Marin County native admits he was part of fighters funded by bin Laden to fight for Taliban
WASHINGTON — Dizzy from morphine and weary from battle, American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh said in an interview soon after his capture that he had been a part of Ansar, the Arab fighters funded by Osama bin Laden who fought for the Taliban.
He also said he had attended an Ansar training camp.
The interview was done Dec. 2 by a CNN reporter and was aired in its entirety for the first time Wednesday.
Walker said the Taliban fighters were organized in different branches based on ethnic groups. At first, Walker stayed with Taliban fighters from Pakistan, where he had studied for a couple of years. But then he was put with the group of Arab fighters who were funded by bin Laden because he spoke Arabic.
“Originally I came with Pakistanis,” Lindh said. “They sent me to the Arabs.”
What Lindh did while traveling with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan could play a key role in what charges he might face in the United States.
Lindh, a 20-year-old American from San Anselmo, Calif., also defended the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, saying the Quran permits Muslims to kill other Muslims in cases of holy war.
“That is a question that is addressed in the Quran itself,” Lindh told CNN. “In certain cases Muslims by necessity can kill and ... there are situations in which a Muslim can be killed (by other Muslims).”
Referring to jihad, the Islamic word for holy war, he said, “It’s exactly what I thought it would be.”
Asked if it was the right cause, he said, “Definitely.”
Lindh, who sometimes uses his mother’s last name of Walker, was found holed up with captured Taliban fighters last month after northern alliance forces quelled a prison uprising in northern Afghanistan.
He was taken into custody by American forces and flown to the USS Peleliu, off the coast of Pakistan.
Lindh told of dodging grenades and helping other Taliban fighters as northern alliance forces closed in on the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
His face was blackened from battle and he swooned as he spoke, telling the reporter he was taking morphine to quell the pain from a gunshot wound.
Lindh said he went to join the Taliban in Afghanistan after studying in Pakistan because his “heart became attached to the movement. I wanted to help them one way or another.”
He said that after being captured, a few Taliban soldiers hid grenades in their clothes as they were taken to prison. He called the uprising a “mistake of a handful of people” because the Taliban soldiers had agreed not to fight.
“This is against what we had agreed upon, and this is against Islam,” Lindh said. “It is a major sin to break a contract, especially in military situations.”
The spirits of the Taliban fighters were broken when rebel forces pumped gas, then water, into the prison, he said.
“More than half of us were injured on that last day when they poured water into the basement,” he said. “We were standing in water, freezing water for maybe 20 hours.”
Talk of surrender came quickly.
The prison “was filled with the stench of bodies and we didn’t have any more weapons available. We said, ’Look we’re gonna die,”’ he said.
“If we surrender, the worst that can happen is they’ll torture us or kill us. So right here in the basement, they’re torturing us and killing us, so we might as well surrender.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday that President Bush will make a decision about Lindh once Justice Department and Pentagon officials finish reviewing his case.
“He is being treated as someone who fought against the United States in an armed conflict. And that’s why he’s classified properly as a battlefield detainee, and he is being treated well,” Fleischer said.
Another videotape of Lindh, taken by ABC News, showed his interrogation by CIA agents before the uprising. He sat despondent, in a dusty clearing with his hands tied behind his back. His clothing was tattered and dirty; his hair hid his face. His interrogators were Johnny “Mike” Spann, who was later killed in the uprising, and an agent known only as Dave.
Lindh didn’t answer any questions during the interrogation and was led away.