WASHINGTON — The Bush administration will charge American Taliban John Walker Lindh with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens in Afghanistan and will ask for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday.
Lindh will be charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., rather than in a military tribunal. Other charges against him will include providing support to terrorist organizations and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban, Ashcroft said.
The attorney general said that while the United States continues to seek justice against foreigners responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, “we cannot overlook attacks on America when they come from U.S. citizens.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush “is supportive of the process put in place. He is confident that the process will end in justice.”
The charges were recommended to Bush by the National Security Council, which mediated advice from the Justice Department, the Pentagon and the State Department.
“Youth is not absolution for treachery,” Ashcroft told reporters. “Misdirected Americans cannot receive direction in murderous ideology.”
Lindh, 20, of San Anselmo, Calif., was captured in November fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was taken into custody by U.S. forces after a prison uprising at a fortress in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Lindh since then has been held on the amphibious attack ship USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.
Lindh’s mother appeared briefly Tuesday afternoon at her home in Fairfax, but had no comment regarding her son. James Brosnahan, an attorney hired by Lindh’s parents, was not available for comment. A spokeswoman at Brosnahan’s law office in San Francisco said he was “issuing no statements at this time.”
A baptized Roman Catholic who converted to Islam at 16, Lindh sent a letter to his parents in December saying he was safe and regretted not contacting them sooner.
He apparently dictated the letter, dated Dec. 3, to an International Red Cross volunteer.
Ashcroft said the charges against Lindh were based for the most part on his own statements to FBI investigators.
According to Ashcroft, Lindh told agents that he joined a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan last May and spent seven months there.
Osama bin Laden visited the camp several times and met Lindh on one occasion, Lindh said.