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Family of Michael Spann Speak to Reporters Following Lindh Not Guilty Plea

Aired February 13, 2002 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: As you were speaking, we have just learned, Jack, that John Walker Lindh has just entered a plea of not guilty. That was expected. He was arraigned in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on 10 counts, which could send him to jail for life.

We go to the U.S. district courthouse where we understand CIA agent Michael Spann's wife addresses the crowd.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SHANNON SPANN: ... with the belief that extreme form of Islam gives him sort of the right and responsibility to wage jihad against the West, and specifically against Americans, but it appears at the end of the day, really, he doesn't believe that, because this morning he has chosen rather to trust in the prosperity and the protection in the United States of America by saying that he's not guilty of the things he dedicated his life to.

So I suppose on behalf of my family, we would like to say that we're pleased -- I'm glad to have been able to read the indictment this morning -- we're pleased with the charges that the attorney general has laid. And we expect Mr. Walker to be held personally responsible for all of the things that he has done.

QUESTION: Do you think there should be charged of treason filed against Mr. Lindh?

SPANN: I don't have a specific answer to that question. My view today is certainly that he should have been charged with treason. But I haven't had a chance to speak with the prosecutors yet and to understand the evidentiary decision-making that went into the decision.

QUESTION: Do you think life sentence too easy on him?

SPANN: Certainly, I should have preferred the death penalty myself.

QUESTION: Have you been provided details with your husband's interview with him?

SPANN: No. QUESTION: Do you know how long it lasted?

SPANN: I only know what you all have reported on the news about that.

Thank you.

ZAHN: You just heard from Shannon Spann, who is the wife of slain CIA officer Michael Spann. Now his mother and father come to the microphone outside the U.S. district court.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GAIL SPANN, MIKE SPANN'S MOTHER: ... Shannon made at my son's funeral: Mike was a hero not because of the way he died, but because of the way he lived. And I would also like to say that John Walker is a traitor because of the way he lived. If you go back from the time he was 16 years old and go through his history, you know, what more can I say: It's so simple. And I hope all Americans will feel the same way I do. Thank you.

JOHNNY SPANN, MIKE SPANN'S FATHER: I have a statement that I want to make. There's no need for me to tell you how sad we are and how proud we are of our son. The thing I want to say to American people today is remember September 11. We were attacked by a group of terrorist thugs. A lot of people died on that day. The ones responsible were not only the ones that hijacked the planes and flew them into the buildings and into the Pentagon and ditched them down in Pennsylvania; they don't only include Osama bin Laden and all of his leaders over there. It also includes those who trained in all the al Qaeda and Taliban camps and all those that supported him.

Shortly afterwards, we sent our sons and our daughters and our husbands and our husbands and our wives and our fathers and our mothers to a faraway land to fight this terrible evil so we could continue to live and enjoy the freedom that we live in today. Because we all know freedom is not free. The bodies have come home, draped with flags; Mike's was the first. Several more have come home since his, and they are all heroes too.

Mike told his colleagues that he would gladly lay down his life for his family, a friend, or his country. That's exactly what he did and what these other folks that came home under the flags did too.

He and many more have done that and there probably be some more that will happen before this is over. All of this is because of a group of terrorists, a group of terrorist thugs, and their leaders and their followers and their supporters.

Some of Mike's last words before going to Afghanistan was to support your military. Support your government. Call or write your senators and your representatives and tell them that your support them and you support this war against terrorism. I asked you today to call and to write to them and to tell them that we don't want them to stop until we have this war won. Until we know it's won, because we don't want granddaughters and our grandsons, our great granddaughters and our great grandsons, and probably some of your sons and daughters to have to go fight the war again. We have to stop it now.

Also tell them that Americans will not tolerate traitors. Mike believed in the justice system. He died for it. He died for this way of life that we enjoy. We also have the same faith in this justice system, and we assume and we believe that justice will prevail.

ZAHN: Powerful and pointed reaction to John Walker Lindh, entering innocent, pleading not guilty to a 10-count indictment in U.S. district court. In a very difficult moment, Mike Spann, who was that CIA officer who lost his life in that prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharif, saying that John Walker Lindh should have been charged with treason. She said she would have preferred the death penalty, not life in prison. Michael Spann's mother saying -- quote -- "He is a traitor," the way he lived. And Michael Spann's father saying no need to tell you how sad we are and how proud we are of our son.

Deborah Feyerick, I can never remember hearing such powerful reaction to someone entering a not guilty plea today. Debbie, what have you heard?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Paula, it was also what was happening outside of the courtroom that was particularly interesting. Right after John Walker Lindh pleaded not guilty, the court was dismissed. There were a couple of moves for motion. But at one point as Mr. and Mrs. Spann and Shannon Spann, the widow, went to get the elevator, John Walker Lindh's father approached Mr. Spann, and he held out his hand and was trying to shake hands. And he said, I'm sorry about your son; my son had nothing to do with it. I'm sure you understand.

Now Mr. Spann kept his hands deeply in his pockets and turned back. At that point, a court official basically tried to block Mr. Lindh from getting close to the Spann family.

And I had asked Shannon Spann, who was sitting in the courtroom just two seats over from me, why she had decided to come to court. She said, Mike's life all about taking responsibility; I wanted to come here today to see if John Walker Lindh will take responsibility for what he has done.

The government says he took part in a bloody uprising that killed CIA agent Mike Spann. So all of this is happening sort of around the central events, which is the plea of not guilty and the setting of court dates for motions and the trial.

Right now, it does look that the trial may go in late August, early September, the judge saying there's no reason to delay it until November, as the defense team had asked -- Paula.

ZAHN: I can't imagine that John Walker Lindh's father wasn't told in advance of this, that this was going to make the Spann family incredibly uncomfortable.

FEYERICK: Well, Mr. Lindh seemed remarkably determined to do that. I had asked them as we were walking out of court whether, in fact, he planned to say anything to the media he said; he was thinking about it. But then, really within a split second -- it was one of those things where you turned around and somebody has already moved on -- he was approaching the Spanns. It was as if he had this in mind; maybe he had been thinking about it for a couple of weeks, maybe he didn't. And nobody really knew the Spann family was going to be in court. It may have been one of those spur of the moment things. But he approached him very, very quickly, almost before the court officials, who protects the family and makes sure nobody talks to them, had time to intervene.

Once the court official saw what was going on, she just really tried to block Mr. Lindh from getting close to the Spann family. But again, a very small courtroom area near the elevators, so there was no way to avoid bumping shoulders basically.

ZAHN: I think, Deborah, we need to make it clear that Michael Spann did question John Walker Lindh in Mazar-e Sharif. But there's nothing in the charges that indicates that he had anything to do with Michael Spann's death at that prison, right?

FEYERICK: No. Nothing in the charges, except to say that he was at the prison when the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters basically staged an uprising to try to freedom themselves. So he was with that group who was there, who was fighting against the people who were holding them. And one of those people there at the prison at the time being Mike Spann. And this all happened, John Walker Lindh was questioned just days before this uprising occurred and Michael Spann died.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much for that update.

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