Because of the surprise plea, Lindh, 21, will be sentenced to 20 years in prison instead of an anticipated life sentence.
Under the agreed conditions, Lindh will cooperate fully with U.S. authorities in the investigation of al-Qaida, the terrorist network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.
U.S. District Attorney Paul J. McNulty called the plea “an important victory for the American people in the battle against terrorism. This is a tough sentence.”
The announcement came on the first day of hearings at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia where Lindh?s lawyers were expected to argue that statements Lindh made to military interrogators shortly after his capture, are inadmissible as evidence. They also planned to argue that the military?s failure to tell him of his right to remain silent and have an attorney present violated his rights.
Prosecutors were expected to respond that the Miranda rule spelling out a defendant’s rights has no place on the battlefield.
At today?s hearing, Lindh?s lawyer interrupted proceedings to tell the court of the change in plea.
District Judge T.S. Ellis then asked Lindh whether he wished to waive his right to trial.
Lindh rose and said he did. “I plead guilty. I plead guilty, sir.”
He went on to say “I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to November. During the course of doing so I carried a rifle and two grenades.”
After asking Lindh a range of other questions, apparently to confirm his state of mind, Ellis accepted the plea. “The court finds your plea of guilty to be knowing and voluntary,” Judge Ellis said. “The court accepts your plea and adjudges you now guilty.”
The trial had been scheduled for late August, with Lindh facing 10 charges, including conspiring to murder U.S. citizens and using firearms during crimes of violence. Three of the original counts carried a maximum of life in prison.
Lindh has been in U.S. custody since November after a prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif. He was found in the basement dehydrated and suffering from a gunshot wound.