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Interview With John Walker

Aired December 19, 2001 - SHOW   ET


ANNOUNCER: THE POINT: WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN. Tonight, previously unseen portions of the interview with American John Walker.


JOHN WALKER, AMERICAN TALIBAN: Shot us. He poured gas on us and burned us.


ANNOUNCER: His days fighting with the Taliban.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this what you thought it would be? Is this the right cause or the right place?

WALKER: Exactly what I thought it would be.


ANNOUNCER: John Walker, why he joined a holy war against his country.

THE POINT, now from Washington, Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is John walker a traitor? After all, he is an American, but was fighting with the Taliban. The White House says President Bush's decision on how to prosecute Walker could come this week.

Senior administration officials familiar with the case, tell CNN the president is still receiving recommendations. While nothing has been ruled out, there is discussion of charging him under a federal law that prohibits assisting terrorists and terrorist organizations. Maximum sentence: 10 years on each count.

Some senior Justice Department prosecutors involved in the case and some in the White House counsel's office are leaning against a treason charge, which carries the death penalty.

The U.S. military got custody of Walker at the first of this month. He had just survived a bloody uprising of Taliban prisoners in Mazar-e Sharif. The uprising was crushed and Walker was injured. When he was in a hospital being treated, Walker talked with CNN contributor Robert Pelton. Initially, Walker expressed some reluctance to be taped, but with the camera rolling and lights on, he told his story.

Until now, we have seen only snippets of that tape. Extended portions of the interview are now available, because Pelton has just returned to London. At points you will hear Walker interacting with his doctors. The interview begins with Walker talking about his capture by fighters with Afghanistan's Northern Alliance.


WALKER: When gun shots started everybody stood up and ran. I ran (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I was shot and fell down. The whole time I was just -- against -- against the walls.

ROBERT PELTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And you came from Kunduz?

WALKER: All of us. All of us were (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PELTON: Takar?

WALKER: Takar, the province, you know.

PELTON: Yes, I know. How long have you been in Afghanistan?

WALKER: About six months.

PELTON: What is the antibiotic?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: now we give --

PELTON: But now you give penicillin or -- third generation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [speaking in native tongue]

PELTON: What was the analgesic that you gave him?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will give him (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- morphine. I will give him morphine, OK?


PELTON: Why didn't you ask some Americans or foreigners to help you when you were first in Kunduz?

WALKER: I was in Kunduz and I didn't know any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Kunduz.



PELTON: If you were a noncombatant -- were there any A groups, no outsiders?

WALKER: In Kunduz?


WALKER: Really at the time I was -- I was unable to investigate that. Actually, when I came back -- when we withdrew from Takar, we walked by foot maybe more than 100 miles. Afterwards, I was very sick for the whole period. Until came to Mazar-e Sharif, I really wasn't in any condition to be able to be able to research (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PELTON: Were you with the Taliban all the time or were you doing something else?

WALKER: No, the Taliban have a separate branch in the army. With the Afghans and they have the non-Afghans. I was with the branch of the non-Afghans.

PELTON: What is an non-Afghani branch called?

WALKER: It's called Ansar (ph). It means the helpers.

PELTON: Is that the same as the 055 brigade?

WALKER: I'm not familiar with that.

PELTON: It's a term -- I was with the Taliban in 1995.

WALKER: Really?

PELTON: Yes, and they were explaining they had the 055 brigade.

WALKER: It has another name. I don't know remember numbers.

PELTON; You have a slight accent -- you have a...

WALKER: I have not spoken English with native speakers in several months, I have been speaking Arabic. So, I have been living overseas for about two years.

PELTON: Really? And how did you get to Afghanistan? Because some friends of mine fought in Chechnya, did you go through the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or did you just come here and volunteer?

WALKER: I was a student in Pakistan studying Islam. And I came into contact with many people who were connected with the Taliban. I lived in a region in northwest (UNINTELLIGIBLE) province. The people there in general have a great love for the Taliban. So I started to read some of the literature of the scholars, history of the movement. My heart became attached to them. I wanted to help them one way or another. So I had an opportunity to --

PELTON: Do you have any military skills? Or were you just sort of --

WALKER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) PELTON: Did you tend any of those camps where they train you?

WALKER: Several training camps.

PELTON: Because a friend of mine was American, and they had to hide him from the secret service all the time, and he want to fight in Kashmir --

WALKER: In Pakistan? Yes, that's how it is. They always hide foreigners.

PELTON: I mean after this is all done, how do you feel? Do you feel like you were sort of -- you did the right thing? Well, do you feel now after there's been a number of losses on the Taliban side --

WALKER: With regard to this particular incident you mean?


WALKER: This was all a mistake of a handful of people.

PELTON: Could you can explain that to me? Because I'm very interested in that.

WALKER: OK. Do you mind --

PELTON: Yes, of course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no dressing.

PELTON: We are not filming that part.

WALKER: All right. Basically, I'm sure you you are familiar with the story, but we had arranged with the government that we would pass through his territory. We would withdraw from Kunduz, passing through territory to Herat. And we -- we would give them all of our weapons away. Along the way or when we arrived. So they stopped us, and this, you have to understand all the mujahideen at that point, were in a very bad state psychologically.

We had withdrawn a great distance and we had lost a lot around Afghanistan. So when they stopped us, at that point, and they said give all of the weapons many people were hesitant, so many of them held -- they hid inside of their clothes hand grenades, which is against what we had agreed upon. And this is against Islam.

Considered a major sin to break a contract you made, especially in military situations. So some of them kept hand grenades with them. And when we arrived in the military complex in Mazar-e Sharif, I think some of -- I don't know what nationality or who they were exactly, but some us -- some of the brothers were very tense. So --

PELTON: This is going to feel a lot better after --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm giving you morphine now, OK? This is going to take away a lot of pain. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be happy juice.

WALKER: Happy juice?

So anyway, soon as we arrived -- as soon as I came down from the truck that we arrived in, a grenade exploded right next to the truck. Someone -- I don't know what he was thinking or what (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But they blew up a grenade. So the Dostum authorities became afraid of us. So they immediately...


WALKER: .... put us down in a basement for the night. And I don't know if they intended after that to let us free or to interrogate us, and let us go or what -- what they intended. But What happened was, we spent the night under the basement and they led us out one by one they searched each one of us, and they tied us up and put us out on the lawn.

So as they were taking us one by one, some of last people to come out, again, they were -- I don't know, they were afraid or whatever. They did the same thing, they pulled out a grenade. And they -- anyway, somehow they started fighting; starting with a grenade and one of them grabbed a Kalashnikov from one of the Dostum army forces. And so the fighting began.

Eventually, they took some heavier weapons and they took control of weapons storage house and some other things.


PELTON: You were there, did you (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

WALKER: I was in the basement the whole time. I didn't see anything that went on. I just heard a noise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What made you decide to leave the basement?

WALKER: It was the last day. What happened was yesterday they bombed us with airplanes. They shot missiles. They thrown grenades. They shot us with all types of guns. They poured gas on us and burned us. They had done everything you can imagine.

So the last thing they did was they poured water into the basement. They wanted to fill it up with water. When they filled it, most of us were injured at that point anyway. Actually after -- maybe after the first day, maybe about half of us or more than half of us were injured. The last day, when they poured the water into the basement, I think the vast majority of us were injured.

So that morning, and we were standing in the water, freezing water, in the basement for maybe 20 hours. And, so after the water receded somewhat, then, you know, we began to discuss with one another just the topic was on our minds naturally, the, you know, the basement was filled with stench and bodies. We didn't have any more weapons available. But they said, look, we are going to die either way. If we surrender, then they will kill us. Is it better to be killed? I mean, if we surrender, the worst that can happen is that they will torture us or kill us, right? So right here in the basement, they are torturing us and killing us. So -- might as well surrender. At least we might have a chance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was your goal to be Shahid (ph), the martyr?

WALKER: It's the goal of every Muslim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it your goal, though?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it your goal at that time?

WALKER: I'll tell you, to be honest, every single one of us, without any exaggeration, every single one of us was 100 percent sure that we would all be shot at (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But, you know, Allah chooses to take a person's life when he chooses that we have no control over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of talk on the news that bin Laden is behind Amsar (ph). Is that your understanding?

WALKER: No. He is -- Amsar is composed of different branches according to ethnic groups. It's because of languages mostly. And, of course, we all have the same cause which has nothing to do with ethnicity when you (UNINTELLIGIBLE), language divided into Wahhabi and Pakistani and Arab.

So the Arab section of that zone is funded by Osama bin Laden. Also the training camps that the Arabs train in before they come to the frontlines are funded by Osama bin Laden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are an American. How do you converse? Were you using Arabic to converse?

WALKER: I studied Arabic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, would you be with the Arab fighters?

WALKER: I was with the Arab -- actually, originally, I came with the Pakistanis, but they sent me to the Arabs because I don't understand (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While you were underwater, you were...

WALKER: Just cold.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't want us to, we won't. But is there something that we can communicate -- we have sat phones -- is there something we can communicate to someone, a loved one or a family member?

WALKER: Tomorrow. I would like to give it some thought to exactly what I'd say.


WALKER: I would appreciate if it's not converted (ph) on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just so you know, I'm not going to release your location when I talk about this.

WALKER: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not going to release your location just for your peace of mind and your security. And I will come back tomorrow. If you can think of anybody you want us to contact either by Internet or by phone, or if you want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I will bring in a satellite phone.

WALKER: You have the Internet connection?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes we do, but the Internet connection...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... you can give us an e-mail address, we can send a message or I can bring the computer. It depends on...

WALKER: It would be easier for me to write a message if we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what I will do is I will bring a laptop computer tomorrow. And then we'll plug it in and then we'll go into whatever e-mail address that you want.

WALKER: I would appreciate that.

PELTON: I have known very few Americans that have fought jihad. And I'm just wondering, just personally, because I have been in jihad in Chechnya and southern Philippines, I'm just curious, was this what you thought it would be? Was this the right cause or the right place?


VAN SUSTEREN: The answer to that question and the rest of the Walker interview when THE POINT returns.


VAN SUSTEREN: Tonight we are watching journalist Robert Pelton's interview with American John Walker. Walker fought alongside Afghanistan's Taliban, was captured, then injured during a prison uprising. Does Walker think all the misery was worth it? That is where our interview resumes.


PELTON: Was this what you thought it would be? Was this the right cause or the right place?

WALKER: It's exactly what I the thought it would be.

PELTON: Have you thought of fighting jihad in places like Chechnya, or Lake Somorow?

WALKER: Of course, I mean any Muslim that is concerned for the affairs of Muslims, oppressed Muslims, has considered this, I think.

PELTON: But you chose Afghanistan and one thing I always wondered was, you have Muslims fighting Muslims here.

WALKER: That is a question that is actually addressed in the Koran itself, that if there is an Islamic state, I mean, there are certain situations in which Muslims by necessity are fought (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if a group of Muslims renegades against the Islamic state they cause problems. There are other situations also in which a Muslim can be killed under the law.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) under Islamic law. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with the media twists (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Taliban.

PELTON: I'm an author of a book called "The World's Most Dangerous Places" and I traveled with you, John, in groups to various places and...

WALKER: You yourself a Muslim?

PELTON: No. I'm not, but I respect the cause and I respect the call. I'm just interested to find an American, because when I met the other prisoners they seemed to be from a number of very poor countries. There were people from Yemen. They looked like -- have you met Chechens at all? WALKER: I have known a few Chechens.

PELTON: Are the Chechens from Chechnya or are they Dogistanis?

WALKER: I have known people from Dogistan.

PELTON: I was wondering because I have been searching for Chechens and I have always wondered why a Chechen would fight (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Russians.

WALKER: As for here in Afghanistan I haven't seen any Chechens. Only, I don't know, there are several small republics within...

PELTON: Yes, there is all kinds of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) . Did you know a guy named Abdul Aziz? Was he down -- because he -- I took a picture of him and somebody said that is Abdul Aziz, he died.

WALKER: Abdul Aziz -- yes...

PELTON: Do you know that person?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he is a young Saudi, short haired, short beard, not a very long beard.

WALKER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Abdul Aziz is with us right now. Not very -- I don't know, maybe 35 or so. I didn't -- I didn't know all of the mujahedeen.

PELTON: Did you make friends while you were here?

WALKER: Of course I made friends.

PELTON: Did they enjoy the jihad? I mean, was it a...


VAN SUSTEREN: That interview took place three weeks ago. John Walker now is being held prisoner aboard a U.S. ship in the Arabian Sea. THE POINT will be right back.


VAN SUSTEREN: In one hour Robert Pelton, the man who did the Walder interview will be Aaron Brown's guest on NEWSNIGHT. That is at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. Next, Senators Bob Graham and John Kyl are among the guests on LARRY KING LIVE.




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