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Ashcroft Answers Questons About Walker

Aired January 24, 2002 - 11:23   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to leave those hearings for just a moment and listen to Attorney General John Ashcroft. He was making a policy announcement. Right now, he's taking questions and answering questions about John Walker.

Let's listen in.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL GENERAL: We've issued a complaint within this case, and the complaint alleges that Walker knowingly and purposefully allied himself with terror, that he chose to embrace fanatics and his allegiance to them never faltered, not with the knowledge that they had murdered thousands of his countrymen, not with the knowledge that they were engaged in a war with the United States, and not, finally, in the prison uprising that took the life of CIA agent Johnny Spain.

At each of the crossroads, Walker faced a choice, and with each choice, he chose to ally himself with terrorists. Drawn to South Asia, Walker chose to train with terrorists. Trained as a terrorist, Walker chose more advanced instruction from Al Qaeda. Having trained with Al Qaeda, Walker chose to fight on the front lines with America's enemies. Our complaint, based on Walker's own words, is clear. Terrorists didn't compel John Walker to join with them. John Walker chose terrorists.

Walker was blessed to grow up in a country that cherishes freedom, freedom of speech, religious tolerance, political democracy, equality between men and women, and yet he chose to reject those values in favor of their antithesis, a regime that publicly and proudly advertised its mission to extinguish freedom, to enslave women, to deny education. John Walker Lindh chose to fight with the Taliban, to train with Al Qaeda, and to be led away -- to be led by Osama Bin Laden.

Now, our complaint is clear. John Walker chose to join terrorists, and he chose to waive his right to an attorney, both orally and in writing before his statement to the FBI. Mr. Walker will be held responsible in the courtroom for his choices.

QUESTION: Mr. Walker's attorney claims that the government has potentially prejudiced a jury by the kind of statements that you're making now about Walker's choices that he made. How do you respond to this complaint that too much is being said about Mr. Walker? ASHCROFT: The complaint filed by the United States of America in this case is the basis for the statements I have just made. And the complaint is part of his right to understand what the allegations of the United States are.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) is there a possibility here of abuse that someone could just frivolously claim they're being held in slavery and get assistance or a visa? What sort of protections are there against this abuse?

ASHCROFT: Well, our system is designed to be administered by talented and skilled individuals who assess the validity of all complaints for all visas.

And the granting of visas, obviously, is conditioned upon the accuracy, truthfulness and good faith of the individuals making application.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Walker's attorney indicated that his client asked for a lawyer about a week before he gave his statements to the FBI? Are you aware of any such requests? And if there was, did he change his mind when he waived his right to counsel?

ASHCROFT: Our complaint is clear: John Walker chose to join the terrorists, he wanted to kill Americans, and he chose to waive his right to an attorney both orally and in writing before his statement to the FBI, and Mr. Walker will be held responsible for those choices in court.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

ASHCROFT: I'm not going to try and anticipate or talk about all kinds of other circumstances. Our complaint is based upon facts that are alleged clearly in the complaint, that he chose to join the terrorists and that he made a choice both orally and in writing to waive his right to an attorney.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) unchartered waters. Here you have an American held 54 days, not charged, not given access to counsel. Is that part of the issue that we are confronted with here, that this was a case that's different that you've faced before?

ASHCROFT: We're eager to adjudicate this complaint in the courtroom where we believe Mr. Walker will be held responsible for his choices.

Thank you very much.

KAGAN: We've been listening to Attorney General John Ashcroft. He was making an appearance to make a policy announcement, and then took questions on John Walker, the 20-year-old American in the news today because he is back here in the U.S. and made his first appearance before a federal judge. We have some sketches to show you from our frequent contributor Bill Hennessy, who was in the courtroom as Walker made that appearance.

As you can tell, he looks very different from what we are used to seeing of him from the videotape that was shot of him in Afghanistan. His head has been shaved. His beard has been shaved. And as he appeared before the judge today, he was read the four criminal counts that he now faces. He asked if he understands them. He said he did. He was also asked, if convicted, he could spend rest of life in prison. He also said that he understood those charges.

Big issue that Attorney General Ashcroft was being asked about, whether or not the issue of John Walker being allowed to have counsel. He now has accepted the attorneys and the legal team that his parents have hired for him. The question now, why was he not allowed access before if he wanted legal counsel at that time? A lot of questions to be answered, and the legal road ahead for John Walker ahead is still indeed very long.

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