John Walker: Bail Denied

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John Walker Lindh

Things have taken a distinctly downward turn for John Walker Lindh.

Wednesday, a federal judge ordered the "American Taliban" held without bond, citing Lindh's extreme flight risk. Despite pleas from his parents to release their son, the 20-year-old will remain in federal custody until his trial later this year. "It may be argued by the defense that the defendant is a loyal American," Judge Curtis Sewell said, "but the evidence before the court belies that assumption."

After the judge's decision was announced, Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters he was "very pleased."

That ruling was just the latest in a string of damaging blows to Lindh's case, rounding out several days of setbacks. Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted the native Californian on ten counts, including conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and using and carrying firearms during crimes of violence.

Meanwhile, new evidence has surfaced that's likely to provide further grist to anti-Lindh sentiment. In an e-mail Lindh sent to his mother, Marilyn Walker, in February 2000, he urges her to move to England. "I really don't know what your big attachement (sic) to America is all about. What has America ever done for anybody?"

In other messages, Lindh expresses his belief that the United States was responsible for starting the Gulf War and that the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa "seemed far more likely to have been carried out by the American government than by Muslims."

Lindh's parents and lawyers maintain he "loves America," but Ashcroft dismisses their claims, saying, "Americans who love their country don't dedicate themselves to killing Americans."

None of this is helping Lindh's defense team; attorney James Brosnahan is not having much luck finding an audience for his case, i.e. that Lindh is being used by the U.S. Justice Department as a sacrificial lamb in the war on terrorism. "In my view," he told reporters outside the Virginia courthouse, "they have brought out the cannon to shoot the mouse." The defense team will likely counter government claims that Lindh willingly joined in a jihad against Americans by arguing that when Lindh joined the Taliban, they were engaged in fighting the Northern Alliance — at the time, a long-standing enemy of the U.S.

Brosnahan apparently hopes to use Ashcroft's unchecked enthusiasm for the prosecution of this case as evidence the government is not dedicated to conducting a fair trial. He also told reporters his client was denied access to an attorney and subjected to "highly coercive" conditions while in custody of the U.S. military. Ashcroft bridled at the suggestion: Lindh's legal rights, the AG told reporters Tuesday, "have been carefully, scrupulously honored."

Unlike after his initial court appearance, Lindh's parents did not speak with the press this week. They sat silently in the courthouse, watching their jumpsuit-clad, beardless son.

Lindh will appear in court again Monday for his arraignment, when he'll be asked to enter a plea: guilty or not guilty. In the meantime, his parents and lawyers will spend much of the weekend fighting the impression that the question's been answered already.