Ashcroft: Walker Lindh rejected America
(CNN) -- This is an edited transcript of a press conference with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty that began at 4:17 p.m. Tuesday, February 5, 2002, at the Justice Department in Washington.
ASHCROFT: On January 15, when I announced the filing of criminal charges against John Walker Lindh, an American citizen captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan, I noted that our investigation of Walker Lindh is ongoing and that we would not rule out additional charges against him.
This afternoon a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned a 10-count indictment against Walker Lindh: 10 counts charging him as an al Qaeda-trained terrorist who conspired with the Taliban to kill his fellow citizens.
The indictment rendered this afternoon reiterates the charges previously filed against Walker Lindh and adds an additional set of charges. If convicted of these charges, Walker Lindh could receive multiple life sentences, six additional 10-year sentences, plus 30 years.
The grand jury formalized the prior charges against Walker Lindh that were outlined in the criminal complaint: conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals, two counts of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations, two counts of providing material support and resources to terrorist organizations, and one count of supplying services to the Taliban.
In addition, the grand jury added the following charges against Walker Lindh: conspiracy to contribute services to al Qaeda, contributing services to al Qaeda, conspiracy to supply services to the Taliban, and using and carrying firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence, a crime which carries a mandatory 30-year consecutive sentence.
In this indictment, the grand jury outlines a timeline of terror in which John Walker Lindh is an active, knowing participant. In the early summer of the year 2001, as al Qaeda was training and financing its operatives in the United States, the indictment places John Walker Lindh in an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, honing his skills in weapons, explosives and battlefield combat.
Later in the summer, as terrorists made their final preparations for the September 11 attacks, the indictment charges that John Walker Lindh was forging ever-deeper bonds with al Qaeda. He met with Osama bin Laden. He chose to go to the front lines to fight with the Taliban.
In the summer of 2001, John Walker Lindh swore allegiance to jihad after being told that Osama bin Laden had sent some 50 people to carry out multiple suicide operations against the United States and Israel.
On September 11, as thousands were murdered in the United States, the indictment charges that John Walker Lindh was fighting alongside the Taliban in the Takhar trenches of Afghanistan.
In the weeks after September 11, the indictment charges that Walker Lindh remained with his Taliban fighting group. He remained despite having learned of the terrorist attacks on his homeland, despite knowing that Osama bin Laden was responsible for those attacks, and despite the knowledge that additional terrorist attacks and acts were planned.
Finally, on October the 7th, after men and women of the United States armed services were engaged in support of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, the indictment describes how Walker Lindh remained at his post, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Taliban, armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades.
It is extraordinary for the United States to have to charge one of its own citizens with aiding and conspiring with international terrorist groups whose agenda is to kill Americans. Today a grand jury examined the government's case and saw fit to charge John Walker Lindh with 10 serious crimes based in part on voluntary statements made by Lindh himself.
The United States is a country that cherishes religious tolerance, political democracy and equality between men and women. By his own account, John Walker Lindh allied himself with terrorists who reject these values.
The United States is a country of laws and not of men. By his own account, John Walker Lindh fought side-by-side with tyrants who recognize no other law than the law of brute force.
As today's indictment sets out, John Walker Lindh chose to train with al Qaeda, chose to fight with the Taliban, chose to be led by Osama bin Laden. The reasons for his choices may never be fully known to us, but the fact of these choices is clear.
Americans who love their country do not dedicate themselves to killing Americans.
Today marks an important step in securing justice for John Walker Lindh.
He has, by his own statements, been treated well and received adequate food and medical treatment while in the custody of U.S. officials. At each step in this process, Walker Lindh's rights, including his rights not to incriminate himself and to be represented by counsel, have been carefully, scrupulously honored.
At the same time, the United States has assembled an outstanding group of prosecutors to try this case. Prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia, led by U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty and Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows, are working cooperatively with their colleagues in the Southern District of New York, U.S. Attorney Jim Comey and Deputy U.S. Attorney David Kelley. Together with Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff and the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, they form an all-star team of the United States' most talented and dedicated legal minds.
I'm confident that they will, with great skill and dedication, secure justice for the nation that John Walker Lindh betrayed, and they will uphold the values that he dedicated himself to destroy.
Now I have a responsibility to excuse myself for a scheduled meeting with the minister of justice of Italy. I'm delighted to say that we've received the cooperation and help of the Italian justice minister and his colleagues in a way that merits commendation. It's the kind of cooperation we seek with all those who would join us in the war against terror.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Paul McNulty will be available to answer your questions about the announcements made today.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Paul.
McNULTY: I'll take some questions.
QUESTION: The defense attorneys for Mr. Walker Lindh today filed a motion saying there were a variety of reasons why he should not be kept in custody prior to trial. And they've also said that, in fact, he had asked for legal representation prior to the time that he made statements to the FBI. Can you respond, first, to the motion that was filed today for him to be released; and secondly, on the issue of whether there was ever a time that he requested legal representation prior to the FBI statements?
McNULTY: Yes. As you know, the hearing on his detention is scheduled for [Wednesday], and so the government will make its arguments in relation to that question at the proper time.
I will say, however, that, as some may know and perhaps everyone's not aware, there are in the federal law certain offenses for which there is a presumption that a person would be detained. Those offenses are kinds which normally are crimes of violence. And in this indictment we have charged -- the grand jury has charged -- Mr. Walker Lindh with the use and carrying of a destructive device, a firearm, in the course of a federal violent crime. That is one of the offenses that is listed as an offense carrying the presumption of detention. So that will be one of the issues that the court will consider tomorrow as it takes up these arguments.
As for your second question, that gets into really the defense's arguments in this case. And there will be plenty of time and a proper place, not here, for us to address those issues. And I'm going to decline from getting into that now.
QUESTION: Does the indictment charge, as the complaint did not, that he ever took up arms directly against any Americans?
McNULTY: I'll let you see the indictment and you can see how the indictment sets forth the conspiracy to engage in an act of killing Americans, both here and abroad, and then, of course, it lays out the requirements, as a conspiracy would, of overt acts done in furtherance of that conspiracy.
QUESTION: In one of the court papers filed today, it claims that ... the government custodians threatened [Walker Lindh] with death and torture. Do you have any knowledge of those claims?
McNULTY: This is in the document that his. I'm not aware of those issues.
QUESTION: Can you speak to his incarceration conditions? His lawyers have contended that he was denied medical treatment, he was not fed, he was shackled to his bed, that sort of thing.
McNULTY: These are allegations that have been made with regard to his condition when he was in Afghanistan, I assume, right?
Well, I'm not in a position to be able to address those kinds of issues today. Today we have set forth the allegations against the defendant that are in the indictment. There are a number of arguments that his counsel may seek to make in both this detention hearing context tomorrow and in further proceedings, and we'll address those at the appropriate time. I'm not going to address them today.
QUESTION: The defense also claims that they have not had access to his statement in any form, either transcript, video, whatever. First of all, is there a video form of it? And secondly, when will the defense get access directly to his statement?
McNULTY: Well, I won't describe the nature of the evidence we have, but the law is very clear on the obligations that the government has with regard to providing information to the defense, and we must provide exculpatory information to the defense. The process of discovery takes place after an indictment is returned by a grand jury.
So this case will be handled like all cases and the ... defendant's counsel will have access to the appropriate information.
QUESTION: Will you consider any more charges against John Walker Lindh? And secondly, did you ask the grand jury to bring a treason charge against him?
McNULTY: Well, I can't discuss what was occurring in the context of the grand jury. But as far as other charges, we certainly have the opportunity or the right to have a superseding indictment if the evidence and examination of the evidence would justify that.
... [T]oday all we have is the indictment that has been returned by the grand jury, and the possibility of an indictment -- a superseding indictment, can't be ruled out, but I'm not saying that one is planned at this point.
QUESTION: ... [A]re you planning to present any other evidence, other than his own statements incriminating himself? Do you have any other sources of information, other witnesses ...?
McNULTY: The government has access to a variety of information and evidence, and the process for determining what evidence will be actually used will be made later after we, or as we get to that point in preparing for the prosecution.
Thank you very much.
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