Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more than 500 terrorism cases, yet there remains scant public understanding of what these federal cases have actually looked like and the impact they have had on communities and families. Published by The Nation in collaboration with Educators for Civil Liberties, the America After 9/11 series features contributions from scholars, researchers and advocates to provide a systematic look at the patterns of civil rights abuses in the United States’ domestic “war on terror.”
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In December 2001, my 20-year-old son John was discovered, wounded and nearly dead, among a ragged band of Taliban prisoners of war in northern Afghanistan. John had survived a massacre of prisoners at an ancient fortress called Qala-i-Jangi—the “House of War.”The blood-letting at Qala-i-Jangi was overseen by General Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord who had opportunistically aligned himself with US Special Forces during the invasion by Coalition forces; The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson called him “among the worst war criminals in the country.”
From the moment the story broke,“John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban,” was denounced by public officials and the news media as a “traitor” and a “terrorist.” Wounded and desperate after being rescued at Qala-i-Jangi, John was brutally mistreated by US soldiers, photographed naked, bound and blindfolded in the freezing Afghan desert. He was falsely called an “Al Qaeda fighter” by President George W.Bush and declared a “terrorist” by members of the Bush cabinet and other prominent government officials.
The outlandish accusations against my son by the most powerful politicians in our nation were completely outside the normal protections afforded a citizen under the Constitution.These statements were not only prejudicial but deliberately falsified.They were made despite an internal assessment by the Department of Justice, just days after John’s capture, that “we have no knowledge that he did anything other than join the Taliban.” He was never a member of Al Qaeda or any terrorist group, and he never fought against Americans.
In normal times, the free press protected by the First Amendment might have rallied against such sensational and unfounded charges against a 20-year old citizen. But, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks,the protections we think are secured by the Constitution did not protect John. Ultimately, John was forced to accept a harsh and unjust twenty-year prison term.
Today John remains a prisoner of the American government, effectively cut off from all but his immediate family, in a special prison unit in Terre Haute, Indiana. With the passage of time, however, I am confident the narrative around John Lindh will shift. His case will come to exemplify the brutal excesses and manifest injustices perpetrated by the American government in its ““War on Terror.”