'American Taliban' Lindh pleads not guilty

Time of article published Feb 13, 2002

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By James Vicini

Alaexandria, Virginia - John Walker Lindh, who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to a 10-count indictment that includes charges he conspired to kill Americans abroad.

"Not guilty sir," Lindh, wearing a dark green jump suit with "prisoner" stenciled in white letters on the back, said in a firm, clear voice after the judge asked him how he pleaded to all charges against him.

United States District Judge TS Ellis rejected the recommendation by the defence and prosecutors that the trial begin in mid-November, saying he would prefer a trial at the end of August or September at the latest for the Californian, who was captured in Afghanistan in late November.

The judge put off a decision on the trial date for Lindh, who just turned 21 and who smiled at his parents as he was taken from the courtroom, until a Friday hearing.

Lindh is facing a 10-count indictment that accuses him of conspiring to kill Americans abroad, including civilians and military personnel, engaging in prohibited transactions with the deposed Taliban government, and conspiring with and aiding the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Other charges include conspiring to supply services to the Taliban and using and carrying firearms and destructive devices in crimes of violence.

The United States has blamed the Saudi-born fugitive Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network for the September 11 hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon that killed about 3 000 people.

Lindh, who converted to Islam as a teenager, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Ellis said he would like to begin jury selection with August 26 as a target date.

Defence lawyer George Harris said the mid-November date reflected how the events in the indictment occurred in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and that the defence team would need to do an investigation in those countries.

"You need to get about it swiftly," Ellis said.

Lindh spoke only briefly during the 25-minute hearing, saying "Good morning, sir", after the judge greeted him. He replied "Yes, sir," when asked if he had a copy of the indictment.

Prosecutor Randy Bellows estimated it would take the government about two weeks to put on its case against Lindh at trial. He said jury selection could take an additional day.

Bellows said the amount of classified information that the government plans to use was "limited", adding "along the line of one file drawer".

Lindh was taken into custody by the US military in Afghanistan in early December and flown last month to the United States to stand trial.

Ellis said he would decide on Friday on specific dates for filing motions and holding hearings on classified information. He also will set dates for various motions, including expected motions by the defence to suppress statements Lindh made.

Defence lawyers plan to seek to suppress statements Lindh made to an FBI agent in Afghanistan in early December, statements that go to the heart of the case against him.

The lawyers have said he was held in "highly coercive circumstances" and that repeated requests for a lawyer were ignored. Attorney-General John Ashcroft has denied that Lindh's rights were violated. - Reuters

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