GWEN IFILL: John Walker Lindh, the American who was discovered living and fighting on behalf of the Taliban in Afghanistan, was charged today with aiding and abetting terrorism. The Justice Department said the 20-year-old Californian, who goes by his mother's last name, Walker, freely admitted his ties to the Taliban and to at least one friendly meeting with Osama bin Laden. Attorney General John Ashcroft listed the charges: Conspiracy to kill U.S. Nationals, providing material support resources to terrorist organizations, and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban.
JOHN ASHCROFT: The United States does not casually or capriciously charge one of its citizens with providing support to terrorists. We are compelled to do so today by the inescapable fact of September 11, a day that reminded us in no uncertain terms that we have enemies in the world and that these enemies seek to destroy us. The complaint alleges Walker knowingly and purposely allied himself with certain terrorist organizations with terror, that he chose to embrace fanatics, and his allegiance to those fanatics never faltered-- not even with knowledge they murdered thousands of his countrymen, not with knowledge that they engaged in war with the United States, and not finally the in prison uprising that took the life of CIA Agent Johnny Spann.
GWEN IFILL: While in U.S. custody, Ashcroft said, Walker was read his rights, including the right to a lawyer, and waived them.
JOHN ASHCROFT: The Department of Justice complaint based on Walker statements in interviews states that on or about May 2001 Walker joined a paramilitary training camp run by the terrorist group Heraqat Mujahadin. After his training was completed, he was given a choice to fight with the Heraqat Mujahadin in Kashmir or join the Taliban to fight in Afghanistan. Walker chose to join the Taliban. He went to Afghanistan and presented himself to a Taliban recruitment center telling the individuals there that-- and I'm quoting-- quote, he was a Muslim who wanted to go to the front lines to fight.
The complaint further states that because Walker's language skills were deemed insufficient by Taliban recruiters, he was referred to another group, which he was told was Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. When al-Qaida members told Walker he needed more military training to join the terrorist group, the complaint sets forth Walker's admission that he spent seven weeks in an al-Qaida camp training in weapons, explosives, and battlefield combat. Walker reported that Osama bin Laden visited the camp on three to five occasions. On one of these occasions Walker met personally with bin Laden who, quote, according to Walker, thanked him for taking part in Jihad. According to the complaint, when his al-Qaida training was completed, Walker, again by his own admission, chose to go to the front lines of the battle in Afghanistan. Armed with an AKM rifle he was sent to Kabul and eventually made it to the front line of the battle with the Northern Alliance in Takar.
Walker told U.S. Officials that he was aware of the attacks of September 11 and that Osama bin Laden had ordered the attacks, but even after September 11 with full knowledge of the thousands dead in the United States and al-Qaida's responsibility for those deaths, the complaint states that Walker continued to fight for the Taliban against American interests. After he after he was taken prisoner in Mazar e-Sharif November, Walker refused to cooperate with U.S. officials and lied about his citizenship.
Our complaint, based on Walker's own words, is very clear. Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them. John Walker Lindh chose terrorists. Walker was blessed to grow up in the country that cherishes freedom of speech, religious tolerance, political democracy and equality between men and women. And yet he chose to reject these values in favor of their antithesis, a regime that publicly and proudly advertised its mission to extinguish freedom, enslave women, and deny education.
GWEN IFILL: Ashcroft conceded today's charges do not include treason.
JOHN ASHCROFT: Not all conduct against the United States by U.S. citizens is susceptible to the charge of treason. The Constitution imposes a high evidentiary burden to prove the charge to prove the article of treason. Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution requires that treason be proven only by a confession in open court or by the testimony of at least two witnesses to each alleged overt act. For now, we are confident in going forward with the charges we filed today.
REPORTER: Why isn't he a candidate for a military tribunal?
JOHN ASHCROFT: Well, Mr. John Walker Lindh is a U.S. Citizen. And according to the military order issued by the President, it's for dealing with non-citizens of the United States.
REPORTER: You said other charges will be considered. Does that mean he may still be charged with treason and face the death penalty?
JOHN ASHCROFT: If additional evidence is developed that would provide a basis for other charges-- and I don't want to be... To begin an inventory of those charges at this time-- but there could be a variety of other things that might be developed, then we would be free to bring other charges against him.
GWEN IFILL: Walker is the first American, and only the second individual, charged in connection with the September 11 attacks and ensuing war.