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US  Debates Fate Of American-Taleban Prisoner - 2001-12-03

U.S. legal authorities are trying to decide what to do with a man believed to be an American citizen who fought with the Taleban in Afghanistan and who is now being detained by U.S. forces. In the meantime, the Pentagon says anti-Taleban forces claim to be holding two other American prisoners.

A senior Pentagon spokesman says it is not yet clear what will happen to the 20-year-old man identified in news reports as American John Walker - a convert to Islam who says he joined the Taleban six months ago.

The spokesman, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, says the man is currently under the custody of U.S. forces at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. He was among the al-Qaida and Taleban prisoners held by the Northern Alliance in Mazar-e-Sharif who was injured in a bloody uprising by those prisoners.

Admiral Stufflebeem says he is being given medical assistance by U.S. forces. "This is somebody who claims to be an American citizen," he said. "That claim is being respected for the moment until facts can be established. He is in control of U.S. military forces. It appears he is injured or has sustained some injuries and is receiving medical attention. In terms of his disposition, that has not yet been defined."

Admiral Stufflebeem declines to say whether the man is considered a prisoner of war or is under arrest.

An American intelligence agent involved in interrogating prisoners in Mazar-e-Sharif was killed in the prison revolt.

Defense officials say they do not know if the detained American will be charged in connection with the agent's death. That is among the legal issues now under discussion by U.S. authorities.

In an interview with Newsweek magazine, the American, calling himself Abdul Hamid, says he was originally from the Washington DC area, converted to Islam at age 16 and later traveled to Pakistan to study the Koran.

He says six months ago he went to Afghanistan to help the Taleban.

In the meantime, defense officials tell VOA two other people who claim to be Americans are in the custody of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance. The officials have few details, and say the identities and physical conditions of the two are unknown at this time.