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"Kick in the Butt" Not Enough for Walker

Editor's Notebook

By Alan E. Wirzbicki, Crimson Staff Writer

John Walker Lindh, an American citizen who converted to Islam and fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, is in deep trouble. Turned over to U.S. special forces after a failed Taliban uprising in a Northern Alliance jail, Walker may face criminal charges pending the decision of the Bush administration. But it gets worse for poor John: the father of the 20-year old mujaheedin says he wants to give his wayward son a “little kick in the butt” when he gets back. “He’s been through a horrible ordeal,” says Frank Lindh.

A terrible ordeal indeed. Walker (he goes by his mother’s maiden name) was taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance after the fall of Kunduz and imprisoned in the now-infamous Kala Jangi fortress. At the prison, Newsweek reported recently, he refused to answer questions posed by two CIA agents. Shortly after he was sent back to his cell, one of his interrogators, CIA agent Johnny “Mike” Spann, was killed by Walker’s comrades-in-arms.

Walker’s parents seem to hope the U.S. government will write the whole thing off as youthful indiscretion, a character-building experience at al-Qaeda summer camp that went horribly awry. They’ve hired a top-flight lawyer and begun lobbying Senator Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) to block treason charges. At 20, they say, he’s “just a kid.”

By comparison, many of Walker’s fellow American 20 year-olds joined the Marines and are on the front lines battling the Taliban. Other 20 year-old Americans who have also gone through horrible ordeals, but lack middle-class white parents, are on death row for murder. Our courts routinely try 14-year-olds as adults. The odds seem good that 20 year-old Saudis or Egyptians hauled before American military tribunals will not escape with merely a parental spanking.

But, Walker’s parents claim, he must have been brainwashed. What other reason could there possibly be for a man to take up arms for the Taliban? “Brainwashed” is a tricky word, and in this case an Orwellian semantic ploy to rename aggressors as victims. By their sort of logic, every Islamic zealot captured in Afghanistan is a victim of brainwashing. Not surprisingly, the U.S. government doesn’t seem inclined to accept an insanity defense for al-Qaeda fanatics.

Walker knew what he was doing. His avowed support for the Sept. 11 attacks and his earlier approval for the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole show he was no Osama-come-lately or unwitting Taliban dupe. One feels sorry for his parents, but sympathy should stop there. Walker is old enough to make his own decisions, and now he richly deserves to face the consequences.

—Alan E. Wirzbicki

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