News - Young, dumb and deportable

American Taliban's confused choices fall short of treason

John Walker Lindh, the scraggly young American caught cavorting with the Taliban, could be the poster boy for those who've made really bad life decisions. But does his conduct constitute treason? Does he deserve to be handed a blindfold and a final cigarette?

Knowing what we now know about the case, the firing squad should hold its bullets.

Certainly, his actions are bizarre and troubling. At the very least, they should cost him his American citizenship, or maybe land him a stint in a federal pen (a step up from his Afghan digs). But a drawn-out effort to try him for treason — and sentence him to death or life in prison — would be overkill, a waste of our collective energy.

If Lindh had gone into Afghanistan Sept. 12, vowing to fight America and aid al-Qaeda's terrorist jihad, my view would be much different. But available evidence suggests he went into Afghanistan months before the 9-11 terrorist attacks — before the Taliban had become our official mortal enemy.

While he later expressed support for the attacks, the only news he would have heard about Sept. 11 would have come from Taliban media. So we have no idea how much he really knew before making those statements.

If Lindh had been shooting at U.S. troops, my view also would be much different. But the Taliban was battling the Northern Alliance; the role of the U.S. military on the ground was limited. Given the information vacuum in which he was living, we don't know when, or if, he knew Americans might be on the other side of the battle line. So, at this point, it's a stretch to say he deliberately took up arms against his countrymen.

The most damning charge against Lindh is that he was part of an uprising at a prison complex where he was kept with other captured Taliban fighters. CIA agent Mike Spann was killed in that melee, shortly after questioning Lindh.

Lindh says he tried to run for cover once the shooting started and was hit in the leg (displaying the courage for which the Taliban are now infamous). Spann's murder must, of course, be investigated further, but if Lindh's only role was being there when it happened, his actions are short of treason.

Lindh's story is also a cautionary tale of what can happen when we let loopy liberals rear children. Named after John Lennon by "flower power" parents, Lindh grew up in la-la land — Marin County, outside San Francisco. As a teenager, he started wearing a long white robe and calling himself Suleyman.

According to Newsweek, Lindh's parents later financed his move to Yemen to learn Arabic and his studies at a militant Islamic madrasa, or religious school, in Pakistan. When he disappeared last May, his parents finally got worried.

"I would look at the moon and just wonder if John was somewhere seeing it too," opined the ethereal Papa Lindh to Newsweek. "I didn't have the sense that he was."

Didn't have sense, period. These chowderheads allowed a clearly troubled young man to grow into maturity with less structure than most people would give a puppy. Too bad stupidity isn't a crime with which they could be charged.

By contrast, Spann grew up in Alabama amid values of faith and patriotism that led him to decide at an early age to serve his country, first in the Marines and later in the CIA. Of course, Lindh's upbringing, or lack thereof, doesn't excuse his actions. But it does help explain them — and buttresses the argument that he acted more out of personal confusion than malice. He certainly showed less malice aforethought than Jane Fonda did in Vietnam.

We also should ask ourselves to what end we would prosecute Lindh for treason. If Americans were flocking to fight for the Taliban or al-Qaeda, throwing the book at him might serve the cause of deterrence. As far as we know, though, he's the only person who's done so.

So find out what he knows, strip him of his citizenship, let him disappear into the Islamic world he has embraced and keep him from the shores of the America he so dislikes.

But put him on trial for treason? That would just create a tiresome spectacle. Imagine Alan Dershowitz and Johnny Cochran, united in his defense. This misguided punk is just not worth the trouble.

Richard Shumate is a writer in the la-la land of Sandy Springs, where he sometimes dons a white robe and calls himself Bushyman.??

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