Military Wiki
John Phillip Walker Lindh
Born February 9, 1981(1981-02-09) (age 41)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Parents Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh

John Phillip Walker Lindh (born February 9, 1981) is an American citizen who was captured as an enemy combatant during the United States' 2001 invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001. He was captured and detained at Qala-i-Jangi, used as a prison. He took part in the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi, a violent uprising of the Taliban prisoners, during which the Central Intelligence Agency officer Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed, together with all but 86 of the estimated 300-500 prisoners. Brought to trial in United States federal court in February 2002, Lindh accepted a plea bargain; he pleaded guilty to two charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole.

A convert to Islam in California at age 16, Lindh went to Yemen in 1998 to study Arabic for 10 months. He later returned in 2000, then went to Afghanistan to aid the fighters. He received training at Al-Farouq, a training camp associated with Al-Qaeda, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries. There, he attended a lecture by Osama bin Laden and said he found him "unimpressive". He did not know about the planned September 11, 2001 attacks. After the attacks, he continued to stay and fight after he learned that the US was allied with the Northern Alliance.[1][2] Lindh had previously received training with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, an internationally designated terrorist organization based in Pakistan.[3][4][5][6]

Lindh went by the name Sulayman al-Faris during his time in Afghanistan, but prefers the name Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi today.[7] In early reports following his capture, when the press learned that he was a US citizen, he was usually referred to by the news media as just "John Walker".[8]

Youth, conversion and travels

Lindh was born in Washington, D.C. to Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh. He was baptized a Catholic,[1] and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. When he was 10 years old, his family moved to San Anselmo, California.[8] Lindh suffered from an intestinal disorder as a child. At age 14, his health improved. He enrolled at Redwood High School as a freshman. He then transferred to Tamiscal High School in the Tamalpais Union High School District, an alternative school offering self-directed, individualized study programs. While there, he studied world culture, including Islam and the Middle East.[8] Lindh left the school and eventually earned an equivalent of a high school diploma by passing the California High School Proficiency Exam at age 16.

As an adolescent, Lindh participated in IRC chat rooms with the IRC nickname Mujahid. He became a devoted fan of hip-hop music, and engaged in extensive discussions on Usenet newsgroups, sometimes pretending to be an African-American rapper who would criticize others for "acting black".[9][10] The Spike Lee film Malcolm X impressed him deeply and sparked his interest in Islam.[1]

Although his parents did not officially divorce until 1999, their marriage was in serious trouble throughout Walker's adolescence. His father often left their Marin residence for extended periods to live in San Francisco with a male lover, as he had acknowledged he was homosexual.[11][12] Frank Lindh said he and Marilyn had been effectively separated since 1997.[13]

In 1997, Lindh officially converted to Islam at the age of 16. He began regularly attending mosques in Mill Valley, and later, in nearby San Francisco.[14] In 1998 Lindh traveled to Yemen, and stayed for about 10 months to learn Arabic so that he could read the Qur'an in its original language. He returned to the United States in 1999, living with his family for about eight months.

He returned to Yemen in February 2000, and left for Pakistan to study at a madrassa. While abroad, Lindh sent numerous emails to his family. In one, his father told him about the USS Cole bombing, to which Lindh replied that the American destroyer's being in the Yemen harbor had been an act of war, and the bombing was justified. "This raised my concerns", his father told Newsweek, "but my days of molding him were over."[15]

At the age of 20, Lindh decided to travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Afghan Taliban government forces against Northern Alliance fighters.[2] His parents said that he was moved by stories of atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Northern Alliance army against civilians. He traveled to Afghanistan in May 2001.[16] (Some news reports mistakenly said that he had traveled to Afghanistan to "kill Americans" after 9/11.) American soldiers were not deployed in Afghanistan at the time he joined the Taliban government forces. But, after he learned that American forces were in country and backing the Northern Alliance, he chose to stay with the Taliban fighters.

Tony West, his lawyer, explained it as follows:

"One of the first things he told Army interrogators when they questioned him on December 3 of last year was that after 9/11 happened, he wanted to leave the front lines but couldn't for fear of his life. John never wanted to be in a position where he was opposing the United States (and never thought he would be), and in fact he never opposed any American military."[17]

Lindh had several chances to identify as American after his detention. He first said that he was Irish. While being interviewed by the CIA agent, John Spann, he did not reveal that he was American.[1][2][18]

Capture and interrogation

Lindh in U.S. custody.

Lindh was captured on November 25, 2001, by Afghan Northern Alliance forces after his Al-Qaeda foreign fighters unit surrendered at Kunduz after retreating from Takar.[1] He and other fighters were questioned by the CIA officers "Mike" Spann and Dave "Dawson" Tyson at General Dostum's military garrison, Qala-i-Jangi, near Mazār-e Sharīf. Spann asked Lindh, "Are you a member of the IRA?" He was asked this question because, when questioned by Spann, an Iraqi in the group identified Lindh as an English speaker. Lindh had been told to say he was "Irish" in order to avoid problems.[18] Moments later, around 11 am, the makeshift prison was the scene of a violent Taliban uprising, which became known as the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi. Spann and hundreds of foreign fighters were killed; only 86 prisoners survived. According to other detainees interviewed by the journalist Robert Young Pelton for CNN, Lindh was fully aware of the planned uprising, yet remained silent and did not cooperate with the Americans.[18][19]

Sometime during the initial uprising, Lindh was shot in the right upper thigh and found refuge in a basement, hiding with a group of Saudi, Uzbek, and Pakistani detainees. On the second day, the Red Cross sent in workers to collect the dead. As soon as they entered, the workers were shot by the prisoners, who killed one.[20] The Northern Alliance repeatedly bombarded the area with RPG and grenade attacks, and set alight fuel it poured in.[1] Finally, on December 2, 2001, Northern Alliance forces diverted an irrigation stream into the middle of the camp to flush the remaining prisoners out of their underground shelters, drowning many in the process.[21] Lindh and about 85 survivors from the original 300-500 were forced out of hiding. Northern Alliance soldiers bound Lindh's elbows behind his back.

Shortly after his recapture, Lindh was noticed and interviewed by Pelton, who was working as an embedded journalist and stringer for CNN. Lindh initially gave his name as "Abd-al-Hamid" but later gave his birth name. Pelton brought a medic and food for Lindh and interviewed him about how he got there. While under the influence of morphine,[1] Lindh said that he was a member of al-Ansar, a group of Arabic-speaking fighters financed by Osama bin Laden. Lindh said that the prison uprising was sparked by some of the prisoner guards smuggling grenades into the basement, "This is against what we had agreed upon with the Northern Alliance, and this is against Islam. It is a major sin to break a contract, especially in military situations".[22] A US Army Special Forces operator, fresh from three weeks of combat, gave up his bed so that the wounded Lindh could sleep there.[18][23][24][25] Repeatedly Pelton asked Lindh if he wanted to call his parents or have the journalist do so, but Lindh declined. Pelton knew Lindh was receiving his first medical treatment since being shot in the leg more than a week prior and had been given morphine by a medic prior to Pelton's interview. Lindh's parents maintain that Pelton acquired footage that was prejudicial and manipulative, and that Pelton contributed to the poor image of their son by sharing the footage with the world community without context.[26]

After capture, Lindh was given basic first aid and questioned for a week at Mazār-e Sharīf. He was taken to Camp Rhino on December 7, 2001, the bullet still within his thigh.[27][28] When Lindh arrived at Camp Rhino, he was stripped and restrained on a stretcher, blindfolded and placed in a metal shipping container, which was procedure for dealing with a potentially dangerous detainee associated with a terrorist organization.[25] While bound to the stretcher, he was photographed by some American military personnel.[29] At Camp Rhino, he was given oxycodone/paracetamol for pain and Valium.[24] On December 8 and 9, he was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).[28] He was held at Camp Rhino until he was transferred to the USS Peleliu on December 14, 2001 with other wounded detainees, where his wound was operated on and he received further care.[30]

He was interrogated before the operation on December 14. While on the Peleliu, he signed confession documents while he was held by the United States Marine Corps and informed his interrogators that he was not simply Taliban but al-Qaeda. His father later asserted the younger Lindh was not involved in, and was unaware of, al-Qaeda. On December 31, 2001, Lindh was transferred to the USS Bataan, where he was held until January 22, 2002. He was flown back to the United States to face criminal charges. On January 16, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that Lindh would be tried in the United States.

In 2002, President George H. W. Bush referred to Lindh as "some misguided Marin County hot-tubber". The comment provoked a minor furor and prompted a retraction of the statement by Bush.[31]

Lindh's attorney[which?] told the press that his client had asked for a lawyer repeatedly before being interviewed by the FBI but he did not get one, and that "highly coercive" prison conditions forced Lindh to waive his right to remain silent. Although the FBI asked Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department ethics advisor, whether Lindh could be questioned without a lawyer present, they did not follow her advice to avoid that scenario.[32]


On February 5, 2002, Lindh was indicted by a federal grand jury on ten charges:[33]

  • Conspiracy to murder US citizens or US nationals
  • Two counts of providing material support and resources to terrorist organizations
  • One count of supplying services to the Taliban
  • Conspiracy to contribute services to Al Qaeda
  • Contributing services to Al Qaeda
  • Conspiracy to supply services to the Taliban
  • Using and carrying firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence

If convicted of these charges, Lindh could have received up to three life sentences and 90 additional years in prison. On February 13, 2002, he pleaded not guilty to all 10 charges.[33] The court scheduled an evidence suppression hearing, at which Lindh would have been able to testify about the details of the torture to which he claimed he was subjected. The government faced the problem that a key piece of evidence – Lindh's confession – might be excluded from evidence as having been forced under duress (i.e. torture).

Michael Chertoff, then-head of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, then directed the prosecutors to offer Lindh a plea bargain: Lindh could plead guilty to two charges: — supplying services to the Taliban (Title 50 of the United States Code § 1705(b), Title 18 of the United States Code § 2, 31 Code of Federal Regulations 545.204, and 31 Code of Federal Regulations 545.206a) and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony (Title 18 of the United States Code § 844(h)(2)). He would have to consent to a gag order that would prevent him from making any public statements on the matter for the duration of his 20-year sentence, and he would have to drop any claims that he had been mistreated or tortured by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and aboard two military ships during December 2001 and January 2002. In return, all other charges would be dropped. The gag order was said to be at the request of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.[1]

Lindh accepted this offer. On July 15, 2002, he entered his plea of guilty to the two remaining charges. The judge asked Lindh to say, in his own words, what he was admitting to. "I plead guilty", he said. "I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to December. In the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades. I did so knowingly and willingly knowing that it was illegal." Lindh said that he "went to Afghanistan with the intention of fighting against terrorism and oppression," fighting for the suffering of ordinary people at the hands of the Northern Alliance.[1] On October 4, 2002, Judge T.S. Ellis, III formally imposed the sentence: 20 years without possibility of parole.[34]

The government invoked the Son of Sam law and informed Lindh that any and all profits made from book deals or any movies about Lindh's experience would be automatically transferred to the federal government. Lindh, his family, his relatives, his associates and his friends will be unable to profit financially from his crimes and/or experiences. Lindh's attorney, James Brosnahan, said Lindh would be eligible for release in 17 years, with good behavior. This is because, although there is no parole under federal law, his sentence could be reduced by 15 percent, or three years, for good behavior. Lindh agreed to cooperate "fully, truthfully and completely" with both military intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the terrorism investigation.[34]


In January 2003, Lindh was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary, Victorville, a high-security facility northeast of Los Angeles. On March 3, 2003, Lindh was tackled by inmate Richard Dale Morrison. He assaulted Lindh at prayer, causing bruises on his forehead. On July 2, 2003, Morrison was charged with a misdemeanor count of assault.

Lindh was held in Federal Supermax ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado for a short time. He is currently serving his sentence, with a projected release date of May 23, 2019, at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute, Indiana[35] in the Communication Management Unit.[36] In April 2007, citing the reduced sentence for the Australian prisoner David Matthew Hicks, Lindh's attorneys made a public plea for a Presidential commutation to lower his 20-year sentence. In January 2009, the Lindh family's petition for clemency was denied by President Bush in one of his final acts in office. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, all "special administrative measures" in place against Lindh expired on March 20, 2009, as part of a gradual easing of restrictions on him.[37]

In 2010, Lindh and the Syrian-American prisoner Enaam Arnaout sued to lift restrictions on group prayer by Muslim inmates in the Communication Management Unit.[36] On January 11, 2013, a federal judge ruled in their favor, saying that the government had shown no compelling interest in restricting the religious speech of the inmates by prohibiting them from praying together.[38]

In popular culture

  • "American Jihad" is an episode of Law & Order based on Lindh's story. In spite of this, Lindh was mentioned in the episode.
  • In a National Geographic documentary, Taliban Uprising, the only video of Lindh speaking since his capture is shown.[21]
  • Steve Earle recorded a song about Lindh entitled "John Walker's Blues". It was released on his 2002 album Jerusalem.[39]

See also

  • Detention of five Americans in Pakistan (Dec. 2009)
  • Adam Yahiye Gadahn
  • Yasser Esam Hamdi
  • David Matthew Hicks
  • Bryant Neal Vinas


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Frank Lindh (July 10, 2011). "America's 'Detainee 001'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 11, 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "John Walker Lindh's Parents Discuss Their Son’s Story". Democracy Now. July 31, 2009. Retrieved March 22, 2010. 
  3. Original Indictment John Walker Lindh Indictment
  4. Statement of Facts U.S. Department of Justice
  5. Truth About John Lindh (speech) Frank Lindh
  6. Mayer, Jane (2008). The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. New York, NY: Doubleday. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-385-52639-5. 
  7. "Cageprisoners: The Ballad of the Fleas". pub. 9/24/2010, 12:00 am. Retrieved September 25, 2010. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Tyrangiel, Josh (December 8, 2001). "The Taliban Next Door". Time magazine.,8599,187564,00.html. Retrieved August 1, 2009. 
  9. Best, James (September 3, 2003). "Black Like Me: John Walker Lindh's hip-hop daze". Retrieved October 26, 2010. 
  10. John Lindh Usenet Postings John Lindh
  12. "Liberal Parents, Lost Children". American Enterprise Institute. March 1, 2002. p. 7. Retrieved November 14, 2009. 
  13. Rico, John (April 2009). "Can John Walker Lindh Go Home Now?". GQ Magazine. p. 2. Retrieved November 15, 2009. 
  14. Josh Tyrangiel (December 9, 2001). "The Taliban Next Door". Time magazine.,8599,187564,00.html. Retrieved May 26, 2008. 
  15. Thomas, Evan (December 16, 2001). "A Long, Strange Trip To The Taliban". Retrieved May 7, 2012. 
  16. Tom Junod (July 1, 2006). "Innocent". Esquire. Retrieved January 30, 2010. 
  17. "John Walker Lindh's plea with Tony West, Defense Attorney and Co-counsel", Washington Post, 18 July 2002, retr May 2011
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Truth About John Lindh Robert Young Pelton, As shown on British Channel 4 news,
  19. John Lindh original indictment
  20. "3 Relief Workers Shot in Riot Aftermath". LA Times.,0,547998,full.story. Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Taliban Uprising National Geographic Documentary
  22. Lucas, Dean. "Famous Pictures Magazine – American Taliban". Retrieved June 26, 2012. 
  23. "Walker: Prison uprising was 'a mistake'". CNN. December 20, 2001. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Government's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Compel Discovery of Documents Filed In Camera". Findlaw News Document Archive. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Report of Proceedings by Investigating Officer, AR 15-6". DOD. Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  26. EXCLUSIVE: "John Walker Lindh’s Parents Discuss Their Son’s Story, from Joining the US-Backed Taliban Army to Surviving a Northern Alliance Massacre, to His Abuse at the Hands of US Forces", Democracy Now, July 2009
  27. "U.S. denies torturing American Taliban". Japan Today. August 1, 2007. Retrieved August 1, 2007. 
  28. 28.0 28.1 "Lindh's rights were violated, lawyers say". IOL. 2000. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. Retrieved August 1, 2007. 
  29. Tony West Attorneys for defendant John Walker Lindh (June 13, 2002). "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA vs JOHN PHILLIP WALKER LINDH – CRIMINAL NO. 02-37-A" (PDF). UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT. Retrieved August 1, 2007. "By the time Mr.Lindh arrived at Camp Rhino, it was night and the temperature was cold. Immediately upon arrival, soldiers cut off all of Mr. Lindh's clothing. He developed frostbite. Completely naked, wearing nothing but his blindfold and shaking violently from the cold nighttime air, Mr.Lindh was then bound to a stretcher with heavy duct tape wrapped tightly around his chest, upper arms, ankles and the stretcher itself. Next, he was placed in a windowless metal shipping container, about 15 feet long, 7 feet wide and 8 feet high, but not before military personnel photographed Mr. Lindh as he lay naked on the stretcher." 
  30. PAUL J. McNULTY UNITED STATES ATTORNEY (April 2, 2002). "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA vs JOHN PHILLIP WALKER LINDH – CRIMINAL NO. 02-37-A" (PDF). UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT. Retrieved August 1, 2007. "On December 14, 2001, Lindh was flown from Camp Rhino to the USS Peleliu where he received the following treatment: 12 days after his US capture in Afghanistan, he was operated on by the Peleliu’s senior surgeon to remove the bullet lodged in his leg; he received daily medical treatment for the bullet wound as well as mild frostbite on his toes; he received various forms of medication including Motrin and Keflex (an antibiotic). He and his fellow detainees were advised five times per day as to the time for prayer and the brig supervisor called up to the deck to ascertain the location of Mecca so that he could advise the detainees in which direction to pray. He and his fellow detainees were provided Quorans to facilitate their prayers. He was permitted to shower twice a week and to wash his feet every day. He was given meals and unlimited water, was permitted to talk with his fellow detainees; and he was repeatedly queried by Peleliu personnel whether there was anything else he needed." 
  31. Duncan Campbell (July 16, 2002). "From hot tub to hot water | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited". The Guardian. London.,7369,756219,00.html. Retrieved March 22, 2010. 
  32. Horton, Scott (February 23, 2010). "Justice’s Vendetta Against a Whistleblower: Six Questions for Jesselyn Radack". Harper's Magazine. 
  33. 33.0 33.1 "Transcript of John Ashcroft – February 5, 2002". CNN. February 5, 2002. Retrieved March 22, 2010. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 " – 'I plead guilty', Taliban American says – July 17, 2002". CNN. July 17, 2002. Retrieved March 22, 2010. 
  35. "Federal Bureau of Prisons". Retrieved March 22, 2010. 
  36. 36.0 36.1 Wilson, Charles (September 1, 2010). "John Walker Lindh seeks Ind. prison prayer ruling". Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  37. Johnson, Carrie, "Prison Officials Are Loosening Restrictions On Taliban Supporter", Washington Post, March 18, 2009, p. 6.
  38. Wilson, Charles (January 11, 2013). "US-born Taliban fighter wins prison prayer lawsuit". Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  39. "'John Walker's Blues' meets the boos". CNN. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).