At least three people claiming to be Americans emerge from defeated Taliban units

By Matt Kelley

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – U.S. forces have questioned an American found among Taliban fighters but haven’t decided what will be done with him, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

U.S. and allied Afghan forces are holding three former Taliban fighters who claim to be American citizens. One of them, an injured man who identified himself as John Walker, is receiving medical treatment from U.S. forces after emerging from a battle-scarred fortress in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Walker, 20, who converted to Islam when he was 16, suffered grenade and bullet wounds, CNN reported. His parents identified him from video and photographs as John Philip Walker Lindh of Fairfax, Calif.

“We are talking to him but, no decision’s reached what we’ll do with him,” Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Tuesday.

Walker’s father, Frank Lindh, said he had hired a lawyer and wanted to visit his son, who had studied Arabic and Islam in Yemen and Pakistan. “We’re anxious to hear from the government,” he said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show.

On CNN’s “Larry King Live” program Monday night, Lindh said it appeared his son had been a combatant with the Taliban. “He’s really not much more than a boy,” he said.

“We want to give him a big hug. I also want to give him maybe a little kick in the butt for not telling me what he was up to and for not getting my permission, because I would not have given him permission to go to Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, Clarke said the number of Marines at a base in southern Afghanistan has grown to 1,300. The troops have taken over an air base south of the last major Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

Two other people who claim to be Americans are under the control of the northern alliance, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official knew few details about these two, whose identities have not been established and whose physical condition could not be determined.

Asked about Walker, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could not say whether Walker is considered a prisoner of war or whether he would be returned to the United States.

“The only thing that I can say about this individual is that this is somebody who claims to be an American citizen,” he said. “That claim is being respected for the moment, until facts can be established.”

Lindh said he was concerned about some statements his son reportedly made supporting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Taliban’s resistance to the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign.

“I don’t know of any information that he’s done anything wrong,” Lindh said. “I hope he could be debriefed and come home.”

The U.S. government could find it difficult to successfully bring criminal charges against Americans fighting for the Taliban.

A case against Walker “would be a tricky thing to prosecute because the Constitution requires two eyewitnesses to the act of treason,” University of North Carolina law professor Eric Muller said. “I would think somebody in the Justice Department will have to take a very careful look at this.” Also, President Bush’s military tribunals are limited to foreign nationals, not U.S. citizens.

Another possible avenue would be to charge American Taliban fighters with seditious conspiracy, which has a lower standard of proof. That’s one of the charges that radical Islamic cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who plotted to blow up New York City landmarks, was convicted on in 1995. One of Abdel-Rahman’s sons was captured while fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

On the 58th day of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, which Bush undertook in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. officials said American special operations forces had moved into northeastern Afghanistan near the Tora Bora mountain base where Osama bin Laden may be hiding.

The officials said the U.S. special forces were working with local Afghans to collect information they hope will lead them to bin Laden and his top lieutenants. U.S. special forces have been operating in most parts of Afghanistan for several weeks, but U.S. officials had not previously disclosed their presence near Tora Bora, which veteran Afghan fighters describe as an impregnable fortress.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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