John Phillip Walker Lindh (born February 9, 1981) is an American citizen who was captured in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom while fighting for the Taliban. His capture made worldwide headlines, and the media dubbed him the "American Taliban."
Walker prefers to go by the name "John Walker" today, although during his time in Muslim areas, he also went by Suleyman al-Faris. He is named for John Lennon, whom his parents liked a great deal.
Walker was born in Washington, DC to parents Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh. He was baptized Catholic and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, until he was ten years old and his family moved to San Anselmo, California in Marin County. In 1997, at age 16, Walker converted to Islam. In 1998, he traveled to Yemen for about ten months, to learn Arabic so that he would be able to read the Qur'an in its original language. He returned to the United States in 1999, living with his family for about eight months before returning to Yemen in February 2000, whence he left for Pakistan to study at an austere madrassa (Islamic school). He is believed to have entered Afghanistan in the spring of 2001.
Walker was first captured on November 25, 2001, by Northern Alliance forces and questioned by CIA agent Mike Spann and another agent at a prison near Mazar-e Sharif. Later that day, the prison was the scene of a violent uprising, in which Spann was killed along with hundreds of Taliban fighters. Walker took refuge in a basement bunker after taking a bullet in the upper-right thigh, hiding with other Taliban members. He was found seven days later on December 2, 2001, when Northern Alliance forces diverted an irrigation stream, flushing out Walker and the other survivors. Walker initially gave his name as "Abdul Hamid" but later gave his real name.
Upon capture, Walker signed confession documents while he was held by the United States Marine Corps on USS Peleliu and informed his interrogators that he was not merely Taliban but al Qaeda. John Ashcroft, on January 16, 2002, announced that Lindh would be tried in the US. He was then flown to the United States on January 23, 2002. His defense attorney claimed to the press that he asked for a lawyer repeatedly before being interviewed but he didn't get one, and that "highly coercive" prison conditions forced Walker to waive his right to remain silent.
On February 5, 2002, Walker was indicted by a federal grand jury on ten charges, including conspiring to support terrorist organizations and conspiring to murder Americans. The charges carry three life terms and 90 additional years in prison. On February 13, 2002, he pleaded "not guilty" to all ten charges.
In a surprise move, however, on July 15, 2002, Walker pled guilty to two charges — serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons. The judge asked Walker to say, in his own words, what he was admitting to. "I plead guilty," he said. "I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to December. In the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades. I did so knowingly and willingly knowing that it was illegal."
In exchange, the U.S. government agreed to drop all other charges. Lindh received a 20-year sentence without parole, October 4, 2002. Judge T.S. Ellis formally imposed the sentence. For his part, Walker dropped claims that he had been mistreated or tortured by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and aboard two military ships during December 2001 and January 2002.
Walker's attorney, James Brosnahan, said Walker would be eligible for release in 17 years, with good behavior. This is because, although there is no parole under federal law, Lindh's sentence could be reduced by 15 percent, or three years, for good behavior. In addition, Walker agreed to cooperate "fully, truthfully and completely" with both military intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the terrorism investigation, and any profits Walker might make from telling his story will be taken by the government.
Since January 2003, Lindh has been at a medium-security prison in Victorville, northeast of Los Angeles. On March 3, 2003, Lindh was tackled by inmate Richard Dale Morrison who hit him while screaming obscenities before running off. Lindh suffered a bruised forehead. On July 2, 2003, Morrison was charged with a misdemeanor count of assault.