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‘American Taliban’ Waived His Rights to Sue for Abuse, Too

In my quest to find former “enemy combatants” who were required to agree not to sue the United States for unlawful indefinite detention and mistreatment as a condition of their release, I’ve found another one: John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban.”

In my last post, I wrote about how Yaser Hamdi, the former Guantanamo prisoner and U.S. citizen picked up in Afghanistan and held for years without charge, first at Gitmo and then in the United States, promised not to bring any claims against the United States and agreed to give up his U.S. citizenship in order to be released to Saudi Arabia. Although he never pled guilty to anything, and he consistently denied that he was a member of the Taliban or fighting the United States, Hamdi did sign an agreement saying that he “waives, forfeits, relinquishes and forever discharges” the United States and its agents from any claims of violating U.S. or international law.

After all, as his lawyer at the time, Geremy Kamens, told me earlier today, “when people are incarcerated, they want to get out and they’re willing to give up a lot of things.” Still, the U.S. government never asks ordinary criminal defendants in criminal cases to waive the right to sue for mistreatment, Kamens said, based on his experience as a federal public defender.

Well, in the case of John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old from affluent Marin County, Calif., the government did just that. In addition to providing for a 20-year prison sentence, the agreement Lindh signed also included the following statement:

The defendant agrees that this agreement puts to rest his claims of mistreatment by the United States military, and all claims of mistreatment are withdrawn. The defendant acknowledges that he was not intentionally mistreated by the U.S. military.

In other words, “say what we tell you to and forgo your right to sue us and we’ll cut you a deal.”

Lindh also reportedly faced restrictions on his ability to speak publicly about his experiences, though those restrictions remain secret.

While 20 years might not seem like such a great deal right now, recall that Lindh was captured in 2001, early in President Bush’s “war on terror”, when the nation was in a panic and the “American Taliban” was being vilified. The United States had charged him in a lengthy 10-count criminal indictment with, among other things, providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals.

In the end, Lindh pled guilty to one count of supplying services to the Taliban and a charge of carrying weapons while fighting the Northern Alliance. And he waived his right to ever claim that he’d been mistreated.

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