John Walker Lindh

John Philip Walker Lindh (born February 9, 1981) is an American who was captured as an enemy combatant during the United States' invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001. He was captured and detained at Qala-i-Jangi fortress, used as a prison. He took part in the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi, a violent uprising of the Taliban prisoners, during which all but 86 of the estimated 300–500 prisoners were killed, along with them CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann. 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. He was released on supervision on May 23, 2019, for a three-year period of supervised release.[1]

John Walker Lindh
John Walker Lindh in January 2002
John Philip Walker Lindh

(1981-02-09) February 9, 1981
Washington, D.C
Other namesSulayman al-Faris, Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi
Criminal statusOut on supervised release.
Parent(s)Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh
Criminal charge
  • Conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals (18 U.S.C. § 2332(b)) (count one)
  • Conspiracy to Provide Material Support & Resources to Foreign Terrorist Organizations (18 U.S.C § 2339B) (counts two & four);
  • Providing Material Support & Resources to Foreign Terrorist Organizations (18 U.S.C. §§ 2339B & 2) (counts three & five);
  • Conspiracy to contribute services to Al-Qaeda. (31 C.F.R. §§ 595.205 & 595.204 & 50 U.S.C. § 1705(b)) (count six);
  • Contributing services to Al-Qaeda (31 C.F.R. §§ 595.204 & 595.205, 50 U.S.C. § 1705(b) & 18 U.S.C. § 2) (count seven);
  • Conspiracy to supply services to the Taliban. §§ 545.206(b) & 545.204 & 50 U.S.C. § 1705(b)) (count eight);
  • Supplying services to the Taliban (31 C.F.R. §§ 545.204 & 545 206(a), 50 U.S.C. § 1705(b) & I8 U.S.C. §2) (count nine);
  • Using and carrying firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence (I8 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) & 2) (count ten)
Penalty20 years' federal imprisonment

A convert to Sunni Islam in California at age 16, Lindh traveled to Yemen in 1998 to study Arabic and stayed there for 10 months. He later returned in 2000, then went to Afghanistan to aid the Taliban. He received training at Al-Farouq, a training camp associated with al-Qaeda, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries. While at the camp, he attended a lecture by Osama bin Laden. After the 9/11 attacks, he remained there to join opposing military forces after he learned that the U.S. was allied with the Afghan Northern Alliance. Lindh had previously received training with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, an internationally designated terrorist organization based in Pakistan.[2][3][4][5]

Lindh went by the name Sulayman al-Faris during his time in Afghanistan, but prefers the name Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi today.[6] In early reports following his capture, when the press learned that he was a U.S. citizen, he was usually referred to by the news media as just "John Walker".[7]

Youth, conversion, and travels

Lindh was born in Washington, D.C., to Marilyn Walker and Frank R. Lindh, as the middle of three children in the family.[8] He was named "John" after John Lennon, who was murdered two months before Lindh's birth.[9] He was baptized a Catholic,[10] and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. When he was 10 years old, his family moved to San Anselmo, California.[7] 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 Sunni Islam and the Middle East.[7] Lindh dropped out of 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."[11][12] Spike Lee's film Malcolm X impressed him deeply and sparked his interest in Islam.[10]

Although his parents did not divorce until 1999, their marriage was in serious trouble throughout Lindh's adolescence. His father often left their Marin residence for extended periods to live in San Francisco with a male lover.[13][14] Frank Lindh said he and Marilyn had been separated since 1997.[15]

In 1997, at the age of 16, Lindh converted to Islam. He began regularly attending mosques in Mill Valley and later in nearby San Francisco.[16] 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.

Lindh returned to Yemen in February 2000 and left for Pakistan to study at a madrasa. While abroad, Lindh exchanged numerous emails with his family. In one, his father told him about the USS Cole bombing, to which Lindh replied that the American naval destroyers being in the Yemen harbor had been an act of war, and that the bombing was justified. "This raised my concerns," his father told Newsweek, "but my days of molding him were over."[17]

At the age of 20, Lindh decided to travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Afghan Taliban government forces against Northern Alliance fighters.[18] 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.[19] Tony West, his lawyer, explained it as follows: "One of the first things he told Army interrogators when they questioned him on December 3, 2001, 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."[20]

Capture and interrogation

Lindh was captured on November 25, 2001, by Afghan Northern Alliance forces after his foreign fighters unit surrendered at Kunduz after retreating from Takar.[10] He and other fighters were to be questioned by the CIA officers Johnny "Mike" Spann and Dave "Dawson" Tyson at General Dostum's military garrison, Qala-i-Jangi, near Mazār-e Sharīf. During the initial questioning, Lindh was not advised of his rights and his request for a lawyer was denied.[21]

After being detained, Lindh first said that he was Irish. While being interviewed by the CIA, he did not reveal that he was American.[10][18][22] 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" to avoid problems.[22] 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.[22][23]

Sometime during the initial uprising, Lindh was shot in the right upper thigh and found refuge in a basement, hiding with a group of Arab, 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.[24] The Northern Alliance repeatedly bombarded the area with RPG and grenade attacks, and set alight fuel it poured in.[10] 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.[25] 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 a 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. During the interview, 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".[26] A U.S. Army Special Forces operator, fresh from three weeks of combat, gave up his bed so that the wounded Lindh could sleep there.[22][27][28][29] Pelton repeatedly asked Lindh if he wanted to call his parents or have the journalist do so, but Lindh declined.

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.[30][31] 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.[29] While bound to the stretcher, he was photographed by some American military personnel.[32] At Camp Rhino, he was given oxycodone/paracetamol for pain and diazepam.[28]

On December 8 and 9, he was interviewed by the FBI[31] and was mirandized on December 9 or 10.[33] 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.[34] 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. 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, former President George H. W. Bush referred to Lindh as "some misguided Marin County hot-tubber". The comment, in which Bush also mispronounced the county's name, provoked a minor furor and prompted a retraction of the statement by Bush.[35] Lindh's attorney 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 adviser, whether Lindh could be questioned without a lawyer present, they did not follow her advice to avoid that scenario.[36]

Trial and sentencing

On February 5, 2002, Lindh was indicted by a federal grand jury on ten charges:[37]

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.[37] 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 (50 U.S.C. § 1705(b), 18 U.S.C. § 2, 31 C.F.R. 545.204, and 31 C.F.R. 545.206a) and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony (18 U.S.C. § 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.[10]

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. 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.[10] On October 4, 2002, Judge T.S. Ellis III imposed a sentence of 20 years in federal prison.[38]

Some activists and academics have called for Lindh to eventually tell his story.[39] 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. Lindh agreed to cooperate "fully, truthfully and completely" with both military intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the terrorism investigation.[40]


In January 2003, Lindh was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary, Victorville, a high-security facility northeast of Los Angeles.[41] 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.[42]

Lindh was held in Federal Supermax ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado for a short time. He served his sentence as prisoner 45426-083,[43] at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute, Indiana in the Communication Management Unit.[44][45]

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 lessen 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.[46][47]

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.[44] 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.[47][48]

Foreign Policy magazine reported an internal report by the National Counterterrorism Center asserted Lindh told a visiting television news producer that he had not renounced extremist violence.[47]

Lindh secured Irish citizenship in 2013 through his paternal grandmother, Kathleen Maguire, who was born in Donegal.[47]


On May 23, 2019, Lindh was released from the Terre Haute, Indiana federal prison prior to the end of his 20-year sentence for good behavior, although he accepted several probation requirements due to his continued support of Islamist ideology.[1] The probation lasts for the remaining three years of his sentence.[49][50]

  • In a National Geographic documentary, Taliban Uprising, the only video of Lindh speaking since his capture is shown.[25]
  • The documentary Good Morning, Afghanistan by Damien Degueldre features the Battle of Masar-el Sharif, where John Walker was being held and later transferred by the Northern Alliance to US Special Forces Operatives.
  • DJ Krush and Anticon recorded the song "Song for John Walker" for the 2002 album The Message at the Depth.
  • Steve Earle recorded a song about Lindh titled "John Walker's Blues". It was released on his 2002 album Jerusalem.[51]
  • The 13th-season premiere of the police procedural and legal drama television series Law & Order is based on the Lindh case.
  • In episode seven of the first season of the television series Entourage Vince is offered a role in a fictitious movie based on "the John Walker Lindh story".
  • In author Doug Stanton's book Horse Soldiers Lindh is mentioned as one of the Al-Qaeda combatants, then as a prisoner.
  • In the popular philosophy collection Dune and Philosophy, American philosophy expert Shane Ralston defends Lindh's character as "quintessentially American" given the idealism, bravery and religious fervor with which he served the Taliban forces in Afghanistan.[52][53]
  • The Spanish writer Enrique Falcón included a poem titled John Walker Lindh on the book Taberna Roja (2008).
  • The podcast You're Wrong About featured Lindh in an episode titled "The American Taliban".[54]

See also


  1. Barakat, Matthew (May 23, 2019). "'American Taliban' Lindh freed after 17 years in prison". Associated Press. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  2. Original Indictment John Walker Lindh Indictment
  3. Statement of Facts U.S. Department of Justice
  4. Lindh, Frank. "Truth About John Lindh (speech)"
  5. 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.
  6. "Cageprisoners: The Ballad of the Fleas". pub. September 24, 2010. Archived from the original on October 2, 2010. Retrieved September 25, 2010.
  7. Tyrangiel, Josh (December 8, 2001). "The Taliban Next Door". Time. Retrieved August 1, 2009.
  8. "The Real Story of John Philip Walker Lindh – 'The American Taliban' – as Told by His Father, Frank Lindh". The Peter Collins Show. June 26, 2013.
  9. Alonso-Zalvidar, Ricardo; Glionna, John M. (December 4, 2001). "American Taliban Took Odd Route". Los Angeles Times.
  10. Frank Lindh (July 10, 2011). "America's 'Detainee 001'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  11. Best, James (September 3, 2003). "Black Like Me: John Walker Lindh's hip-hop daze". East Bay Express. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  12. John Lindh Usenet Postings John Lindh
  13. Backer, Larry (2005). "Emasuclated Men, Effeminate Law in the United States, Zimbabwe and Malaysia". Yale Journal of Law and Feminism. Yale. 17 (1): 8–9. SSRN 618863.
  14. "Liberal Parents, Lost Children". American Enterprise Institute Public Policy Research. American Enterprise Institute: 7. March 1, 2002. Retrieved November 14, 2009.
  15. Rico, John (April 2009). "Can John Walker Lindh Go Home Now?". GQ Magazine. p. 2. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
  16. Josh Tyrangiel (December 9, 2001). "The Taliban Next Door". Time. Retrieved May 26, 2008.
  17. Thomas, Evan (December 16, 2001), "A Long, Strange Trip to the Taliban", Newsweek, archived from the original on May 7, 2012, retrieved May 7, 2012
  18. "John Walker Lindh's Parents Discuss Their Son's Story". Democracy Now!. July 31, 2009. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  19. Tom Junod (July 1, 2006). "Innocent". Esquire. Retrieved January 30, 2010.
  20. "John Walker Lindh's plea with Tony West, Defense Attorney and Co-counsel", The Washington Post, July 18, 2002.
  21. Buncombe, Andrew; Penketh, Anne (June 10, 2004). "Rumsfeld 'told officers to take gloves off with Lindh'". The Independent. Washington. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  22. Pelton, Robert Young. "The Truth about John Walker Lindh" (PDF). Honor Mike Spann. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2006.
  23. "FindLaw – United States of America v. John Philip Walker Lindh – Grand Jury Indictment". Archived from the original on December 22, 2017.
  24. "3 Relief Workers Shot in Riot Aftermath". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  25. Taliban Uprising Archived December 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine National Geographic Documentary
  26. Lucas, Dean. "Famous Pictures Magazine – American Taliban". Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  27. "Walker: Prison uprising was 'a mistake'". CNN. December 20, 2001.
  28. "Government's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Compel Discovery of Documents Filed in Camera" (PDF). Findlaw News Document Archive. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 25, 2017.
  29. "Report of Proceedings by Investigating Officer, AR 15-6" (PDF). DOD. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  30. "U.S. denies torturing American Taliban". Japan Today. August 1, 2007. Archived from the original on October 15, 2007. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  31. "Lindh's rights were violated, lawyers say". IOL. 2000. Archived from the original on January 23, 2008. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  32. 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 11, 2017. 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.
  33. Asbury, Anne (January 15, 2002). "United States of America v. John Philip Walker Lindh". Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  34. McNulty, Paul J. (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. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 11, 2017. 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 Korans 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.
  35. Duncan Campbell (July 16, 2002). "From hot tub to hot water | Guardian Unlimited". The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  36. Horton, Scott (February 23, 2010). "Justice's Vendetta Against a Whistleblower: Six Questions for Jesselyn Radack". Harper's.
  37. "Transcript of John Ashcroft – February 5, 2002". CNN. February 5, 2002. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  38. "Walker Lindh sentenced to 20 years". CNN. October 4, 2002.
  39. Ralston, Shane (January 5, 2017). "Give John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," a Chance to Tell His Story". Truthout.
  40. "'I plead guilty', Taliban American says". CNN. July 17, 2002. Archived from the original on March 16, 2007. Retrieved March 22, 2010.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  41. "Lindh Gets Sent From Va. to Calif. Prison". Huron Daily Tribune. January 29, 2003.
  42. Rosenzweig, David; Johnson, John (July 4, 2003). "Fellow Prisoner Is Charged With Assault on Lindh". Los Angeles Times.
  43. "BOP Inmate Locator".
  44. Wilson, Charles (September 1, 2010). "John Walker Lindh seeks Ind. prison prayer ruling". Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 2, 2010. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  45. "Federal Bureau of Prisons". Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  46. Johnson, Carrie, "Prison Officials Are Loosening Restrictions on Taliban Supporter", The Washington Post, March 18, 2009, p. 6.
  47. de Luce, Dan; Gramer, Robbie; Winter, Jana (June 23, 2017). "John Walker Lindh, Detainee No. 001 in the Global War on Terror, Will Go Free in Two Years. What Then?". Foreign Policy.
  48. Wilson, Charles (January 11, 2013). "US-born Taliban fighter wins prison prayer lawsuit". Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 14, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  49. Winter, Tom; Williams, Pete (April 17, 2019). "'American Taliban' John Walker Lindh to be released from prison next month". NBC News. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  50. "John Walker Lindh, The 'American Taliban,' Set To Be Released". Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  51. "'John Walker's Blues' meets the boos". CNN. Archived from the original on March 7, 2013. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  52. "Dune and philosophy". April 12, 2011.
  53. Ralston, Shane (April 21, 2011). "The American Fremen".
  54. "The American Taliban". Retrieved August 22, 2019.
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