Lindh’s lawyers threaten libel against ‘instant book’ publisher

By Paul Glader, The Associated Press
Saturday March 16, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Lawyers for John Walker Lindh have sought to block publication of an “instant book” about the American Taliban, calling it “grossly and outrageously false and defamatory.” 

“Publication would be at your peril,” Attorney George Harris wrote in a letter faxed to the book’s publisher, San Jose-based University Press. Copies of the legal threat were sent to Amazon.com, Borders Inc. and Barnes & Noble, all of which were still taking orders Friday. 

Lindh, 21, of Marin County, is awaiting trial in Virginia on charges that he conspired to kill Americans abroad by aiding terrorists in Afghanistan. 

A pre-publication copy sent to The Associated Press appears to be a compilation of unattributed quotes and information two authors took from news reports and government case documents, with significant editorializing and speculation, little sourcing and no footnotes. 

“It’s not hard cold facts,” said the publisher, Rhawn Joseph. “It is more like circumstantial evidence.” 

Joseph declined to provide resumes or biographical information for the two authors, whom he claims did some investigative reporting. He would not make them available for an interview. 

Joseph said he had offered Lindh’s lawyers an opportunity to add 50 unedited pages to the manuscript, but that he would publish with or without their input. 

“They might not like it but I don’t think there is anything they can sue us for,” Joseph said. 

The booksellers also weren’t backing down. 

“We go by whatever the courts determine,” said Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith. “The threat of litigation is no reason to take off a book.” 

She noted pre-orders for the $14.95 book rank it in the top 5,000 books sold on the site. 

Joseph said the threat of a libel suit may be good for sales of the instabook, one of a series his company has produced with a team of freelance writers. 

“It is in the oven right now,” Joseph said. “We have already gone over the proofs and are set to start shipping on Monday.”