denzel's FaultLindh was an overly bright teen, in that home-schooled, unable-to-cope-with-reality kind of way. Lindh told investigators he first became interested in Islam at the age of 12, when he watched the movie "Malcolm X." At age 16, the son of a Catholic father and a Buddhist mother converted to Islam and began regularly attending a local mosque. One can only speculate as to what the family dinner menus must have been like. Especially on Fridays during Lent...
In 1998, Lindh traveled to Yemen and studied Arabic and Islam for about two years before making his way to Pakistan, one of the world's leading centers for ultraviolent lunatics (and a nuclear power to boot!).
It was the classic old story: Boy meets sadistic militarized theocracy, boy falls in love with sadistic militarized theocracy, boy loses sadistic militarized theocracy. Lindh told CNN that while he was studying in Pakistan, he read some sales brochures and "my heart became attached to [the Taliban]." Ah, young love!
From thence, according to Lindh himself, "I went to Afghanistan because I believed it was my religious duty to assist my fellow Muslims militarily in their jihad against the Northern Alliance." In his sentencing statement before the court, Lindh went on to explain the exact nature of his historic dumbassitude. Despite the fact that he spent three weeks in an al Qaeda terrorist camp being trained in the use of Kalashnikov machine guns, explosives and heavy arms, Lindh assumed that the "jihad" to which he had been invited was the technical jihad of moderate Islam: "In the Arabic language, jihad literally means 'struggle.' In Islamic terminology, jihad refers to the spending of one's utmost exertion in the service of God. I have never understood jihad to mean anti-Americanism or terrorism." Well, there, see? It could happen to anyone!
"I believe that jihad ranges from striving to overcome own personal faults, to speaking out for the truth in adverse circumstances, to military action in the defense of justice. The type of jihad one practices depends upon one's circumstances, but the essence of any form of jihad lies in the intent." Unfortunately for Lindh, he didn't go the "speaking out for truth" route.
American Psycho"I went to Afghanistan with the intention of fighting against terrorism and oppression, not to support it," Lindh told the court. Alas! His "good intentions" paved the way to... well, you know.
According to the federal government, Lindh fought terrorism by signing up with the Taliban, attending al Qaeda seminars on how to kill Americans, staying in guesthouses funded by Osama bin Laden, sharing campfire tales about suicide terrorists being dispatched against the United States (just before 9/11 and practicing his anti-terrorism skills with rocket-launchers, pistols and Molotov cocktails (a favorite tool of anti-terrorism forces everywhere).
During the summer of 2001, Osama bin Laden personally thanked Lindh for everything he had done to "fight terrorism and oppression." However, when Lindh was invited to take the fight against terrorism to U.S. soil, he declined in favor of a Rambo-style battlefield experience.
When he heard about the September 11 attacks, Lindh's commitment to "fight terrorism and oppression" didn't waver, and he continued to fight alongside Taliban forces, even when the U.S. invasion force came crashing down on his head. In November 2001, his cadre surrendered to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and was subsequently imprisoned. While in an Afghan jail, Lindh and his fellow mujahideen staged a riot, killing a CIA agent who was there seeking information on al Qaeda members.
When the U.S. military moved into the area, they found Lindh in a disheveled state, with various wounds suffered during the prison fighting. CNN cameras on the scene captured Lindh raving about his love for the Taliban. He was airlifted out to a Navy warship for interrogation, following which he was returned to the U.S. to face trial.
Lindh was unlike the other U.S. citizens accused of assisting al Qaeda, such as Latino Jose Padilla and Arab-American Yasser Hamdi, in that Lindh was a white boy with affluent parents. Naturally, the government gave him access to a lawyer and the privilege of facing criminal charges in open court—unlike Padilla and Hamdi who were held for years without charge and without access to counsel. Hamdi was eventually deported, while Padilla was indicted after more than three years in a military brig for an extremely vauge and markedly anticlimactic handful of vague conspiracy charges.
Lindh entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In exchange for his plea, the more serious charges (such as conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals) were dropped, which means that with time off for good behavior, he'll be out in about 17 years.
Ironically, between his extrajudicial incarceration and the weakness of the charges against him, Padilla—once accused of planning an atomic attack on U.S. soil—may end up walking free a whole lot sooner than Lindh, who was charged with little more than being a dumbass. If it wasn't for Law and Order, the American judicial system would have no credibility at all...