U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis
III accepted the plea-agreement Lindh's lawyers had negotiated with
the government. During a drama-packed two-and-a-half hour
proceeding, he told the young Californian, "You were willing to give
your life for the Taliban but not for your country."
In a 20-minute statement, Lindh expressed remorse for joining the
Taliban. "I understand why so many Americans were angry when I was
first discovered in Afghanistan ( news
sites). I realize that many still are, but I hope that with time
and understanding, their feelings will change."
Ellis acknowledged Lindh's plea, but declared, "Forgiveness is
separate from punishment." He told a packed courtroom, which
included Lindh's parents, brother and sister, that many Americans
will think his sentence was too lenient while others will believe it
was too severe.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, asked if he thought Lindh's
statement was sincere, replied, "The information he provided was
viewed by the court as an acceptance of responsibility and I'll
leave it at that."
Lindh's tearful apology, during which he repeatedly stopped in
mid-sentence to compose himself, contrasted with Richard Reid's
laughter as he pleaded guilty in Boston to attempting to blow up a
trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his shoes. He also
declared himself a follower of Osama bin Laden.
Lindh, on the other hand, has consistently denied that he ever
swore loyalty to bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network, even though he
acknowledged having met him briefly at a military training camp in
Afghanistan. He roundly condemned the terrorist leader in his
On a day of coast-to-coast developments on the terrorism front,
government officials announced the arrests of four people in Oregon
and Michigan on charges of conspiring to wage war on the United
States and support al-Qaida. Attorney General John Ashcroft ( news
sites) called it a "defining day" in the war against terrorism.
Two other suspects were indicted and were being sought overseas.
Five of the six named in an indictment are U.S. citizens, and
prosecutors said that some of them took weapons training and then
tried to travel to Afghanistan to join up with al-Qaida and the
Taliban, but could not get into the country.
At his sentencing in suburban Alexandria, Va., Lindh told the
judge that "Bin Laden's terrorist attacks are completely against
Islam, completely contrary to the conventions of jihad and without
any justification whatsoever."
"His grievances, whatever they may be, cannot be addressed by
acts of injustice and violence against innocent people in America."
Both Reid and Lindh were apprehended late last year while the
U.S. was pursing the war in Afghanistan. But even as the government
prosecuted Lindh and Reid, neither emerged as more than foot
soldiers in the terrorist ranks.
Lindh was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and was in
the vicinity of a prison uprising where CIA ( news
sites) agent Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed. Spann's father,
Johnny, told the judge Friday that Lindh was partly responsible for
his son's death.
"My grandchildren would love to know their dad would be back in
20 years," he said. "The punishment doesn't fit the crime to me."
Ellis, however, said he never would have approved the plea
agreement if the government had shown any evidence that Lindh was
responsible for Spann's death. Lindh told the judge, "I had no role
in the death of Johnny Micheal Spann."
Lindh pleaded guilty last July to supplying services to the
Taliban and carrying an explosive during commission of a felony.
Each count carries a 10-year sentence. The government told Ellis
last week that Lindh had fulfilled his agreement to cooperate,
allowing prosecutors to drop more serious charges that could have
brought a life sentence.
As part of the plea agreement, neither Lindh nor his family can
profit by selling his story.
Lindh, wearing glasses and a standard-issue green jumpsuit, still
has the close cropped hair style he adopted soon after being
returning to America. His appearance remained a far contrast from
the long-haired, bearded image that he projected on television after
his capture a picture that shocked Americans who discovered that
one of their own had been fighting for the Taliban.
"I want the court to know, and I want to American people to
know," Lindh said, "that had I realized then what I know now about
the Taliban, I would never have joined them."
Lindh also told the court that he never understood jihad to mean
anti-Americanism or terrorism and declared, "I condemn terrorism on
every level unequivocally."
He said he went to Afghanistan and enlisted in the Taliban army
because he believed it was "my religious duty to assist my fellow
Muslims militarily in their jihad against the Northern Alliance,"
the Taliban's internal Afghan enemies who eventually fought
alongside the United States.
Government officials said Lindh and other al-Qaida and Taliban
prisoners told U.S. interrogators the Sept. 11 hijackings were
supposed to be the first of three increasingly severe attacks
against Americans. Their claims have not been corroborated,
government officials said.
Ellis said he is troubled that there were two separate accounts
of when Lindh heard rumors that 50 terrorists would be sent on
suicide operations. The original indictment said Lindh heard that
information before Sept. 11, but Lindh has contended he heard it
after the attacks.
Ellis suggested that Lindh address the discrepancy during the
sentencing hearing, but he never did.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows told the judge that Lindh
is still being interrogated and when the interviews are completed,
he will take a lie detector test. Ellis said he would take the
unusual step of ordering that the polygraph results be made public.