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The Capture of John Walker Lindh: A Marine's Mother Remembers

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Listening this morning to Democracy Now! brought back a flood of memories which I would prefer to have forgotten. Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh were being interviewed. If you recall they are the parents of John Phillip Walker Lindh who was captured in Afghanistan on November 25, 2001. Lindh, who is a US citizen, was crucified immediately in the media as being the "American Taliban."


He was 20 years old, and officially converted to Islam in 1997, travelled to Yemen to study the Qur'an, and returned to the US in 1999. He then went to Pakistan via Yemen in 2000, to study further at a madrassa.

When Lindh was "captured" by the Afghan Northern Alliance forces, they were also working with CIA special operatives and an elite Marine Corps Unit assigned to work in the foothills searching for bin Laden. The reason I know this is because my son was there. He participated in Lindh's capture and in the subsequent battle when the "Taliban" prisoners at the military garrison, Qala-i-Jangi, near Mazar-e Sharif, became the scene of an uprising. One CIA officer, Johnny "Mike" Spann, was killed, along with other members of the CIA and military.

I remember the phone call I received in the early morning hours from the Marine Corps base "Camp Rhino." I got used to the 3 AM calls when my son would return from his "hunting" missions and tell me every last detail of trying to capture bin Laden. But this call was different. I heard the entire story of what ensued with the fight and detention of the "American Taliban."

If you look through the Wikipedia entry on "John Walker Lindh" you will note that a reference is made that his captors did not know who Lindh was because he refused to speak English, barely spoke at all, and when he did, he spoke Arabic, which he was fluent in. The Wiki entry also says that if "he had only told them he was an American, he would have received better treatment." This is a downright lie. Those marines and CIA operatives knew the moment he was captured that he was an American citizen. I was also told about how he was thrown on the back of a marine corps truck, with the marines guarding him, and others they had grabbed.

During this conversation, my son told me how they had been working with the northern alliance bombing caves and hunting for bin Laden. The 15th MEU, a special operations battalion that drove deep into Afghanistan, was the first of its kind. Marines have always been trained to deploy on the beach and be the first fighting force to open the way for the Army. However, the MEU's, Marine Expeditionary Unit, were trained for land fighting, and have vehicles that travel on all types of terrain and can move far inside a Country's borders.

On November 25th this MEU, and specifically my son's platoon, Javelin Company, was operating deep inside Afghanistan. I knew exactly what he was doing, and was scared to death. Working in downtown Manhattan when the Twin towers fell, then living with the invasion of Afghanistan, it was an extremely difficult time for me as a mother and concerned human to fully grasp what was really happening around me. I think that most of the world, and people in this Country, felt the same way. We were shocked into fear, hatred, paralysis, and confusion.

My son told me that they took Lindh on the truck back to Camp Rhino and put him in a shipping container. He also mentioned that Lindh was wounded. I was horrified at this thought. I remember asking him if they took care of his wounds. He laughed and said "no way." I think that at this moment my senses were "awakened" to the brutality of this invasion. There were times when I did question the "mission" in Afghanistan, but always felt that if bin Laden was responsible, then he must be caught and brought here for trial. Day by day I waited for this to happen, and day by day I realized that this would never happen.

Not only did the marines at Camp Rhino place Lindh in a shipping container, they taunted him. He was kept in their naked, with no food or blanket. He was sprayed with water and at night, when it got down to less than 20 degrees, he was left alone to freeze. He cried out to his captors, but his cries went unanswered. He was being "punished" not for necessarily taking up arms against Americans, but because the marines felt he was a traitor who left America to become a Muslim. He was their age, 20 years old, the same as my son and most others who were there. They hated him very deeply and could not nor would not show him compassion. I had sent my son a blanket and warm clothing for the cold nights in Afghanistan. When he told me about Lindh, I asked him if he would give him his blanket. He said flat out "no."

The next day my brain really couldn't process all this information and really wished that I didn't receive that call, or any calls for that matter in this war. It is inhuman to think you can call a mother or anyone at 3 AM from a damn warzone, and expect them to go to work the next day all bright and happy. At that moment, I became completely disgusted with the Marine Corps, what had happened with my son, and what our Country was doing.

As the public learned about the "American Taliban" I watched John Lindh's parents in their anguish. I wanted to reach out to them and tell them what I had heard, and wanted to apologize for the abject brutality he was subjected to. I was completely humiliated for myself and anyone else who thought that this young boy who believed in a religion that had now become our enemy, was anything but a human being that deserved to be innocent until proven guilty. Another month went by, with more phone calls and discussions.

Interestingly prior to the month of November, 2001, I received a letter from the Dept. of the Navy inviting me on a "Tiger Cruise." Since marines and sailors travel together on ships, the Navy had instituted a program for family members to spend time with them and learn how they live and work aboard a naval vessel.

I was invited to meet my son in Honolulu, Hawaii the last holiday week in December, and travel back with him into the port of San Diego aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu. He was returning from his deployment aboard this ship, and I was excited to see him after suffering through the horror of his time at war. So I spent 8 days with 3,000 marines and 1,500 sailors on a ship the size of a small state.

It was a wonderful reunion and seeing my son in one piece was the best holiday present I have ever received. But I was also deeply troubled by what I saw and heard. It was another world, another dimension. I didn't know it when I embarked, but deep in the bowels of the ship was their prisoner John Walker Lindh. I had heard it a few days after I had been on board. Sitting in the "mess hall" or cafeteria like I call it, with a table full of combat hardened marines, I heard more stories of the "American Taliban" or many other names that I dare not repeat. These kids despised him on every level you could imagine. They truly wanted to get at him.

At one meal, can't remember which terrible one it was, a young female marine MP, with a sidearm, came over to the table. She was blond, pretty but tough. I will never forget her, ever. She stood there with a tray of food. The marines I was sitting with yelled at her. "You taking him food?" I was puzzled. She stood there so strait and somber and said "Yes. And he is my prisoner." " None of you will ever get to him, nor will he be mistreated under my watch." They all scoffed at her, but showed her tremendous respect. I asked who she was referring to and they told me.

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http:/elaine.worldcantwait.net

Anti-war activist, mother of three combat tour US marine; member of the national steering committee for the "World Can't Wait" www.worldcantwait.net and member of Military Families Speak Out (my opinions do not reflect the national position of MFSO).
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Having once been a 21 year old drill instructor, I... by Roger on Friday, Jul 31, 2009 at 4:41:51 PM
[[LINDH]]... by Allan Wayne on Saturday, Aug 1, 2009 at 3:15:20 AM
Thank you, Elaine.After linking to and reading abo... by GL Rowsey on Saturday, Aug 1, 2009 at 7:19:18 AM
Thank you again. Elaine. The story ends as well as... by GL Rowsey on Saturday, Aug 1, 2009 at 7:46:48 AM
This type of article is where OEN excells. ... by WML on Sunday, Aug 2, 2009 at 10:19:14 AM
And he was saying all the same stuff those grunts ... by John Little on Saturday, Aug 1, 2009 at 11:24:45 AM