A Walker Doesn't Walk


In his New York Times legal column, Adam Liptak notes that the plea deal struck by John Walker Lindh's lawyers, admired at the time because it spared him a potential life sentence, is looking crappier every day. Although Lindh joined the Taliban's war with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, he did not fight Americans or participate in terrorism. Yet he is being punished much more severely than men captured in Afghanistan around the same time whose offenses were as bad or worse. Yaser Hamdi, who also was accused of helping the Taliban, was held in military custody without charge from 2001 until 2004, when he was released and sent to Saudi Arabia after the Supreme Court ruled that he had a right to challenge his detention. David Hicks, the Australian who recently admitted providing material support to Al Qaeda, received a nine-month sentence from a military commission (on top of the five years he had already been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay) and will be free by the end of the year. In effect, Hamdi got three years and Hicks got six, while Lindh, probably the least culpable of the three, got 20. With credit for good behavior, he has 13 more years to serve. Since he signed a plea agreement, his only hope of getting out sooner is commutation.

Clearly, due process, which Lindh got but Hamdi and Hicks did not, is not the same as lenience.  In fact, judging from these cases, the conservatives who insist on military detention for people like Hicks and Hamdi are soft on terrorism.