RAY SUAREZ: John Walker Lindh arrived at federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, early this morning under heavy security. With his hair and beard cut, he didn't look at all like the Taliban fighter captured in November.
When the 20-year-old Walker Lindh was asked this morning if he understood charges that he conspired to kill fellow Americans in Afghanistan, he responded, "Yes, I do. Thank you." His attorney said he now wanted to be known as John Lindh.
In a sign of the legal arguments to come, James Brosnahan, the defense attorney hired by Lindh's parents, told reporters he met his client for the first time this morning.
JAMES BROSNAHAN: Now, for 54 days, the United States Government has kept John Lindh away from a lawyer. We had a good meeting with John Lindh this morning, our client. He began requesting a lawyer almost immediately, which would have been December 2 or 3. For 54 days, he was held incommunicado.
RAY SUAREZ: But U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty responded that Lindh had waived his right to an attorney while still in Afghanistan.
PAUL McNULTY: Well, I won't discuss the legal issue that was raised by defense counsel this morning concerning when he had a right to see an attorney. That'll be an issue, obviously, that'll be addressed in due course.
I will draw your attention, however, to the complaint and the affidavit that's attached to the complaint, which sets forth the fact that Mr. Walker had signed a statement waiving his right to a counsel when he spoke to the FBI.
RAY SUAREZ: Lindh's parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, hadn't seen their son for two years until today.
FRANK LINDH: We met with John this morning for the first time since he was picked up, and we're very grateful to see that John is in good physical condition. We were troubled to find out that he did not get medical treatment until he was transferred to the U.S. Navy ship. He did not have medical treatment at Camp Rhino.
But John is in good condition this morning. John loves America. We love America. John did not do anything against America. John did not take up arms against America. He never meant to harm any American, and he never did harm any American. John is innocent of these charges. Thank you.
Marilyn? Go ahead, Marilyn.
MARILYN WALKER: It's been two years since I last saw my son. It was wonderful to see him this morning. My love for him is unconditional and absolute, and I'm grateful to God that he has been brought home to his family, me, his home, his country.
RAY SUAREZ: Later this morning, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked if Lindh had received medical treatment at camp rhino.
DONALD RUMSFELD: My recollection is that I was told that he did. And I have no knowledge that would suggest that within the constraints of where he was... He was in, as I recall, the Mazar-e Sharif prison during the uprising, and at some point, he was moved to Kandahar, I think is correct, and then at some point-- or Bagram-- and then eventually to the ship. There is no question but that he received medical attention along the way.
RAY SUAREZ: At his press briefing, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Walker Lindh knowingly chose to fight with the Taliban and al-Qaida.
JOHN ASHCROFT, Attorney General: At each of the crossroads, Walker faced a choice. And with each choice, he chose to ally himself with terrorists. Drawn to South Asia, Walker to chose to train with terrorists. Trained as a terrorist, Walker chose more advanced instruction from al-Qaida. Having trained with al-Qaida, Walker chose to fight on the front lines with America's enemies. Our complaint, based on Walker's own words, is clear: Terrorists didn't compel John Walker to join with them. John Walker chose terrorists.
RAY SUAREZ: The judge ordered Walker Lindh held without bail, and he was returned to jail until his hearing next month.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on what happened in the courtroom today, we're joined by Katharine Seelye of the New York Times. Take us inside that courtroom. What was the scene this morning for that brief hearing?
KATHARINE SEELYE: Ray, it was very interesting. You would never have known that this was the same person who we saw over and over again on television, with the bushy beard lying in the stretcher.
He came into the courtroom clean-shaven, his head was shaved, he didn't have that beard anymore. He was wearing an olive drab prison jumpsuit that said "Prisoner" stamped on the back. He came in with a couple of marshals.
He didn't make eye contact with anyone in the room, including his parents, although he did see them, as you saw in the previous piece, he saw them this morning very briefly through a glass partition.
And the FBI did record the conversation he had this morning with his parents. But he came in, he was very calm; he was very soft-spoken, he stood with his lawyers, facing the judge, spoke very softly in that slightly accented voice that we've heard on the tape and was very polite, said he understood the charges against him, that he had a lawyer, and that he was ready to go. He was taken out of the courtroom. It lasted ten or fifteen minutes. He had no shackles on, no leg irons, no handcuffs.
RAY SUAREZ: Were seats at a premium? Was there a big crowd in the courtroom this morning?
KATHARINE SEELYE: Yes, there was. There were probably 200 reporters. You had to have an assigned seat. There were about maybe room for 75 people in the courtroom, and interestingly, one person from the general public, a guy who lived in Alexandria, lived near the courthouse, said he wanted to see what was going on.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, if I understand correctly what happened this morning, the federal government did not lay out the sequence of events that it is alleging happened, just the charges were filed today, right?
KATHARINE SEELYE: That's correct. And there were four charges against him. One was, the first charge is conspiring to kill Americans outside the United States, a charge that carries life in prison.
The second charge was providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, in this case, the el Mujahadeen, which carries a penalty of 10 years in prison.
The third charge was providing material support to another terrorist organization, in this case al-Qaida -- because that is perceived as a more serious organization -- the penalty for that is life in prison.
And then the fourth charge was providing goods and services to the Taliban, which carries a charge of ten years.
RAY SUAREZ: Was there any indication when we're going to get a full indictment so we can get a better look at what the government's case is built upon?
KATHARINE SEELYE: There was no precise indication, but usually these things happen fairly quickly. And I think we can expect one before February 6, which is the date the court set for the next, for the preliminary hearing.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, since John Lindh was captured, there's been a lot of speculation from the government about just what to charge him with, how to handle his trial and so on. This is a routine proceeding of a federal court, is it not?
KATHARINE SEELYE: It is. Because John Walker Lindh, Mr. Lindh, as his lawyer referred to him today, is an American citizen, he is not subject to the military tribunals that President Bush has proposed.
And instead, he is back in a regular federal courthouse. This will be the kind of trial, regular federal trial with full rights to the accused, the regular kind of trial that everyone is used to seeing.
RAY SUAREZ: And we began to see the outline perhaps of his defense from the lawyer retained by his parents?
KATHARINE SEELYE: A little bit. It was very interesting, his lawyer said today -- he didn't quite come out and say what his case would be, but in his sentence construction, you could see what the outlines of the case, which is essentially what he said was "the jury will hear what happened to John Lindh." He didn't say what John Lindh did, so the idea being that this was an innocent abroad who was kind of swept up in events. That's clearly the direction this case is going.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, earlier in our taped report, we heard the lawyer say that John Lindh was unable to get counsel. What's the federal government's version of that story?
KATHARINE SEELYE: Well, they say that he signed away his right to a counsel, that when the FBI interrogated him in Afghanistan on December 9 and December 10, he was asked if he wanted a lawyer. He said, "No." He then signed a waiver saying he did not want a lawyer and that he was willing to subject himself to questioning without a lawyer present.
Now, this is already the first major point of dispute between the defense and the prosecution. And this is something a judge will have to resolve.
RAY SUAREZ: Katharine Seelye of the New York Times, thanks a lot.
KATHARINE SEELYE: Thank you, Ray.