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John Walker Lindh Pleads Guilty - 2002-07-15

In a surprise decision, John Walker Lindh, the 21-year-old American charged with fighting for the Taleban in Afghanistan has reached an agreement in which he will plead guilty to some of the charges leveled against him, sparing him the possibility of life in prison.

In a sudden reversal, John Walker Lindh admitted guilt on two counts. He told a federal court in Virginia, "I provided my services as a soldier for the Taleban. I carried a rifle and two grenades and did so knowingly and willingly."

Chief prosecutor Paul McNulty said this agreement was reached with Lindh's attorneys on the eve of a court hearing called to reconsider evidence against him. Mr. McNulty said, "He's essentially agreeing to the heart of our case. What he's doing here, he's agreeing that he allied himself with the Taleban who, of course, are closely connected and associated with [the] al-Qaida terrorist organization. So he's pleading to the fact that he was a foot soldier in the Taleban's army and that he was armed in so doing."

Each of the two charges carries a ten year prison sentence. But in a deal approved by President Bush, dropped are all counts related to terrorism. Lindh's father, Frank, said after the court proceeding that he is "really gratified that the government, my former employer the Department of Justice, has decided to drop all, all of the terrorism charges against my son. Those were not proper charges in the first place."

Lindh had entered a "not guilty" plea to a ten-count indictment against him in the days after his capture last November in Afghanistan, including charges of supporting terrorists and conspiring to kill Americans. An American CIA officer was killed in an uprising at the prison where Lindh was being held in the town of Mazar-I-Sharif. Prosecutors alleged the Californian, 21, spent weeks training in al-Qaida camps, even meeting Osama bin Laden, who stands accused by the United States of masterminding last September's terrorist attacks.

Chief prosecutor McNulty told reporters that as part of Monday's plea agreement, Lindh also agreed to provide authorities with information helpful in prosecuting other al-Qaida or Taleban suspects linked to terrorism. "I think it's fair to say the defendant saw the strength of our case," he said. "We're quite confident if we had gone to trial we would have prevailed on all counts. I think the defendant felt the same way, and that's why he was willing to accept a 20-year sentence."

Lindh's parents say their son was brainwashed and never intended to harm fellow Americans or his own country. Sentencing is set for October 4.