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Bush gave nod to plea agreement, officials say

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush signed off last week on the government's plea negotiations with American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, being briefed on the final agreement Monday morning before it was presented in court, senior Bush administration officials said.

Justice Department prosecutors visited the White House on Wednesday and told Alberto Gonzales, counsel to the president, that they wanted to enter into detailed plea negotiations. The prosecutors outlined their strategy, and Gonzales met with the Bush on Thursday to brief him.

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"The president supported the decision, and the result was intense negotiations that went throughout the weekend," said a senior official familiar with the deliberations.

"The president was briefed and supports the decision," the official said.

The deal sends Walker Lindh, 21, to jail for up to 20 years, guarantees his cooperation with U.S. officials and drops the charge of conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals that could have put him in prison for life.

The former California resident, captured along with Taliban forces last year in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban and possessing explosives in the commission of a crime. In exchange, eight other charges were dropped.

The senior Bush official said the administration anticipated criticism from some who wanted Walker Lindh tried for treason but that the president viewed the requirement he spend 20 years in prison with no provision for early parole as "a tough sentence."

Also important to the White House, the official said, was the provision requiring Walker Lindh to cooperate with law enforcement and intelligence officials, including debriefings about his knowledge of Taliban and al Qaeda operations.




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