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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

John Walker Lindh Makes First Court Appearance Yesterday

Aired January 25, 2002 - 07:08   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: John Walker Lindh is being held this morning at the Alexandria, Virginia detention center, just a short distance from the federal courthouse where he made his first appearance yesterday. The Taliban American's next court date is not until February. But the public posturing by prosecutors and defense attorneys has already begun.

Are we getting a preview of what will happen before the judge and jury? Well, joining us now are two men that know the answers to some of those questions, Lawrence Goldman of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Jason Brown, formerly with the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of New York. Good to see the two of you.

JASON BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: You've often fought against each other in court.

BROWN: We have.

LAWRENCE GOLDMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: We have.

ZAHN: All right, behave today.

BROWN: We'll do our best.

ZAHN: First of all, Lawrence, let's talk a little bit about what John Walker's defense attorney set out yesterday. Basically he is accusing the government of denying his client access to counsel. Can he prove that?

GOLDMAN: Well, there was no question, he did. He made it very careful record. He did it publicly. For weeks he was trying to get in touch with Walker, writing the government, going on television, begging them to let him see him. And he was refused.

So it's clear that at least from his side he was trying to get to see his client.

ZAHN: That's the salient phrase, at least from his side.

Jason, analyze this for us. The attorney general said yesterday in a late morning news conference, "John Walker chose to join the terrorists who 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."

BROWN: Well, obviously that's what the government will need to prove. But the issue is not whether his lawyer was trying to see him. The question is whether Mr. Walker knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel. The government says that it obtained those oral admissions and it got a written waiver and that really is all that the judge needs to look at.

GOLDMAN: Well...

ZAHN: Let's talk about these oral admissions for a second. I mean we already know that John Walker's attorney is reportedly going to ask that anything the FBI got out of John Walker be inadmissible in court.

GOLDMAN: This is an actual crucial aspect to the case. The case is built on John Walker's own words. That would make this kind of perverse if someone who we say is a heinous criminal, we say is totally believable, because we want, we, the government, wants the jury to believe everything John Walker says is gospel.

The issue is essentially if he did waive the right to attorney -- and he probably did sign something, I suspect the attorney general isn't making that up -- was it voluntary? Or was the constant questioning, the interrogation, the squalid conditions, the fear and everything surrounding him so horrible to him that he just signed the confession and gave statements just to get free. In legal terms were they voluntary or involuntary?

ZAHN: How big of a challenge is that for the prosecution...

BROWN: Well, it's...

ZAHN: Because one could argue that obviously the kid wasn't feeling too comfortable when he was talking with the FBI and there clearly was not a lawyer there.

BROWN: Well, typically defendants in that situation are uncomfortable. They're being questioned by the FBI under circumstances that they're not familiar with and they don't have a lawyer present, otherwise we wouldn't be engaged in this discussion now. That doesn't mean that his waiver of those rights was neither knowing nor voluntary. If that was so, one of these statements would ever be admissible.

ZAHN: So take us to the next step, then. What's going to happen? We've seen what the defense is laying out and we know what the prosecution's charges are.

BROWN: I think typically the first evidentiary hearing that one would have in a case like this would be a suppression hearing concerning those statements. If, in fact, the government is able to establish that they were obtained knowingly and voluntarily after a waiver by Mr. Walker, then the defense is going to think long and hard about whether it really wants to go to trial in a case like this...

GOLDMAN: I'm not so sure...

ZAHN: In addition to that, Lawrence, you also have the statements that John Walker made to, exclusively to CNN, with the British journalist Robert Pelton on tape...

GOLDMAN: But Robert Walker obviously...

ZAHN: ... shortly after his identity was discovered.

GOLDMAN: John Walker, he's talked too much. I mean from a lawyer's standpoint, you wanted to have retroactively shut him up. But the question is even the statements he made, do they prove the charges? They're rather narrow charges, was he trying to kill Americans? The fact that he's sitting there with the ragtag army at the time fleeing does not necessarily mean, it may or may not, that he's part of a group trying to kill Americans.

There were no Americans fighting in a hand to hand combat in this instance. And that's one of the things the government's going to have to prove even if his statements to Pelton are, come in, which they will.

ZAHN: That's a significant burden, isn't it?

BROWN: Well, mere presence is often a defense that attorneys try to come up with in situations where it looks pretty bad that a defendant was at a particular place at a particular time. That burden, even though the government bears the burden of proof, that burden on the defense to show mere presence is going to be pretty hard because he was in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban when presumably any reasonable person would have understood in that circumstance that America was at war.

ZAHN: Let's fast forward. Assuming there is trial time, will we see any conviction on any count?

BROWN: I think, based on what we've heard so far, and the government has repeatedly said that it has not publicly disclosed all of its evidence, which it would not typically in situations like this, and given the explosiveness of the charges against Mr. Walker, I think that the chances of a conviction are pretty good.

ZAHN: Lawrence, a quick answer to that?

GOLDMAN: I think the chances of a conviction are good given the fact that he's in a very conservative area. The government handpicked the venue. Northern Virginia gets conservative juries. With all the publicity and everything else, he's going to have a lot of trouble finding jurors who are sympathetic.

ZAHN: It's striking that two guys that often approach an issue from opposite sides of the bench are ending up with the same conclusion. Of course, let's see if there is a trial after all.

GOLDMAN: That shows how reasonable a prosecutor he was.

BROWN: Right. Thank you.

ZAHN: Lawrence and Jason, thank you both for your time this morning.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate your coming in.

Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Paula, thanks.

The journey that eventually brought John Walker Lindh to Afghanistan as a member of the Taliban began two years ago when he left the United States for Yemen to study Arabic and Islam. And for five or six weeks during the summer of 1998, John Walker Lindh and Michael Kleinman were roommates at the Yemen Language School.

Mr. Kleinman joins us this morning from Boston, Massachusetts, to share some of his recollections of this young man.

Nice to have you with us. Thank you.

MICHAEL KLEINMAN, LIVED WITH WALKER LINDH: Good morning.

CAFFERTY: Tell me a little about what you remember of your relationship with John Walker Lindh going back to that summer in 1998. What kind of a guy was he? What, how did you guys spend your time? What sticks out in your mind about him?

KLEINMAN: What really sticks out in my mind is just how serious he was. I mean for a 16 or 17-year-old American kid who is in a completely foreign environment -- I mean Senan (ph), Yemen were like nothing I'd ever seen -- he had this laser like devotion and focus on Islam. And to be perfectly frank, we didn't spend a whole lot of time together because with someone who is that involved and that serious about his own religious search, there really wasn't a lot of room for small talk.

CAFFERTY: Did he ever talk at all about his family or his parents?

KLEINMAN: No, I mean that was another interesting thing is we lived together for five weeks and I never once remember him talking about California, his parents, his family, where he came from. The closest that I ever came to that was one day I asked him why he had converted to Islam about six months before I met him. And as far as I remember, he simply began talking about how Islam was sort of the one true religion and sort of the path.

I got the feeling that he was searching for something, that he was searching for answers in some way and that Islam was, were the answers that felt most acceptable to him.

CAFFERTY: Tell me the story about the day that you guys went to change some money. It's an interesting snapshot, if you will, into maybe the way he had immersed himself in, or tried to, in this culture overseas.

KLEINMAN: And it also shows just his sort of, I guess, lack of restraint. Our second day there, someone from this language school where we were both studying took a bunch of students, including the two of us, to a nearby money changer so that we could change our dollars into Yemeni rials. And I think it was about one dollar equaled 130 rials. And usually when you're approached by a beggar in the street, which happened often, you give a rial or five rials.

Anyway, we changed money and we each had this huge wad of Yemeni cash. And immediately Yemenis started coming from all directions. We certainly didn't blend into Senan in any way, shape or form. John Walker took out this wad of cash and began peeling off 100 rial bills and handing them out. And this was a significant portion of what your Yemeni would earn in a day. It's as though someone was walking through Times Square handing out $200 to anyone who came up and asked.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

KLEINMAN: So immediately we attracted a large crowd and we became like a comet as we were heading back to the school. There was the administrator and a whole sort of group of us at the front and then John Walker. And

Stretching off a block, a block and a half behind him was an ever shifting, ever growing line of Yemenis, beggars and not...

CAFFERTY: Very strange.

KLEINMAN: ... who sort of saw an opportunity with the walking American ATM.

CAFFERTY: Were you...

KLEINMAN: And after...

CAFFERTY: Yes, let me switch you to something else quickly. Were you guys aware of Osama bin Laden, of al Qaeda, of the terrorist movement in the militant end of the Islamic religion while you were in Yemen in 1998?

KLEINMAN: Only peripherally. I mean there had been some instability and some kidnappings earlier in that summer. At the time they weren't directly connected to militant Islam.

CAFFERTY: Any opinions on what you think ought to happen to him in light of what he's done here?

KLEINMAN: I think he should certainly, I think he's responsible for his actions. In terms of whether I think he should spend the rest of his life in jail or not, I'm really waiting to watch the trial and see what evidence comes out.

CAFFERTY: All right, fair enough.

Mr. Kleinman, I appreciate you being on with us this morning. Thank you very much.

KLEINMAN: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Michael Kleinman joining us from Boston, former roommate of John Walker Lindh in Yemen.

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