American Taliban Spared Death Penalty

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - The American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh will be spared the death penalty, but could get life in prison if convicted of aiding and abetting terrorists, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

The charges against him include conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals overseas, providing material support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations including al Qaeda, and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban.

"We have not overlooked attacks on Americans when they were made by foreign nationals. We cannot overlook attacks on America when they come from the United States citizens," US Attorney General Ashcroft said Tuesday at a press conference.

"As set forth in the complaint, the charges filed against Walker are based on voluntary statements made by Walker himself," Ashcroft said.

He added that Walker "knowingly and purposely allied himself with certain terrorists organizations," and that he did so with the knowledge that "they had murdered thousands of his countrymen."

Walker, Ashcroft said, did not falter in allegiance to the terrorists even "with the knowledge that they were engaged in a war with the United States and not finally in the prison uprising that took the life of CIA agent Johnny Spann."

The 20-year-old was captured while fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan in November. He was taken into custody by U.S. forces after a prison uprising in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif and has been held on the attack ship USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.

The Justice Department had said possible charges against Walker could include treason, which carries the death penalty. That charge was considered difficult to because of the technical requirements of proving the charges.

Prosecutors would need two witnesses to each act of treason, which may be impossible to find in Afghanistan.

Government sources speaking on the situation on condition of anonymity said the charges would be brought in U.S. District Court in suburban Alexandria, Va., where terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui is being tried to conspiracy in the Sept. 11 attacks.

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