Monday, April 08, 2002

Johnny Taliban gets no pity from POW




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        The criminal complaint calls him “John Philip Walker Lindh, aka Suleyman Al-Faris, aka Abdul Hamid.” Most know him as Johnny Taliban. Veterans just call him “traitor.” Now the media makeover has begun, to turn the terrorist into a misunderstood boy. And many Americans seem to have room in their big, soft hearts for sympathy.

        A picture splashed all over TV last week showed him bound, blindfolded and naked in an Army cot. His lawyers immediately accused the U.S. military of coercing a confession with torture.

        Harry Falck knows a little bit about torture. He spent three years in a North Korean prison camp, including three days exposed to the elements in a coffin-like box so narrow he could not sit or move.

        He has no pity for Johnny Taliban. “Let him take his punishment,” he said.

        Mr. Falck says Mr. Lindh should have been tried by a military tribunal, not civilian courts. And he says most veterans think he should be executed for treason. “Don't make him a martyr,” he said.

No comparison

        He was especially steamed at a story in the Enquirer last Monday, “Defection from America Nothing New,” by Associated Press reporters Sharon Crenson and Martha Mendoza. It compared Johnny Taliban to 21 U.S. prisoners of war who refused to come home from North Korea.

        “This article sorta set me off,” Mr. Falck said. “We didn't go to Korea because we wanted to. We went because our country said to go.”

        Johnny Taliban's lawyers and his parents who raised him like a highway weed say he was “brainwashed.”

        The Justice Department documents say otherwise:

        He converted to Islam and sought out training camps, where he joined Osama bin Laden's team. He learned to use explosives and weapons and asked to be sent to the front lines. He met Osama personally. In June last year, “Walker learned from one of his instructors that Bin Laden had sent people to the United States to carry out several suicide operations.”

        He stayed.

Treated well

        “Walker also stated that on Sept. 11 or 12, he learned about the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York by radio.” He knew Mr. bin Laden had ordered the attacks and was told more would follow. He stayed.

        He was captured and hid in a cellar with the terrorists who murdered CIA agent Johnny Spann.

        Yet, “The United States military forces insured his safety, medicated him appropriately ... tended to his hygiene, fed him healthy and nourishing meals, gave him plenty of water, and made it possible for him to conduct his religious (observances).

        “This wasn't torture,” prosecutors told The Washington Post.

        He was advised of his Miranda rights, and waived the right to an attorney. In an interview with CNN, “Walker stated that he has been treated well by the military.”

        Mr. Falck saw men shot and tortured. “They don't know what the hell brainwashing is,” he said of the AP reporters.

        Johnny Taliban chose his own twisted path. He can change his name and his story. But he can't change what he did.

                E-mail: pbronson@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/bronson

       



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