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Walker: Prison uprising was 'mistake'

Walker: "I was in the basement the whole time. I didn't see what was going on."  

SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Speaking from his hospital bed shortly after being captured, a wounded and weary John Walker said the bloody prison uprising that resulted in the death of a CIA operative was "all a mistake of a handful of people."

"This is against what we had agreed upon, and this is against Islam. It is a major sin to break a contract, especially in military situations," said Walker, his bearded face blackened from the fighting.

Walker said he did not participate in the uprising, but was in a basement where many of his comrades were killed.

The CNN interview was conducted on December 2 by journalist Robert Young Pelton shortly after Walker surrendered. The full tape became available Wednesday after being transported from Afghanistan. Walker initially expressed some reluctance to be taped, but with the camera rolling and the lights on, he told his story to Pelton.

Journalist Robert Young Pelton interviews American Taliban John Walker in Afghanistan (December 19)

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During the interview, Special Forces medics tended to a grenade wound to his leg and shrapnel wounds. Walker grimaced at times, but at other moments he managed to crack a smile.

He indicated he would like to send a message to his family once he's given "some thought of what I would say." Told by the reporter that he might be able to send an e-mail the next day, Walker said, "I would appreciate that."

Still other times, the 20-year-old American, known by his comrades as Abdul Hamid, showed his allegiance to the Islamic state.

Referring to jihad, he said, "It's exactly what I thought it would be."

Asked if it was the right cause, Walker said, "Definitely."

Pelton, speaking to CNN's Paula Zahn from London, said he could not characterize Walker as anti-American.

"He was pro-Islam," Pelton said. "He wanted to help establish an Islamic state. At no time during our interview did he say anything anti-American. His focus was on being a good Muslim.

Pelton said Walker had signed up to help the Taliban fight the Northern Alliance well before the United States joined the war.

"He wanted to study the Koran and felt it was his duty as a Muslim to fight jihad," he said.

The American, whose parents live in California, said he was a member of Ansar, or "helpers," a group of Arabic-speaking fighters funded by Osama bin Laden who had been fighting around the northern city of Konduz.

In late November, the fighters agreed to surrender and give up their weapons to the Northern Alliance as part of a deal arranged by Gen. Rashid Dostum, a commander of the anti-Taliban forces.

Walker said he and his comrades walked more than 100 miles en route to the northern city of Konduz. At some point, the Northern Alliance told them to surrender their weapons -- at a time when the Ansar fighters were "in a very bad state psychologically."

To his disbelief, Walker said some fighters decided to hide grenades inside their clothes. "This was all a mistake of a handful of people."

He said trucks then carried the men to the compound where the uprising began.

"As soon as I came down from the truck that we had arrived in, a grenade exploded. Someone, I don't know what he was thinking," Walker said.

After the explosion, the authorities put the fighters in a basement at the compound. Eventually, the fighters were allowed to come out one-by-one and searched.

"As they were taking us one-by-one, some of the last people -- again I don't know if they were afraid or whatever -- they did the same thing: They pulled out a grenade and exploded it," Walker said.

"And so the fighting began."

That is when CIA operative Mike Spann was killed, the first U.S. combat casualty in Afghanistan. Walker said some of the fighters managed to take control of a storage house filled with heavy weapons.

"I was in the basement the whole time. I didn't see what was going on. I just heard," he said.

U.S. warplanes struck the compound with heavy bombs and forces fired on the Ansar fighters with guns. Gas was poured into the basement and ignited, killing many of the fighters. He said "freezing water" also flooded the basement, "drowning the vast majority of us" and leaving the rest in the chilly waters for about 20 hours.

As the waters receded, the survivors began discussing surrender.

"It was filled with the stench of bodies and we didn't have any more weapons available. We said, 'Look we're gonna die,' " he said.

"If we surrender, the worst that can happen is they'll torture us or kill us. So right here in the basement, they're torturing us and killing us, so we might as well surrender."

Toward the end of the interview, an American doctor said, "He's in a lot better shape than most of them." He leaned over and told Walker he was a prisoner now.

"A prisoner of Dostum or the Americans?" Walker asked.

"Right now, you are a patient and the Americans are treating you," the doctor said.

Walker is currently being held on the USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea.

Senior Bush administration officials told CNN that Walker may be charged under a federal law that prohibits assisting terrorists and terrorist organizations, although President Bush is still considering a variety of recommendations and no final decision has been made.

The charge of assisting terrorists carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for each count -- and would be a much less serious offense than treason, which could carry the death penalty.


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