The Guardian has a really interesting article on John Lindh, the “American Taliban” captured in 2001. I was previously aware that Lindh had been railroaded, but I wasn’t aware of all the circumstances surrounding his ordeal. The article is absolutely worth reading. For those who can’t take the time to read, I’ll summarize at the end of this post.
Meanwhile, the New Yorker has another fascinating article on the globalization of war.
Here’s a fun infographic on war spending from GOOD. Well, it’s as ‘fun’ as war spending can be.
Lindh converted to Islam as a teenager, and traveled at 17 to Yemen to study Arabic and the Koran. At 19 he was studying in Pakistan, and traveled cross-border to Afghanistan and enlisted to help Afghan rebels against a Russian-backed northern army. “I felt that I had an obligation to assist what I perceived to be an Islamic liberation movement against the warlords who were occupying several provinces in northern Afghanistan. I had learned from books, articles and individuals with first-hand experience of numerous atrocities committed by the Northern Alliance against civilians. I had heard reports of massacres, child rape, torture and castration.” In the 1980s Reagan had said, “Every country and every people has a stake in the Afghan resistance, for the freedom fighters of Afghanistan are defending principles of independence and freedom that form the basis of global security and stability.” These freedom fighters were “an example to all the world of the invincibility of the ideals we in this country hold most dear, the ideals of freedom and independence”. Of course, that was the 1980s. Lindh’s timing was more unfortunate. In May of 2001 the American government was still maintaining relations with the Taliban, giving them tens of millions of dollars for opium eradication. Then September 11 happened.
Lindh arrived at his posting in Takhar just a few days before 9/11, and mostly did cooking and sentry duties. He never used his weapon. After US bombing commenced the front where Lindh was stationed fell apart. On the run, his leaders wanted to surrender. The US and UN were unable to accommodate this apparently, and they ended up having to surrender to a local warlord who guaranteed them passage. They were betrayed. Insurrection followed and with armed (but plain-clothes) American intelligence operatives present, prisoners were gunned down with their hands tied between their backs. Others were burned alive. Lindh was shot in the leg, pretended to be dead, and was wounded further times by shrapnel. One of the American operatives was smothered by the prisoners as he was machine-gunning them.
Lindh was eventually turned over to the Red Cross, then the US military. He was tortured and interrogated, despite warnings from the Justice Department (obtained by Newsweek) to the FBI that such interrogation would be unlawful and unethical. The government (Attorney General, Vice President, President, Secretary of Defense) repeatedly made knowingly untrue statements to the press about Lindh (that he was captured holding an AK-47, etc).
Lindh’s attorneys secured a plea deal for him, with his charges of “multiple life sentences, six additional 10-year sentences, plus 30 years” reduced to a regulatory infraction and a weapons charge. Nonetheless, the deal carried a 20-year sentence. Lindh will be released in 2021.
And so, a young man who ostensibly loves his country, loves his religion, and wanted nothing more than to help the impoverished of Afghanistan in their struggle against oppression from warlords now finds himself in prison for a large portion of his life, and mistakingly believed in his home country to be a terrorist, all in furtherance of a ‘propaganda war’ on ‘terror’.