However, on careful examination, it is clear that Lindh made the correct pragmatic choice. He did not plead guilty to a crime, because what he admitted to doing was not a crime. His actual words were:
"Yes, sir," Mr. Lindh replied in a low voice. "I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year and in the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades."
Neither of the two things which Lindh admitted to doing are crimes. It is not a crime to provide services as a soldier and it is not a crime to carry a rifle and two grenades.
Virginia is notorious for its kangaroo courts, which is the reason why this case was brought in Virginia as opposed to say, New York. Virginia routinely sends innocent men to their deaths in the electric chair. In New York, defendants do have some constitutional protections such as the right to testify in their own behalf before a grand jury. In Virginia, these rights do not exist.
The US Government claims world-wide jurisdiction to prosecute offenses, while at the came time claiming that the rest of the world has no jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by agents of the US Government in other countries. A good example of this is the kidnapping of my eight year old daughter in the United Arab Emirates in 1990, a kidnapping which took place through the assistance of Stephen R. Pattison, a US Consular Official, and John P. Butler, an FBI agent. It is clear that a crime was committed by US officials, by the fact that the mother of my daughter was a Pakistani of Afghan origin and neither she or I brought my daughter from the United Arab Emirates to America or consented to having my daughter taken to America. Yet, the kidnappers go free and nothing had been done to prosecute them.
Lindh is well represented by a legal team. They have not made a wrong decision. They know that they are facing a kangaroo court. They know that the US Government has no case at all against Lindh, but that the government will be eager to make Lindh a scapegoat to cover up the flaws and the errors made by US Intelligence. Plus, and most importantly, Lindh has a way out. After Lindh's sentence becomes final, he can file a habeas corpus petition on the obvious ground that the crime of which he was sentenced was not a crime at all and, moreover, the USA had no jurisdiction over it. This habeas corpus petition would have no chance of success now, but 20 years is a long time. Right now, the Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals is controlled by right-wing reactionary judges effectively appointed by Senator Jesse Helms. However, Helms is retiring and, once he goes, there may be new judges more willing to follow the US law.
Thus, had he gone to trial, John Walker Lindh would have stood no Chinaman's chance but, by pleading guilty to non-crimes, he may in the future get out.
About the Author: Sam Sloan is the only man since 1966 ever to have gotten a convict out of a Virginia prison on habeas corpus. Sloan got Kevin Moyna out of prison on the grounds that a Virginia judge had sentenced Moyna to 20 years in prison for the crime of arson, which only carried a maximum sentence of ten years, and Moyna had already served more than ten years. Moyna now lives in San Francisco.
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