SOUTHERN AFGHAN-ISTAN — An American who fought with the Taliban was gaunt and dehydrated but in good condition Sunday as he recovered from a gunshot wound to his leg, a Marines spokesman said at the southern Afghan base where the man is being held.
John Walker, 20, of Fairfax, Calif., was found holed up with Taliban fighters after northern alliance forces quelled a bloody prison uprising near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. U.S. authorities took control of him and flew him to the base.
Capt. Stewart Upton described Walker’s condition as good and said he is being given intravenous fluids. Citing the Geneva Conventions, Upton said Walker is not allowed to talk to reporters or photographers, but is allowed visits by the international Red Cross.
Walker’s presence has angered many Marines, and senior commanders say privately they will be pleased if his stay is short.
“Anyone who would work with the Taliban are horrible people,” said Sgt. Erik Knox, 37, of Chicago.
A senior military legal adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Marine commanders want Walker off the base as soon as possible and are just waiting for Washington to decide what to do with him.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that Walker has been providing useful information. He said no final decision has been made on what to do with him.
“He’s been pretty close to the action, and he has provided from the Afghan perspective some useful information,” Myers said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think the evidence is pretty strong that he was right in the middle of it.”
Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said: “Somebody will have to make a decision whether he needs to be brought to trial, what the charge might be.”
The Defense Department has classified his status as a “battlefield detainee.”
In San Francisco, James Brosnahan, a lawyer for Walker’s parents, declined comment.
Marines also worked Sunday to build a detention center for prisoners of war just outside the walls of their desert camp. Marines spokesman Capt. David Romley said the camp will house any battlefield detainees or prisoners of war — or even civilians — that U.S. military officials want to hold in Afghanistan.
Any other detainees would have the same rights as Walker, Romley said.
At the site where the detention center was being built, a watch tower overlooks a pen with a nine-foot wall of earth. Barbed wire lies on the ground, presumably to string around the perimeter.
The Justice Department has said Americans who have fought for the Taliban or al-Qaida could face treason, murder, conspiracy or other charges.
Walker’s parents have described him as an introvert and pacifist who converted to Islam when he was 16. He studied in Yemen and Pakistan, but his parents lost contact with him about six months ago.
Through their attorney, Frank Lindh and Marilyn Walker, said Friday they are “desperately worried” about their son.
They also said the government had not given them any word about his their son’s condition or whereabouts.
Meanwhile, the Marines continued to dig fighting holes around their base, which they man 24 hours a day despite temperatures that drop below freezing at night.
“My mother is very proud of what I’m doing, but also scared to death,” said Lance Cpl. Phillip Constantine, 20, of New Baeden, Ill. “So far it’s going very smooth.”
Lance Cpl. Carlos Romero, 23, of Long Beach., missed the birth of his daughter two months ago. But he said it was for a good cause.
“For us, when they say go, we go,” he said. “We always expect to be in the thick of things.”