The father of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh went public yesterday calling on President Bush to grant clemency to his son. Frank Lindh claims his son, first captured at 20 in Afghanistan and now 25, is innocent, “acted with integrity,” is a “great kid,” and “never fought against America.” He said, “In simple terms, this is the story of a decent and honorable young man embarked on a spiritual quest.” According to Frank Lindh, his son went to the Middle East to study Islam, traveled to Pakistan to escape the summer heat, went into Afghanistan without informing his parents, and only joined the Taliban army to fight against the Northern Alliance, not America. Meanwhile, the father choked back tears and showed baby pictures of his son.
The record, however, tells a different story. John Walker Lindh is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists. He avoided a life sentence in 2002 by pleading guilty to lesser charges of supplying services to the Taliban and carrying weapons against U.S. forces. He was given a 20 year prison sentence.
No one who has children can watch or read this story without feeling some compassion for an anguished father. I don’t doubt that he loves his son, that he genuinely believes his son is innocent of wrongdoing, or even that his son may have been involved in some kind of spiritual odyssey. And I don’t begrudge his request for clemency. Many of us might very well do the same thing in similar painful circumstances.
But a father’s love does not change John Walker Lindh’s record, clearly established through due process of law. Lindh was not abused or tortured. He was given a fair trial in an American court through which he was provided with an opportunity to defend himself. And in the end, his sentence was far less severe than his deeds warranted according to law.
Justice has been served. But the father’s request is not about justice. It’s about mercy in the form of clemency. So if you were advising President Bush about this case how would you recommend he respond?
While John Walker Lindh’s father is asking for mercy another father, Johnny Spann, is trying to get Lindh’s sentence extended for murder and treason. His son, CIA officer Johnny Michael “Mike” Spann, was killed in a prison riot after being videotaped speaking to John Walker Lindh. Again, most people, particularly those of us who have children, understand Spann’s response.
This is a sad case, but this is more than a “troubled youth” who made a couple of ill-advised decision in the neighborhood. This is about a young man who was intelligent and resourceful enough to travel around the world to study under religious teachers and who in turn took steps to align with groups clearly functioning outside the bounds of American, Afghan, or moral interests. He was not confused. He was intentional. He knew what he was doing, and he was old enough to understand words like treason, traitor, and terrorist.
So, should President Bush grant clemency to John Walker Lindh? I don’t think so. I believe mercy and even forgiveness can be extended within the constructs of his sentence, while I do not think freeing him serves justice or the needs of the American people. He is not in prison in some forgotten part of the world. He serves his time at the medium security federal penitentiary in Victorville, California. This is not a fun environment, but given his crimes, serving his time in his home state near his parents is a form of mercy in itself.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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