Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2001 / 26 Kislev 5762

Philip Terzian

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The eccentricities of war -- EVERY war has its eccentric features -- British and German troops playing soccer on Christmas Day 1914; Japanese infantrymen emerging from the jungles in the 1970s -- and this one is no exception. One nomination for the distinction must be John Walker Lindh, alias Abdul Hamid, the 20-year-old Taliban warrior from Marin County, California.

Chief Justice John Marshall once said that, of all crimes, treason is the one that can best "excite and agitate the passions of men." How right he was. Since Mr. Lindh was flushed out of the prison stronghold at Mazar-e-Sharif, it has been impressive to observe the fury with which journalists (particularly of the female persuasion) have called for his head. The fact that he is a traitor, took up arms against the United States, and deserves the fate of the Lincoln conspirators and Ethel Rosenberg, seems a given to some of my colleagues. They cannot wait to bring him home in shackles and, as Judge Roy Bean used to say, give him a fair trial and hang him.

All I can say is: Be careful what you wish for. If I were a betting man, I would wager even odds that, six months from now, John Walker Lindh is as likely to be sitting down for an interview with Diane Sawyer as swinging from the yardarm. Moreover, the case for treason against this mixed-up youth is more complicated than it first appears.

To begin with, young Lindh joined the Taliban long before Sept. 11, and to fight for Pakistan against the Indians over Kashmir. This may strike us as peculiar, to be sure, but treasonous? There is a long tradition of Yanks crossing the border to fight, from American volunteers in the French Revolution to the Lafayette Escadrille (pre-1917 aviators in the Great War), the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War) and the Stern Gang (Jewish terrorists who assassinated the UN mediator in Palestine, Count Bernadotte).

Since his capture, Mr. Lindh seems to have expressed satisfaction with the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and the destruction of the World Trade Center. But once again, while his views may be repellant, they are not necessarily treasonous. If that were the case, John Ashcroft would be rounding up some of the better-known filmmakers, novelists, political scientists and all-round cultural jewels in our midst for saying the same thing.

Moreover, there is an argument that, having taken up arms in a foreign army, Lindh might have forfeited his U.S. citizenship -- which would make him a prisoner of war, not a traitor. Moreover, while the United States is unquestionably engaged in conflict, there has never been a congressional declaration of war. It is not difficult to imagine a court bogged down in voluminous debate on whether treason statutes would apply in such circumstances.

All of which leads to an inescapable conclusion: It would have been easier if Abdul Hamid had been killed in that prison revolt, rather than taken alive, because figuring out what to do with him will not be easy. And when it comes to treason, Americans tend to be more bloodthirsty in talk than practice. Of the famous Axis broadcasters, for example, William Joyce (aka Lord Haw Haw) was summarily hanged by the British for treason, despite the fact that he was of Irish parentage, and born in Brooklyn. By contrast, Tokyo Rose (Iva d'Aquino) served just a few years in prison and was later pardoned, while Ezra Pound spent a comfortable dozen years in the same mental hospital now inhabited by John Hinckley Jr.

President Bush, in his offhand manner, may be closer to the mark: He told reporters he had no idea, at the moment, what might happen to "that poor fellow." Every cause, even the worst, has its partisans, and Americans are scarcely immune to deplorable judgment. Peace activists used to make pilgrimages to Moscow to compare the United States unfavorably with the Soviet Union. Two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda once traveled to North Vietnam to express solidarity with its Stalinist regime, and strike a pose with an anti-aircraft gun -- perhaps the one that shot down John McCain.

As for John Walker Lindh he is, at age 20, no longer a child and responsible for his actions. But his upbringing startles me more than his truncated military career. A convert to Islam after reading Alex Haley's Autobiography of Malcolm X, his indulgent parents refrained from guiding his spiritual quest, and dispatched him at age 16 at his request to an Islamic academy in, of all places, Yemen! From there, in due course, they lost sight of their offspring until he was found, armed and bearded, in the Afghan maelstrom.

"I'd like to give him a big hug and a kick in the butt, too," his father told Larry King. Maybe Dad should assume the position as well.

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


Philip Terzian Archives

© 2001, The Providence Journal