The image of John Walker Lindh; thin, dirty, disoriented, with matted hair covering his face. Like the guy who rang up my Soy Latte this morning.
The history of John Walker Lindh; The white kid from suburbia coddled by ridiculously tolerant parents, obsessed with Malcolm X, identifying himself as African American on internet message boards, wearing flowing robes to high school. Most kids who wear floor-length drapings to school are guilty of nothing more nefarious than reading too much Tolkien or playing too much Dungeons and Dragons.
What made this young American mind of mush different from all those who don't pick up automatic weapons and open fire on infidels?
Thinking of the over indulgence of Walker-Lindh's parents, named appropriately, Mrs. Walker and Mr. Lindh, I am reminded of Jessica Dubroff-Hathaway, the seven year old girl killed in 1996 while trying to be the youngest pilot to fly across America. Her parents, named appropriately, Mr. Dubroff and Mrs. Hathaway, supported their daughter regardless of the dangers. Minutes before the takeoff that killed young Jessica a reporter asked her what she thought about while flying. Her answer?
Jessica's mother defended her decision to let her home schooled second-grader fly thousands of miles, saying that she died doing what she loved to do- flying. No mam, she did not die flying. Your seven year old died crashing, and at the moment of impact she was disserved by your unqualified encouragement, and at anytime before impact she would have been better served by someone, anyone, telling her "no".
Similarly, Walker-Lindh's parents encouraged his wayward exploration unquestioningly. Granted, many young people bumble and stumble through a myriad religions and ideologies. It can be a healthy component of growth. But bankrolling your child's enlightenment should come with some caveats; like when your boy expresses pleasure in the death of 17 young Americans eating their lunch on the USS Cole while docked in Yemen, maybe you should NOT send that check that's helping to pay for your son's further indoctrination into blinding hate. Many of us have had our allowance cut off for much less, and at a much younger age.
Though Johnny's ambivalent parents surely helped him down the path that led him to be a bohemian vagabond gunman, the younger Walker-Lindh is ultimately responsible for his own actions.
But just what are his actions?
Many have portrayed him as a young idealist who so believed in his religion that he went to Afghanistan to help build a pure form of it, eschewing the ways of the West, and it is just western prejudice that castigate him for turning towards that in which he believes. But it is becoming more and more clear that he was not with the Taliban, but rather Al-Qaeda, an exporter of terror and war. He was trained at their camps, and he fought against India, the Afghan rebels, and America. It would be xenophobic to chastise him for moving to Yemen and learning the Koran. But it is not xenophobic to have a problem with him moving to Afghanistan and learning to field strip an AK-47, and work with bombs and poisons, as his interrogations have apparently revealed.
If Walker-Lindh was not captured at the uprising of Mazar e-Sharif, he may well have been sent back to America. Trained in the ways of destruction. He could have been a contender.
It appears that even after his capture he has been obstreperous towards the U.S, spreading disinformation about impending attacks. According to the 20 year old enemy infantryman, Phase 2 is imminent and Phase 3 will culminate with the complete destruction of the United States. Of course, one wonders why a foot soldier who had been with the movement for less than six months would be privy to these details, so it is pretty safe to assume he is lying through is teeth and only trying to reek a terror on his questioners approaching the order of his BO.
Many in America want John Walker-Lindh pardoned and sent home a free man. Terrorism, I guess their reasoning goes, is nothing more than an alternative lifestyle. But just what, exactly, would the treasonist, violently anti-American, American come home to?
My guess? Superstardom.
Lindh, upon his return, would be the first person to be on the cover of Newsweek, Soldier of Fortune, and High Times the same week.
America's obsession with bad guys, (The adoration of the patriciding Menendez brothers, John Wayne Gacey's hugely popular art exhibits, the fact that 54-year old celebrity decapitator OJ Simpson gets more women than I ever will, etc.) gives me reason to believe that JWL would be sporting his Calvin's on a Times Square Billboard or appearing on MTV as a guest V-jay before the last American leaves Khandahar airport.
The fact that he has held a gun will most likely preclude him from adorning the couch on Rosie O'Donnel's show, but he is just the type of hot potato that Bill Maher would love to have on Politically Correct. Picture him there with the usual triumvirate of hip liberal celebrity guests, shouting over one another in frantic agreement while the token conservative in the panel, no doubt someone unknown to Entertainment Tonight and with all the personality of cottage cheese, opines just enough to create fodder for the dismissive and sarcastic comments of the host and the other guests. The conservative will show just how "un-down" he is by proffering a poorly timed thumbs up while the "Artist formerly known as Sulyman" and the rest of the gang "raise the roof" in unison.
But, thankfully, early indications seem to suggest that JWL's triumphant US tour may not occur.
Military leaders who bring yesterday's tactics onto today's battlefield are accused of "fighting the last war". The trenches of WW1, the conventional strategies against an unconventional foe that characterize the early years of Vietnam, the helicopter warfare employed by the Soviets in Afghanistan even after the CIA injected shoulder fire missiles into to mix and rewrote the rules.
This time out the U.S. Military seems to be avoiding falling into the trap of using outdated paradigms. But it is certain members of the U.S. legal community who seem to be "fighting the last war". The decade of OJ Simpson, Monica Lewinsky, "expert witnesses" and artful dodging in depositions has formed a dogma amongst many Americans about the all encompassing prevalence of lawyers, litigation, and loopholes as a carte blanche excusing all bad behavior. The parents of the Al-Qaeda gunman and their attorney are bemoaning his lack of representation during his interrogations. (Should flak-jacketed public defenders be airlifted into the combat zone to provide pro bono council to all enemy fighters?) A human rights group has characterized the ineffective good cop/bad cop routine attempted by the 2 CIA operatives in Walker-Lindh's initial interrogation "psychological torture". And those who dismiss, out of hand, the concept of Military Tribunals for foreign combatants are, by default, calling for standard courts of law to be held for international mass murderers, where a door kicked in by a Marine could be deemed evidence of illegal search and seizure and a jury would have to suffer being stared down by Ossama bin Laden in order to find him guilty.
The paradigms of crime and punishment have changed since 9/11, and John Walker Lindh may be among the first casualty of the new realities wrought by his former colleagues on that terrible day.
But the world in which John's parents and attorneys reside is still one of due process, equal protection, and inalienable rights. It is the world that John left. It is the world that John fought, and it is the world that owes John nothing.
In the game that he has chosen to play, due process may terminate with a bullet in his brain.
(Mark Greaney handles international accounts for Memphis-based Sofamore Danek