'American Taliban' to Face Life in Prison

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After rifle training in an al-Qaeda camp, Walker(left) became a Taliban fighter

"Youth is not absolution for treachery," Attorney General John Ashcroft said today in announcing charges against John Walker Lindh. "Misdirected Americans cannot receive direction in murderous ideology." Lindh is in a bad place, but he's not in the worst possible position: The charges he currently faces do not carry the death penalty, although Ashcroft has made it clear the government is investigating other charges that could result in Walker's death.

The "American Taliban" was charged Tuesday with four criminal counts, including two of aiding and abetting terrorists and one each of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban. The government, acting under a 1990 anti-terror law, will seek a life sentence for the 20-year-old.

The government's complaint (arrived at via joint meetings between the National Security Council and the State and Justice Departments), hinges on the belief that while Walker joined Taliban forces months before the terror attacks on the U.S., he continued to fight alongside Taliban members even after he learned of plans to carry out terrorism, and even after he learned of the bloodshed at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Walker was captured by U.S. forces in November, after allegedly taking part in a prison uprising in Mazar-i-sharif. He has since been held on a military ship in the Arabian Sea.

Delivering his statement to reporters, Ashcroft underscored the seriousness of the charge and seriousness of the situation. "The United States does not casually or capriciously charge one of its own citizens with providing support to terrorists," the Attorney General said. "We are compelled to do so today by the inescapable fact of September the 11th — a day that reminded us in no uncertain terms that we have enemies in the world and that these enemies seek to destroy us."

According to government reports, Walker joined a paramilitary camp in May of 2001, where he was advised by fellow trainees to tell anyone who asked that he was Irish, not American. After his training, he was given a choice of traveling to Kashmir or fighting in Afghanistan with the Taliban. He chose to join the Taliban, telling his superiors, "I am a Muslim, ready to go to the front lines to fight."

Ashcroft also suggested that Walker may have met with Osama bin Laden personally during a visit to a training; bin Laden reportedly thanked Walker and several other trainees for joining in jihad.

The native Californian is in the process of being transferred from U.S. military custody to that of the FBI. He has been advised of his Miranda rights, and has waived them, according to Ashcroft. Walker was officially charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. He will also be tried there.