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CNN Presents: "House of War: The Uprising at Mazar-e Sharif"

Aired August 3, 2002 - 20:00   ET



ARNIM STAUTH, ARD TV, GERMANY: The Taliban Empire was collapsing in front of our eyes.

ALEX PERRY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: You could never predict what was going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All is fair in love and war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the first Taliban fighter blew himself up, then the whole thing changed. They wanted to come to Afghanistan to kill Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going in the building that's in the center of the compound.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I saw one person aim for every 20 who fired their weapon.

STAUTH: It was really brutal. That fight was brutal.


AARON BROWN, CNN PRESENTS ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. It has become one of the defining moments of the war in Afghanistan, the war on terror, and it is one of the only moments to play out as the world watched.

The prison revolt at Mazar-e Sharif began with the murder of CIA Agent Micheal Spann, the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan and it ended in the discovery of John Walker Lindh, an American, fighting alongside the Taliban. But those are just the bookends. The complete story of that battle, and it was fierce, has never been told, not by those who were there, not until now.

Much of the footage you're about to see is rare and some of it is being shown for the very first time, so now CNN PRESENTS: HOUSE OF WAR, THE UPRISING AT MAZAR-E SHARIF.


NARRATOR: November, 2001, one month after the war on terror began in Afghanistan; U.S. and Northern Alliance forces had a major victory, capturing the northern stronghold of Mazar-e Sharif. A Taliban surrender was arranged by their commander.

Instead, an uprising exploded within these walls, led by Taliban prisoners. In a matter of days, hundreds were killed in one of the epic battles of the war. This is the story of that battle, caught on tape by the journalists who were there.

STAUTH: All this Afghan war has been a war with very little pictures, and all of a sudden the fighting was really in front of our eyes. So, I think there was a job for journalists to do to show what the war is really like, how dirty it is, how nasty it is, how frightening it is.

PERRY: It was almost sometimes when your brain is struggling to keep up. You could never predict what was going to happen.

STAUTH: The Taliban Empire was collapsing in front of our eyes and much quicker than we all expected.

ROBERT PELTON, FREELANCER TO CNN: The real power base in Northern Afghanistan is around Mazar-e Sharif and the man who controls that region is Abdul Rashid Dostum (ph). Warfare in Afghanistan has always been conducted by rules and what Dostum has excelled at is saying, you know, I am the baddest cat in town, but if you're my friend, I will be the baddest cat toward your enemy.

PERRY: Before September 11th, he had no funding from anybody. He was up in the hills.

PELTON: The Americans showed up around October, so when an A- team goes in, they have a mission and this one just said support Dostum. He had an army of 2,000 men when he rolled into Mazar on November 9th. When Dostum would roll into a city to liberate it, it was almost Kipling-esque, because you'd see Dostum with his turban, the warlord, and then you'd see these two guys wearing turbans and Oakley sunglasses sitting next to him, the CIA. So, it's almost like "The Man Who Would be King" you know.

PERRY: But when Dostum arranged these surrenders, the way he arranged them was to say the Taliban will be allowed to go home. Just give up your weapons you can go back to your farms. You can all be good Afghans again and everyone will get on in peace.

This was a slap in the face for America. I mean they wanted people on trial. They wanted people punished. They certainly wanted the top al Qaeda guys and any of the lesser lieutenants. They all wanted those guys in jail and the implication is preferably killed. I mean they were giving Dostum all the weapons and all the money he needed to be able to finish these guys off.

STAUTH: We went into (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to follow the negotiations between the Northern Alliance and that Mullah Fazil (ph) the leader of the northern faction of the Taliban and Fazil had promised that even all the foreign fighters would obey his orders and surrender. They had negotiated surrender within three days, which meant Sunday. But Saturday morning, some contacts we had in Mazar told us go a little east toward Konduz and you will see 500 Taliban foreign fighters surrender. That's a good story. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like a mile away so through binoculars we could see a couple of trucks and people in the desert and that was the Taliban preparing their surrender, the Americans circling over the scene. Dostum was there explaining that the foreign fighters should be handed over to the U.N.

PERRY: And he said over and over again, you know, the only way to unite Afghanistan is to play the big man and to kind of forgive.

STAUTH: That's the first truck arriving with the foreign Taliban fighters, obviously not Afghan.

NARRATOR: As the small force of foreign fighters surrendered, Dostum went to Konduz for the surrender of the main Taliban force. These foreign Taliban fighters would be taken to Kalijungi (ph). It means House of War, and served as Dostum's headquarters. In this massive old fortress, the prisoners could be contained.

PELTON: The weapons were handed over. They physically searched the men on three of the trucks and then two of the trucks they just said go, go, go, before it gets dark. They had driven through town and then taken to Kalijungi.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean we were really under the impression that this was going to be a positive story, you know. Here they are. They have surrendered. They have given themselves up as a former enemy. They were treated pretty well. They were being searched in a very nice way. They were not handcuffed. They were not, you know, they were not being, you know, mistreated at all, at all.

PELTON: The code of conduct was we're going to spare your lives because we think the war is over. You've lost. You're going to go back and everybody is going to be happy again.

VINCI: There was a genuine attempt to really make this work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from Pakistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you come to Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come for jihad against the terrorism of U.S.A.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But now you're prisoners in Mazar-e Sharif.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's no problem. All is fair in love and war.

VINCI: I mean the story changed when that first Taliban fighter blew himself up. Then the whole thing changed immediately. There were 400 plus Taliban prisoners and maybe 20, 30 armed guards all around them. Those soldiers could have begun the uprising then at that moment and we would have been all dead right now because there was no way we could have gotten out of there alive and obviously some of them still had hand grenades.

They wanted to kill Americans. That's what they wanted to do. They wanted to come to Afghanistan to kill Americans. I mean, you know, these soldiers they have said all along, we're here to die. We're here to die. But I mean, Mazar-e Sharif was not at peace yet.




NARRATOR: Sunday morning in Kalijungi, the day after the grenade blast. Some Taliban fighters were still armed and unwilling to surrender.

STAUTH: We came to Kalijungi to have a look whether the prisoners are well treated.

PELTON: They figured, OK, well we'll take them out in small groups and we'll search them and we'll bind their arms behind them with their turbans and we'll sort them by either nationality or whoever they are and we'll get a handle on the situation.

NARRATOR: In the courtyard, a handful of Northern Alliance soldiers and two CIA operatives, Mike Spann and his partner Dave, kept a tense peace.

PELTON: For Dave and Mike to be in that courtyard by themselves was a major, major breach in just commonsense, you know to have two Americans way out in the middle of 500 foreign prisoners. It was just unbelievable.

NARRATOR: The CIA says this opinion is unfair and inaccurate. The agency claims that Northern Alliance guards were always nearby.

PELTON: People that were sent into the fortress had all been trained in the camps. Bin Laden's mission was to bring foreigners from Saudi Arabia, from everywhere around the world, every Islamic country, take them into the camps and then send them to the front lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give us a chance to breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll find everything out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are terrorists.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These men are terrorists - these men are terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you a terrorist. You come to Afghanistan to kill people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK - you want to talk to him?

PELTON: And it slowly started to sink into these prisoners that they weren't going anywhere. The Americans were using them to gather intelligence.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm with you. Wait. Wait.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, who brought you here?

STAUTH: And while we were waiting, this peaceful place from one second to the other, turned into hell.

NARRATOR: In the south end of the fortress, a burst of gunfire, the revolt was underway.

STAUTH: I just grabbed my SAT phone and ran for shelter into the main building. We were like, I would say, 100 yards away. We couldn't see them because there's a dividing wall. The first information we got was through that American CIA Agent David. We saw him with his Kalashnikov and his pistol in his hand running through the courtyard and into our building.

I asked him what's going on and he has still his pistol in his hand and he's trying to put it somewhere and that's when I noticed he's nervous in a way. He turned out to be American, spoke English, and told us there's a prisoners' uprising. He told us he had shot four of them with his pistol and then he said that probably one American got killed.

PERRY: According to eyewitness accounts given to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Taliban fighters launched themselves at Spann, scrabbling at his flesh with their hands, kicking and beating him. Spann killed two more with his pistol before he disappeared under the crush. Spann became the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan.

STAUTH: Later on he told me there's only 100 guards from the Northern Alliance. It's 500 or 400 Taliban. The Taliban have seized the main ammunition and weapons store. The Northern Alliance has very little ammunition. So through his information, I got the impression we are really in danger.

PERRY: The Taliban were in the south section and the armory is right there. It was Taliban stuff that the Northern Alliance had taken over when the Taliban left Mazar. Now it was the Taliban's again. STAUTH: When I had got all that information from David that the Taliban might get us, then I offered him the phone. He used our SAT phone. He called the American Embassy in Tashkent. He described the situation. We have it on tape.

DAVID, CIA AGENT: We control the north end of the fort. The south end of the fort is in their hands. There's hundreds of dead here at least and I'm not -- I don't know how many Americans are dead. I think one was killed. I'm not sure. I'm not sure. There were two at least need some other guys, just need help to free this place up. We need to have - and again, we can't hit it from the air. We're not talking coming...

STAUTH: So they sent planes against his advice. We saw them high up in the sky and we heard the bombs or missiles, whatever it was. We heard them coming.

PERRY: Your brain sort of shuts down for a microsecond and then you just sort of reboot and remember where you are and those things. They called in nine. The first two I think were accurate and the next seven were pretty accurate but not quite.

STAUTH: We had a lot of discussions afterwards, whether it was a good idea to have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because a report could end with the death of the reporter. It helped me a lot because it was just meant like concentrate on your work.

NARRATOR: With the Taliban now in full revolt on the grounds of the fortress, the Northern Alliance, their allies, and the journalists trapped inside had to scramble to safety outside the prison walls.

STAUTH: It was hard luck, already sunset, and another of them on crutches made his way, which was really terrifying because it took him like a minute with his crutches and there was still gunfire. He crossed the roof, which was right in the line of fire, but he managed to get to the edge of the wall and disappear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey guys, time to go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time to go.

STAUTH: And in a way he took the decision for us. It was quite frightening to run those 30 or 40 meters, so we run. A mortar grenade has just hit in a field here, two minutes earlier and fortunately we found a car waiting for us and they drove us home to Mazar-e Sharif.


NARRATOR: Overnight, the prison uprising and the death of CIA Agent Mike Spann, the first American killed in combat, made this the biggest story of the war. As hundreds of heavily-armed Taliban prisoners hunkered down inside the fortress, U.S. and allied reinforcements flocked to the scene. DODGE BILLINGSLEY, COMBAT FILMS: There's reinforcements moving in, this is the fortress, the north wall. There was quite a lot of fire being directed at the northeast tower, all along the north wall, and the northwest tower.

DAMIEN DGUELORE, CAMERAMAN: Just like, whoops, you have to get your buddy used to it, you know.

BILLINGSLEY: Once the Taliban fanned out across that courtyard, realized they had a fairly good supply of weapons, and they could return fire and the Northern Alliance knew it and so they didn't just rush back in their with their tanks and settle it. It was a battle and that battle lasted two more days.

PERRY: I mean they wanted to kill them in the first place but Dostum said oh, no. In the interest of national reconciliation, we'll let these guys go home and we'll see if we can all live together. Once they broke that deal, the Northern Alliance were going to kill every single one of those people that they could.

BILLINGSLEY: But we made our way back out to the road in the northeast just in time for the Special Forces to arrive. Yes, here comes the U.S. guys, British.

PERRY: And suddenly this whole bunch of other Americans arrive, 10th Mountain Division guys, really young, you know, teenagers, but a few Special Forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Report 10th Mountain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not seeing any Taliban at this time, over. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, be advised at this time we're going on the building that's in the center of the compound. There are Taliban in there right now.

BILLINGSLEY: And they proceeded to call in a bomb strike. It was a 2,000-pound JDAM, a big bomb.

DGUELORE: Our first sensation is just like, it's just been a beautiful explosion. It was really beautiful to see this whole thing popping out of the ground and a fog of dust. It's pretty impressive.

PERRY: The size of that strike was so much greater than the previous days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was absolutely wrong.

STAUTH: The bomb went wrong, hit right into the Northern Alliance building. It hit where the tank was and killed, I think, six Afghans and wounded five Americans.

BILLINGSLEY: We had just left there 30 minutes ago. It's a good thing we did leave. I mean it was just random, but...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would have been you?

BILLINGSLEY: That would have been us, yes. That's the tank that fired earlier on the northeast wall. There's the hole; out of danger, a guy bleeding from the eyes and ears.

PELTON: Because of a major shift in how the Afghans viewed American assistance, because there's nothing like fighting a war and then calling in a bomb right on your command post.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pardon us, gentlemen. Excuse us. Pardon us, coming through.

BILLINGSLEY: A Special Forces guy asked me, he said "Listen, we do a lot of cool stuff and we never get to see it. Can we get a copy of your video when we're redeployed, when we're out of here?" I said, "Yes, no problem." So I got out my cards and gave them all my contact information and then they turned around and did us a favor too. He said, "Listen, whatever you do tonight, don't be inside the fortress. You can be around because you're going to see an amazing show, but don't be inside the fortress tonight."

PELTON: Then about 11:00, things got very strange at the house and we started hearing this four-engine propeller plane circling overhead. All of a sudden, pa-pom, pa-pom.

PERRY: Golden showers of bullets coming out of it striking the fort. I mean these things just obliterated whatever is below them.

BILLINGSLEY: They hit at one of the ammo dumps early in the early morning hours and it was like a fireworks display.




NARRATOR: Daybreak Tuesday, the fortress had been bombed all night, untold numbers dead. Well-armed Taliban prisoners continue to control the courtyard and the Northern Alliance, American, and British forces were amassed outside the walls, trying to regain control.

DEGUELORE: The fortress was still there, and so we decided just to climb back in.

BILLINGSLEY: It's like nothing had happened the night before. They were planning to attack. The Northern Alliance were establishing their positions and they were planning to have the decisive attack today, Tuesday.

VINCI: You know, they didn't want to be seen on their own. They were trying to wear masks and handkerchiefs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn the cameras off. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn the cameras off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn the cameras - oh.

VINCI: Yes, they weren't too happy to see us there at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not in the United States and you have no right, no authority.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put that in. Put that in your notes.

STAUTH: I'm going to shoot you. I'm going to shoot you and we just explained to him, you're not in America. You have no legal authority here to tell us anything. You're in Afghanistan. You're a guest like we are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, that's all we're asking.

STAUTH: So we shouted at each other and from that moment on, they let us film without any trouble.

BILLINGSLEY: And you can see, OK there's the British. There's Dave, the CIA guy. There's the 5th Special Forces group guys that we talked to the day before. Those guys look like, who knows, Air Force combat controllers or Delta, because they get to wear whatever they want. I mean they were just a mix.

You could hear aircraft overhead, so my impression was first they were there like they had come every day before to get the U.S. body out of there, Spann's body, once the battle was over.

STAUTH: Eleven o'clock, final assault, so a lot of Northern Alliance went to the top of the wall and shot from there into the compound where the Taliban was.

VINCI: Behind this wall down there is the Taliban holdup inside the fortress. You could hear some of the bullets ricocheting and flying overhead, and look at this. He orders the soldier to get down. This is like the Afghan way of warfare.

BILLINGSLEY: I don't think I saw one person aim for every 20 who fired their weapon. There was a carpet bombing approach.

STAUTH: So this guy gets wounded, at least he doesn't die instantly. He even walks away and then is carried away.

BILLINGSLEY: This is the guy right here. I'm streaming by where the foxhole was when those guys were in there. They couldn't get anybody to really approach the hole and drop a grenade in or do anything that would be decisive just to eliminate the Taliban position. It took a long time.

STAUTH: Hand grenades. A hand grenade goes off. He's in here. We have to look. Now watch him. You see the gun of the Taliban? He makes a run. Now watch here, a Taliban appears here. He's shot at right. He's obviously hit. Now a grenade comes and they make their run.

NARRATOR: The tide had shifted. The Northern Alliance and their allies left the prison walls and again controlled the grounds. Now the remaining Taliban prisoners were the ones scrambling for a place to hide.

BILLINGSLEY: I think there was still the idea that there were Taliban in the basement. I have a shot of them taking five-gallon Jeri (ph) cans and I thought they were full of petrol, and throwing them down one of the shafts and then taking grenades and throwing their grenades down.

This is the guy who was alive. They kept throwing rocks. It was kind of emotional for me. I mean when all the bodies were on that battlefield and they're all covered in Afghan dust, in a way they became innate objects.

I felt absolutely no emotion for the bodies, but to see this one that was still alive suffering, it surprised me and on, I think it was an emotional response when they threw the rock on his head, I said, "hey, why don't you just put a bullet in his head and just kill him, just end it, you know, mercy kill." And then I felt bad for saying that out loud but then thankful that they couldn't actually hear me.

NAJIBULLAH QURESHI, INTERPRETER: Two guys came out of those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with AK-47s saying Allah (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and shooting.

BILLINGSLEY: Four or five Taliban, I guess, jumped out of the stables and just put down covering fire and within a second, I forgot all about that body on the battlefield and ran up to the cover of the house, looked to see all the Northern Alliance people, all the Northern Alliance soldiers retreating up the ramp. They're retreating up the wall. And, that was my immediate turnaround just to say, whoa, our guys are gone and there they are going up the hill.

PERRY: Leaving me and Damien and all (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BILLINGSLEY: They were gone. They were just gone.

PERRY: He's going, you hold. You hold.

BILLINGSLEY: He had his notebook. I had my camera. Damien, I think was there and had his camera. Oops, I looked at Alex and muttered something like, we should not be running but we are here alone. I don't remember what and he looked at me and I didn't even see Damien. I know he was there somewhere.

DEGUELORE: Decided to run, of course.

BILLINGSLEY: And we just lit out across the field. The thing that was disturbing is that after two or three hours of fighting to take the ground below, everybody was back up on the walls and there were no Northern Alliance in the courtyard to start over again.

They finally brought in a tank through the passageway from the north end of the fortress and the tank fired a couple of shots. You know, one shot, two shot, three shot and by dusk it was over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a body up here.

VINCI: The same courtyard that had left three days before with 400 Taliban fighters being searched and giving themselves up was later those same fighters torn to pieces, body parts everywhere, everywhere. I mean there were bodies everywhere. One of the Northern Alliance soldiers was using a dead body of a Taliban as a sandbag.

And I said, "Is that what this whole war is all about?" I mean there was no clear evidence of executions. I mean you could tell they were being killed in battle. I mean it was really brutal, brutal. That fight was brutal. That fight was brutal.


NARRATOR: Early Wednesday morning, Dostum, the Northern Alliance commander who brokered the original Taliban surrender, finally returned to the scene. Since the departure only days before, the prison had become a battleground.

PERRY: They were not happy that this was going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's Spann's pickup, Michael Spann's pickup from the first day.

PERRY: Some of these bodies have been there for five days. The smell was absolutely unbelievable.

STAUTH: There was so much shooting that all the branches had fallen off and covered the ground like a carpet.

BILLINGSLEY: Three health officials started making their way down the stairs to the pink house to go into the cell complex below and they were shot. One never returned. And, at that point I guess, they realized we have Taliban that are still willing to fight down in the basement.

The reason he showed up was to actually bring the Mullahs there and to say look, look what your people have done and then hopefully to get them to call up the remaining fighters that were still in the bunker. He was most upset because their people had shown such discourtesy.

VINCI: He was disappointment, obviously, because his deal had gone sour but he was really enraged and he tried to say, you know, I don't understand why they did this because we offered them food. We offered them a deal and they didn't respect our deal. But you could tell that inside himself he was really, really mad.

PELTON: When I interviewed them, they were just really unrepentant about anything. They just said we fought for an idea and we didn't win. It's as simple as that, and that was basically how they summed up the whole Taliban movement.

VINCI: You know betrayal, deception, these are rules of war. BILLINGSLEY: They took the warheads off the rocket launchers, RPGs, and basically were throwing the warheads down and you'd hear them blowing up.

VINCI: When you see the result of what happened, it is pretty shocking, but you also have to never, never, never forget what brought them there. That particular battle at Kalijungi, they chose to fight. The prisoners chose to fight.

BILLINGSLEY: I mean Friday they started pumping water. You know it's quite cold in Mazar at this time and it was cold water and they didn't know how many Taliban were there.

PERRY: Come Saturday, you know, this is a week now.

QURESHI: And the water was up to their neck and that's why they had to come out.

PERRY: The Taliban shout out that they're giving themselves up and 86 guys walk out.

PELTON: Somebody came charging in with Dostum's men and he said there's an American in the hospital.

We're at the hospital in Sheboygan (ph) where they keep the wounded, and an American has been found in the basement of Kalijungi Prison and brought here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American's name, huh? Jones. The father's name. What part you are (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?


PELTON: He's pretty hypothermic. The problem with these people, they have been standing in freezing water for 20 hours and they were on the back of a truck in that freezing cold.

BILLINGSLEY: When I arrived in London, I hear that 86 had walked out of that basement that day on Saturday, and one of them was this American Taliban John Walker. I think that was surprising to everyone.

PELTON: What made you decide to leave the basement?

LINDH: It was the last day. What happened was yesterday they had bombed us with airplanes. They shot missiles. They threw grenades. They shot us with all types of guns, poured gas on us and burned us. They've done all that you can imagine. So the last day they poured water down into the basement. They wanted to fill it up with water.

NARRATOR: At first, Walker Lindh did not want to talk.

PELTON: But then he wants to talk. Then he keeps talking. Was it your goal to be shahib (ph), a martyr?

LINDH: It's the goal of every (UNINTELLIEIBLE).

PELTON: Was it your goal though?


PELTON: Was it your goal at that time?

LINDH: 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 shahib, all be martyrs.

PELTON: He was the first face. He was the first person that we could sort of get our heads around because bin Laden was the bad guy but we couldn't find bin Laden and Mullah Omar was like number two but we didn't have pictures of Mullah Omar. We didn't have him talking to us.

And here was a guy who spoke perfect English, who told us exactly what he was doing, you know professed his love for the Taliban who we hated, told me how happy he was that he was lying there in sort of an utter wretch of a human being after being starved and frozen and half dead, and he was basically the enemy saying screw you, you know, and he was an American at that. I mean it just, people's blood boiled.

NARRATOR: Walker Lindh remembered back to before the revolt.

LINDH: Well, what happened was we spent the night under the basement. Then they let us out one-by-one. They would search each one of us. Then they tied us up and they put us out on the lawn. So, as they were taking us one-by-one, somehow they started fighting with - starting with the grenade.

One of them grabbed the Kalishnikov from one of the army forces and so the fighting began. As soon as the gunshots started, everybody stood up and ran. I ran maybe two meters and I was shot and wounded and fell down.

PELTON: He went to study the Arab language in Yemen and was not well liked by his classmates. He then went off to try to get more sort of fundamentalist training and they rejected him. And then he went to Pakistan to a Madrassa (ph), which is normally populated by little kids reciting the Koran and here's this big, goofy guy you know studying the Koran.

He went to join the Taliban. The Taliban said well you don't speak our language. You're no use to us, so go to the Ansa (ph) Brigades. He ends up being involved with Osama bin Laden and what we call the Al Qaeda network.

LINDH: So the Arab section of Ansar is funded by Osama bin Laden, also the training camps the Arabs train in before they come to the front line is all funded by Osama bin Laden.

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

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




PERRY: Mazar-e Sharif was not the proudest hour for the Americans in this war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was absolutely wrong.

PERRY: They lost a man and they called the bomb strike on themselves basically and then, they found this guy.

BILLINGSLEY: The battle was such a story and then it was totally eclipsed by the story of the two Americans. For the United States anyway, it gave you a hero, Michael Spann, who dies in combat, first KIA and then you have John Walker, American Taliban, and then the tape surfaces of Spann actually trying to interrogate Walker, which is remarkable. Walker is very uncommunicative. He says nothing to them.

PELTON: In a strange way, they sort of threatened him with death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The problem is he needs to decide if he wants to live or die and die here. I mean if he don't wanna die here, he's gonna die here cause this is where we're just gonna leave him...he's gonna sit in prison the rest of his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) short life. It's his decision.

PERRY: Threats that they made to the Taliban could quite plausibly have helped set off the revolt. They tell people that they're all going to die unless they talk to the CIA, completely on their minds what Dostum had said about guaranteed security and so on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can only help those guys that wanna talk to us. We can only get the Red Cross to help so many guys.

NARRATOR: The CIA says this allegation is absurd and that its agents behaved professionally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, you know the people...look at me. You know the people that you're here working with are terrorists? They killed other Muslims. There were several hundred Muslims killed in the bombing in New York City.

BILLINGSLEY: They didn't even know each other at that time or that their fates would be so intertwined that it would become in many ways the story of the war.

QURESHI: And just one American was killed here, Mike Spann, as the Americans themselves are concerned. But, there were more than 300 Afghans killed here, more than 300 Afghans killed and I saw many of them by my own eyes.

STAUTH: We were looking for an adventure. We were looking for a story. We had it all. We have it all.

BILLINGSLEY: The right time at the right place, I guess, if you want to be there. It's wild. It's just a wild story.


BROWN: The majority of those Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters who survived the prison battle are now incarcerated at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and John Walker Lindh struck a plea bargain with prosecutors. Lindh admitted fighting with the Taliban.

He will be sentenced to 20 years in prison, and the deal also includes a provision guaranteeing that the U.S. government, rather than Lindh, will receive any profits should he decide some day to sell his life story. That's this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. We'll see you next week.





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