Bin Laden’s Gone. Can My Son Come Home?
By FRANK R. LINDH
ON the evening of May 1, we learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed. The following dawn, I left my house in the Bay Area to catch a bus to
I love my son. I enjoy our periodic visits and our weekly telephone calls, but this visit felt different. “If Bin Laden is dead,” I kept thinking, “why can’t John come home?”
A convert to Islam, John was found, unarmed and wounded, in a warlord’s fortress in northern
President George W. Bush called John a “Qaeda fighter.” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, inaccurately, that he had been captured “with an AK-47.” Attorney General John Ashcroft said John had “turned his back on our country and our values.” Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani suggested that John be put to death for treason; polls showed that many Americans agreed.
This was heartbreaking to me and John’s mother. The son we know is intelligent, spiritual and good-natured. He has a wry sense of humor. He is fluent in Arabic, and curious about the history of the world’s languages and cultures.
John was not running away from anything when he first went overseas. He had a passionate desire to embrace all aspects of Islam, including the Arabic language. He embarked on an unusual odyssey of learning and adventure with full support from his parents. He selected
In November 2000, John left
Like Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, John had volunteered for the army of a foreign government battling an insurgency. He thought he could help protect Afghan civilians against brutal attacks by the
Before 9/11, the Bush administration was not hostile to the Taliban; barely four months before the attacks it gave $43 million in humanitarian aid to
I was stunned when I learned that John had gone to
But John’s case was never about evidence. It was based purely on emotion — shock and anger over 9/11, compounded with a deep frustration that Bin Laden was able to escape from American forces. During the prison raid in which John was captured, another young American, a C.I.A. officer named Johnny Micheal Spann, was fatally shot. Mr. Spann’s father has pushed for harsh punishment. I respect his grief, and his son’s heroism. But his belief that John somehow was responsible for, or could have prevented, the death of his son is mistaken.
In fact, in a plea deal in October 2002, the government dropped its most serious accusations against John, including terrorism and conspiracy to kill Americans. John acknowledged only that he had aided the Taliban and carried weapons. For this, he accepted a term of 20 years’ imprisonment. He turned 30 in February.
On May 2 and 3, I had two long visits with John. He remains idealistic and spiritual, and a practicing Muslim. He once told me he thought Bin Laden had done more harm to Islam than anyone in history. As I said farewell, we both felt a sense of closure. I saw grief in his eyes over the pain he has caused himself and his family.
John was a scapegoat, wrongly accused of terrorism at a moment when our grieving country needed someone to blame because the real terrorist had gotten away. Now that Bin Laden is dead, I hope President Obama, and the American people, can find it in their hearts to release John, and let him come home. Ten years is enough.
Frank R. Lindh is a lawyer.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs