Joe Public is salivating, not for Usama Bin Laden, the man who caused the carnage and billion-dollar destruction on September 11th, but instead for the swift "justice" to be brought against Taliban member John Walker, a California native whose only proven crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.
The pundits call what he did shocking and unconscionable. Joe Public furrows his brow, perplexed by the boy's decision to leave the modern comforts of northern California to learn about a culture and religion half a world away; one which now synonymous with suicide bombers and fanatical acts of violence. Joe Public need not fear, however, because Ashcroft is on the case and he will have his man, even if it means making a mockery of justice and re-writing every single U.S. passport. He knows the public is hungry and he knows what it hungers for.
There is nothing shocking or even especially wrong in what John Walker did. His only known crime to date has been bad timing, or at most, poor judgment. According to his own statements, which make up the majority of the prosecution's case, he has never fired a single shot on an American or tried to harm an American in any way.
What is shocking is the way this case is being treated, not only by the FBI, and Ashcroft, but by the television media, who have in this matter made a mockery of the notion of broadcast journalism as a reliable source of unbiased information. Fox News, who tout themselves as news with "no spin, no agenda", proudly display their photo of Walker with turban with the subtitle "Taliban Johnny," and call his actions "despicable" without a hint of irony. What is shocking is that the facts, although readily available to the public, have absolutely no bearing on the process of the "trial" thus far. What is shocking is how few in the national media have spoken even one word in the man's defense. What is, sadly, not so shocking is that this is precisely what many skeptics said would happen to the U.S. Justice system in the wake of the attacks.
These are the facts of the case, with which the national media condemns Walker; the same which, ironically prove him innocent of treason:
According to the U.S. Court's Criminal Complaint, John Walker converted to Islam and became a devout student of that religion at the age of sixteen (1997). In 1998 and again in 2000, he traveled to Yemen to study Arabic. During this period he developed an intense interest in Islamic culture, so intense that it turned into the strongest kind of devotion. In his own words, "I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement, and my heart became attached to [the Taliban]."
In May of 2001, John Walker joined the Pakistani paramilitary group Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM) to train for the war in Kashmir. Every U.S. passport, in the section concerning loss of citizenship, states, "Under certain circumstances you may lose your citizenship (2) taking an oath or making a declaration to a foreign state (3) serving in the armed forces of a foreign state." According to his U.S. passport, John Walker should have ceased to be a citizen of the United States in May of 2001, well before the attacks on our country. This has been routinely ignored by the U.S. government and the national media in an attempt to justify the charges against him.
With this "new" information in light, let's review the charges laid against Mr. Walker. He is accused of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals in Afghanistan, and accused of providing material support to the terrorist organizations H.U.M. in Pakistan, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and the Taliban. All except the first are easily proved by Walker's own admissions, which make up the major part of the government's case against him. However, before we all start screaming for blood, there is, of course, more specific wording in the criminal complaint. That complaint, along with U.S. laws regarding citizenship, is precisely what shows without a doubt that he should either be in Guantanamo or back in Afghanistan. In each of the charges against him, Walker is said to have engaged in these activities "from in or about May 2001 through in or about December 2001," thus proving that all charges the U.S. raises against him post-date his joining the H.U.M. para-military group and what should resulted in his loss of citizenship. He was also said at the same time to have been "subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, but outside the jurisdiction of any particular state or district" in all charges except the first. jurisdiction. And everyone thought the war on terrorism was going to take a long time.
Mr. Walker did indeed train at an Al Qaeda camp. He did meet personally with Usama Bin Laden on more than one occasion. He was present at the QIJ prison uprising where CIA agent John Michael Spann died. However, there is nothing in the complaint, nor in his admission, that points to his conspiring to kill any Americans. Of course, evidence other than Walker's testimony may surface, but none has been mentioned up to now. Walker admits to joining H.U.M. "in order to fight in Kashmir," after which he "traveled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban" against the Northern Alliance. When his position in Takhar was bombed by U.S. warplanes, his unit retreated to Kunduz, where they eventually negotiated their surrender to the Northern Alliance. So, any conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals must have happened, if at all, at the prison uprising. As far as we know, the only thing Walker did during the prison uprising was get shot in the leg and carried down to the basement by his fellow inmates. For those who are not familiar with the events leading up to Walker's discovery, Spann was the agent who interviewed Walker and acquired all the information about him that we now have. If Walker was responsible for Spann's death, it seems strange that he would have spoken to him so openly just days before.
As to the other charges, there is a wealth of information that the U.S. media has declined to report for one reason or another. One is that he was only sent to an Al Qaeda camp because "[he] was an American and did not speak Urdu, Pashtu or Dari," necessary language skills in order to go the front lines in Afghanistan. He went to that camp not out of personal desire, but out of necessity. Also, during his training, he was asked by Abu Mohammed Al Misri, the general manager of the camps, if he would be "interested in traveling outside Afghanistan to conduct operations against the United States and certain Israeli targets." Walker refused and chose to go to the front lines instead. This makes it clear that it was not his intention or desire to kill U.S. nationals, as the U.S. government asserts.
Perhaps the most damning of his admissions listed on the criminal complaint, which is not listed among his charges, is that he was told by one of his superiors in June 2001 that several operatives had been sent to the United States for suicide missions. This is certainly something that will be used against him in the trial to show his intent to conspire to kill U.S. nationals by not imparting this information to the United States. Before we scream treason we should take a realistic look at what the government could have done with such information, and the personal risks he would have had to undergo to relay this information to the correct authorities. First of all, it is common knowledge that the FBI and CIA received several advanced warnings of the attacks, and all were of the same non-specific nature as the information Walker had. We know that a man in Germany warned FBI agents two years in advance that something horrible would happen in the United States the week of the attacks, and his warning was dismissed as baseless. If John Walker had put his life at risk by traveling to a secure phone and acquiring the numbers to the CIA or FBI, there is no guarantee that U.S. authorities would have been able or willing to use his information. If he had been discovered it is certain he would have been instantly killed, as he was told to tell everyone that he was Irish and not American if asked.
When questioned about John Walker in a national press conference, John Ashcroft said, "We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values, but we cannot ignore that he did." This CNN quote of the day is the answer to why Walker finds himself in the vortex of a bloodthirsty media circus, and why he will most likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. Not because he actually violated any of our laws, but because he destroyed our sense of superiority and our confidence that our system is the best and ultimate answer. The pundits blame his parents and their liberal style of child-rearing, which was so "far-out" as to let the child choose his own religion. Many others say he was obviously brainwashed. All ask what could have driven him so far from home, and none seem to remember that it took over 3,000 deaths and two collapsed buildings on September 11th to awaken America's dormant soul. Even patriot no. 1, George W. Bush, said on the campaign trail that we were more like a continent than a country.
The public and the government want to see him jailed for life, or worse if Ashcroft gets his way, not because they think he truly endangered the country or its people, but simply because he saw America with different eyes than ours. For his salvation and our own, we must abide by our own laws with clear judgment, look at the facts of the case without bias, and treat him as every other member of the Taliban, or, at the very least, treat him with understanding and mercy. Our grief has turned to anger, but we must not let our anger turn to injustice.