Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Bathroom Renovations

My old bathroom

The Demolition starts

The door to the old toilet has been closed up

Sand cement


300 x 300 floor tiles

300 x 600 wall tiles

Thanks Mustapha =)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Some of My Best Friends Are Zionists

More Videos

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Israel's Missed Opportunities

Anwar Ibrahim
15 Sep 2011

Netanyahu's refusal to apologise over the Gaza flotilla killings shows that Israel is misreading the new Middle East.

In the prologue to The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, the author Josephus tells us that works written earlier by others "were marred by inaccuracies and prejudice" and that he "hopes to comfort the conquered and to deter others from attempting innovations".

Josephus' classic account is indeed a gripping story evoking powerful emotions and leaves us in no doubt as to where our sympathy lies: As the mighty Romans lord over the powerless Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem perpetuating cruelty and injustice, the story is as old as mankind. The oppression of human beings by fellow human beings is not a tale told by an idiot but by the chronicle of time. And as this history repeats itself, the once oppressed can easily become the oppressor. Where once it was the all-powerful Romans against the downtrodden Jews, today it is the high and mighty regime of Israel against the helpless Palestinians.

Adding to this state of oppression is the deadly flotilla attack by Israeli commandos under the Netanyahu government, in which nine people were killed - with at least seven having been handcuffed and shot in the back of the head. Yet the latest United Nations report on the attack has completely gone off the mark by concluding that Israel's blockade of Gaza was a legitimate act of self-defence.

According to the Palmer Commission's report, the legitimacy purportedly arises from Israel having to take necessary steps to protect its people from violent acts by Palestinian militants in Gaza, such as the firing of illegal rockets into Israel.

While no one condones violent acts that threaten the security of the people of Israel, the purported rationale for self-defence in this case flies against the facts, the most telling of which is that a unilateral ceasefire by Hamas had already been in place since early 2009. Bereft of this pretext, the entire edifice for the perpetuation of deadly force by Israel crumbles.

But that is cold comfort for the 1.5 million Palestinians being incarcerated in Gaza, who are now at the mercy of Israel's land and naval blockade, which continues to deny them their right to move freely within and between all countries. Sanctioning such a military siege against a helpless civilian population is to turn the global rule of law on its head. And this is a community that has already been so dispossessed. As Edward Said once said, few national groups have been stripped of their humanity in the eyes of the world more blatantly than ordinary Palestinian men and women.

The attack on the humanitarian flotilla can neither be sanctioned nor rationalised. Apart from violating international maritime law, it was an act of ruthless aggression against an innocent party. No sovereign government can allow such a transgression to take place with impunity.

When two Israeli soldiers were captured by Hezbollah, Israel invaded Lebanon. Nine Turkish citizens have been brutally killed in international waters, and no one should expect Turkey to sleep over the death of its citizens. One of those killed was also an American citizen, the 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, about whom the Obama administration has kept silent. Turkey is therefore right in unequivocally rejecting the UN report and all attempts to justify the military siege of Gaza as legal.

Netanyahu's announcement that Israel will not apologise to Turkey demonstrates his dereliction of responsibilities and a particular callousness towards a nation that used to be a military ally. He is completely misreading the dynamic of the new Middle East, in which justice, not oppression and authoritarianism, will shape history.

More significantly, it has missed a golden opportunity to further the prospects of peace through an enhanced collaboration with democratic Turkey under Prime Minister Erdogan. There is no better time than now, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring, for all parties to move towards a more enduring peace in the Middle East driven by universal ideals for freedom, democra
cy and justice.

Anwar Ibrahim

Anwar Ibrahim is currently opposition leader of Malaysia and was formerly the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Read the post for which Derfner was fired: ‘The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror’

by PHILIP WEISS on AUGUST 29, 2011

Below (I believe) is the post that Larry Derfner published on his blog on August 21 but has since removed that resulted in his firing by the Jerusalem Post. I'm also publishing Derfner's apology for this post following the original post. (I found the original at Alice in Wonder-Land. Thanks to James North and Shmuel).
The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror. [link to Derfner's site doesn't work anymore]
I think a lot of people who realize that the occupation is wrong also realize that the Palestinians have the right to resist it – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis, especially when Israel is showing zero willingness to end the occupation, which has been the case since the Netanyahu government took over (among other times in the past).
But people don’t want to say this, especially right after a terror attack like this last one that killed eight Israelis near Eilat. And there are lots of good reasons for this reticence, such as: You don’t want to further upset your own countrymen when they are grieving, you don’t want to say or write anything that could be picked up by Israel’s enemies and used as justification for killing more of us. (These are good reasons; fear of being called a traitor, for instance, is a bad reason.)
But I think it’s time to overcome this reticence, even at the cost of enflaming the already enflamed sensitivities of the Israeli public, because this unwillingness to say outright that Palestinians have the right to fight the occupation, especially now, inadvertently helps keep the occupation going.
When we say that the occupation is a terrible injustice to the Palestinians, but then say that Palestinian terror/resistance is a terrible injustice to Israel, we’re saying something that’s patently illogical to anyone but a pacifist, and there aren’t many pacifists left, certainly not in Israel. The logical, non-pacifist mind concludes that both of those statements can’t be true – that if A is hurting B and won’t stop, then B damn sure has the right to hurt A to try to make him stop. But if everybody, not only the Right but the Left, too, is saying that B, the Palestinians, don’t have the right to hurt A, the Israelis, then the logical mind concludes that Israel must not be hurting the Palestinians after all, the occupation must not be so bad, the occupation must not be hurting the Palestinians at all - because if it was, they would have the right to hurt us back, andeverybody agrees that they don’t. So when they shoot at us or fire rockets at us, it’s completely unprovoked, which gives us the right, the duty, to bash them and bash them until they stop – and anybody who tries to deny us that right doesn’t have a leg to stand on, so we’re just going to keep right on bashing them. And when the Palestinians complain about the occupation, we Israelis can honestly say we don’t know what they’re talking about.
This, I’m convinced, is how the Left’s ritual condemnations of terror are translated in the Israeli public’s mind – as justification for the occupation and an iron-fist military policy.
But if, on the other hand, we were to say very forthrightly what many of us believe and the rest of us suspect – that the Palestinians, like every nation living under hostile rule, have the right to fight back, that their terrorism, especially in the face of a rejectionist Israeli government, is justified – what effect would that have? A powerful one, I think, because the truth is powerful. If those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t. And that’s not easy for a nation that sanctifies the right to self-defense; a nation that elected Irgun leader Menachem Begin and Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister.
But while I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us, I don’t want them to use it, I don’t want to see Israelis killed, and as an Israeli, I would do whatever was necessary to stop a Palestinian, oppressed or not, from killing one of my countrymen. (I also think Palestinian terrorism backfires, it turns people away from them and generates sympathy for Israel and the occupation, so I’m against terrorism on a practical level, too, but that’s besides the point.) The possibility that Israel’s enemies could use my or anybody else’s justification of terror for their campaign is a daunting one; I wouldn’t like to see this column quoted on a pro-Hamas website, and I realize it could happen.
Still, I don’t think Hamas and their allies need any more encouragement, so whatever encouragement they might take from me or any other liberal Zionist is coals to Newcastle. What’s needed very badly, however, is for Israelis to realize that the occupation is hurting the Palestinians terribly, that it’s driving them to try to kill us, that we are compelling them to engage in terrorism, that the blood of Israeli victims is ultimately on our hands, and that it’s up to us to stop provoking our own people’s murder by ending the occupation. And so long as we who oppose the occupation keep pretending that the Palestinians don’t have the right to resist it, we tacitly encourage Israelis to go on blindly killing and dying in defense of an unholy cause.
And by tacitly encouraging Israelis in their blindness, I think we endanger their lives and ours, their country and ours, much more than if we told the truth and got quoted on Hamas websites.
There’s no time for equivocation anymore, if there ever was. The mental and moral paralysis in this country must be broken. Whoever the Palestinians were who killed the eight Israelis near Eilat last week, however vile their ideology was, they were justified to attack. They had the same right to fight for their freedom as any other unfree nation in history ever had. And just like every harsh, unjust government in history bears the blame for the deaths of its own people at the hands of rebels, so Israel, which rules the Palestinians harshly and unjustly, is to blame for those eight Israeli deaths – as well as for every other Israeli death that occurred when this country was offering the Palestinians no other way to freedom.
Writing this is not treason. It is an attempt at patriotism.
Here is Derfner's apology on his blog, on August 26:
I have an apology to make for “The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror,” which I posted here and on Facebook on Sunday. I didn’t mean to say anything “good” about Palestinian terror against Israelis – I see nothing good in it whatsoever, and I thought I made that clear, but I see now that I didn’t.
I wrote that because of the occupation, Palestinians are “justified” in attacking, even killing Israelis, that they have the “right” to do so. Later on I stressed that I didn’t wantthem to kill my countrymen, and that I would do anything necessary to stop it. I meant those two points to show that I wasn’t “for” terrorism, that while I thought the occupation justified it, that didn’t mean I supported it. But I see now that the distance from “justified” to “support” is way, way too short – and I am as far away as anybody can be from supporting attacks on Israel and Israelis.
Writing that the killing of Israelis was justified and a matter of right took a vile image and attached words of seeming approval to it. This, I’m afraid, produced an “obscene” effect, as one critic wrote. I don’t want to write obscenity about Israel. I didn’t mean to, and I deeply regret it.
I meant, instead, to shock Israelis and friends of Israel into seeing how badly we’re hurting the Palestinians by denying them independence: It’s so bad that it’s helping drive them to try to kill us. This is something I believe, something liberal Israelis and friends of Israel believe, and I wrote that if we were to start saying so publicly, it might force other Israelis to finally confront the reality of what we’re doing to the Palestinians, and thereby get them to see that it’s wrong and must stop.
My intention was to shock people into recognition, but I ended up shocking many of them into revulsion, and twisting what I wanted to say into something I didn’t and don’t mean at all. 
What I mean is this: The occupation does not justify Palestinian terror. It does, however, provoke it. Palestinians do not have the right to attack or kill Israelis. They, do, however, have the incentive to, and part, though not all, of that incentive is provided them by the occupation. I believe that if Israel gives the Palestinians their independence, we have enough military power to neutralize whatever leftover incentive they would have to attack us. So my purpose with regard to Palestinian terror against Israelis is not to legitimize it, God forbid, but to end it.
Again, I regret what I wrote on Sunday. I apologize to everyone who was offended by it, and I apologize to my countrymen.  The post is no longer on my blog; I’ve taken it down.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anti-Arab racism in Israel


RetweeOriginal Post:

Eli Ungar-Sargon writes in The Electronic Intifada about a survey of Jewish Israeli racism and the video above:
We began our survey in February 2011 and completed it in early March. On the Israeli side, we interviewed a total of 250 Jewish Israelis in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Jerusalem and Beersheba. For this part of the survey I conducted the interviews myself from behind the camera in Hebrew. On the Palestinian side, we interviewed a total of 250 Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron. (Despite multiple attempts, we were unable to procure permission to enter the Gaza Strip.) Here, we collaborated with local journalist Mohammad Jaradat who, using my questions, conducted the interviews in Arabic.
The questions we asked pertained to a number of sensitive political topics and the idea was to get people to talk long enough to detect if there was any racism at play in their answers. In sociological terms, we were engaged in qualitative analysis, but unlike typical qualitative interviews, we spent minutes, not hours with our subjects. Our survey is not exhaustive and our method was very simple. We went to public places and asked people to talk to us on camera. In designing the questions, I set out to distinguish actual racism from conflict-based animosity. That is, to allow for the possibility that Israelis might exhibit animosity towards Palestinians without being racist and to allow the same on the Palestinian side in reverse.
The very first question we asked of Jewish Israelis was the extremely broad “What do you think about Arabs?” It is only reasonable to expect that people who harbor anti-Arab sentiment would mask their feelings when answering such a direct question on camera. Most people responded to this question with some variation of “They are people,” although we were surprised that a sizable minority used the opportunity to launch into anti-Arab diatribes.

One of the most disturbing trends that we noticed was the strong correlation between age and anti-Arab sentiment. The majority of Israeli teenagers that we spoke to expressed unabashed and open racism towards Arabs. Statements like “I hate them,” or “they should all be killed” were common in this age group.
When looking over the data, we divided the respondents into three groups: those who were neutral about Arabs; those who were positive about them; and those who expressed negative attitudes. Amongst the responses, 60 percent were neutral, 25 percent negative and 15 percent positive.
Read the entire piece here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

McDonald's Hamburger Recipe

Here is a pdf of all of McDonalds Recipes. From Cheeseburgers, quarter pounders to Big Macs and fillet-o-fishes

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Eyewitness to Judaization

Eyewitness to Judaization (I saw a soldier strike a young boy for walking on a road for Jews)


Matt Berkman lately returned from a a two-week delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories organized by Interfaith Peace-Builders. The U.S. Middle East Project has just published Berkman's important account of what he saw by email.
Jerusalem effectively consists of two cities, one Jewish, one Arab. Whereas these cities were at one point geographically distinct—Jews living in West Jerusalem, Palestinians in East Jerusalem—the Palestinian half of the city has lately seen its ethnic homogeneity rent by the construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, a process ongoing since the city was conquered in 1967. These Jewish settlements—illegal under international law—are clean, affluent-looking housing complexes that are well serviced by the Greater Jerusalem municipality. The Palestinian neighborhoods whose physical and social contiguity the Jewish settlements fragment, on the other hand, are visibly underserviced and neglected. Traveling through them, I found these areas to be overcrowded and littered with trash; the roads were unpaved, the schools few and derelict. A visual staple of the Arab neighborhoods was their black rooftop water tanks, used to offset the insufficient level of water pressure allotted them by the city. 
The reason for the overcrowding in these neighborhoods is that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to procure building permits anywhere in Jerusalem. Permits are arbitrarily denied or left indefinitely in bureaucratic limbo. Palestinian neighborhoods are also forbidden to expand beyond their present boundaries, which have been the same since 1967. The surrounding land (and this goes for all Arab villages and cities in Israel) was nationalized after 1948 and turned over to the dispensation of the Jewish National Fund, which does not sell or lease land to non-Jews. If a Palestinian family wants to expand their home or build a new one on a vacant lot, they must do so illegally, or not at all. If they build illegally, they risk having their homes demolished on short notice (often they are given ten minutes to vacate their possessions before the bulldozers arrive). That is why the landscape of East Jerusalem is riddled with the husks of demolished Arab homes. Jewish neighborhoods and settlements, on the other hand, have no problem purchasing land or receiving expedited permits. 
This systematic discrimination, along with discrimination in the provision of municipal services, cannot be seen as other than a calculated policy of slow-motion ethnic cleansing. The goal is evidently to immiserate Arabs until they leave Jerusalem. 
Although Israel formally annexed Jerusalem after 1967, the Palestinians that live there, unlike Palestinians residing within Israel’s internationally recognized borders, are not Israeli citizens. They have no citizenship. They are legally "residents" of Jerusalem, which entitles them to certain economic benefits like subsidized healthcare, but they cannot vote in Israel's parliamentary elections nor do they have passports or other national identity documents. Traveling outside of Israel, except to the West Bank, is an arduous process for them that requires multiple authorizations. Moreover, their residency (and accompanying benefits) can be revoked if they are absent from Jerusalem for a period of three years. On our delegation, we heard reports of Arab Jerusalemites who have studied abroad only to come back and find that their right to live in the city of their birth has been revoked. The same goes for those caught residing in the suburbs beyond Jerusalem’s city limits, something Arab residents are often forced to do due to the overcrowding. The IDF launches periodic night raids in order to prove that these Palestinians are living outside the city, so that their residency can be revoked.
Although the notion of partitioning Jerusalem is likely defunct thanks to the proliferation of Jewish settlements, there do still remain small concentrations of Arab residents around the Old City that could potentially serve as a truncated Palestinian capital in the event of a two-state solution. For this reason, certain radical groups of settlers have been seizing or purchasing buildings in the heart of densely populated Arab neighborhoods in order to create a Jewish demographic foothold in these areas and, in this way, prevent partition. These settler dwellings are prominent for their Israeli flags and razor-wire ramparts. We saw several of them, and attended a weekly protest against one such cluster of settlements in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where using Ottoman-era documents of dubious authenticity a settler group recently secured the legal eviction of several Palestinian families that had been living in homes there since the 1950s. These houses were given to the families by the United Nations and the Jordanian government in compensation for homes in West Jerusalem from which they had been expelled by Zionist militias in 1948. Recently, however, an Israeli court ruled in favor of a settler group that claimed to hold the original deeds to these homes. The state then evicted the Palestinian residents and the settlers moved in. Needless to say, Israeli courts would never entertain the congruent notion that these same evicted Arabs could reclaim the West Jerusalem properties stolen from them in 1948.
The other day we traveled to the Galilee area, which is inside Israel proper. In the not too distant past, the Galilee was majority Arab. Today, due to the success of Judaization policies (which have their own ministry in Israel’s government, the “Ministry of Development of the Negev and Galilee”), the number of Jews in the Galilee has surpassed the number of Arabs. The same discrimination in land and services that I described above applies equally to the Galilee. While Arab-majority cities of the Galilee have indigenous mayors, which should theoretically make the degree of discrimination in municipal services lower, the cities' budgets are in fact determined by Jewish-controlled "regional councils" in conjunction with relevant state ministries (education, industry, infrastructure). According to an advocacy organization we met with, Israel's Arab community, which currently stands at 20% of the total population but has needs disproportionate to its size, receives no more than 5% of any given ministry’s annual budget, and often less. 
What we saw in the Galilee, however, was far more disturbing than these statistics. Our group toured a number of "unrecognized villages"—Arab and Bedouin shantytowns that existed before 1948 but were never recognized by Israel following the creation of the state. Because they were not recognized (for reasons unspecified), their land was declared state land by the government and their homes were summarily bulldozed. Instead of emigrating, however, many villagers rebuilt their homes after each demolition, evidently using industrial detritus. The situation today is that these villagers (or what remains of them) live in corrugated iron shacks, up to fifteen in a house, without electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. Because they are unrecognized, the state refuses to hook them up to the electricity grid or sewage system. Meanwhile, many of them are located within clear view of fully-serviced Israeli cities, some built just a few years ago on land that was originally theirs. One village we visited was almost fully encircled by the Russian-Jewish settlement of Karmiel. The villagers live literally feet from this affluent suburb of sparkling white high-rises but lack paved roads, sewage, electricity, and schools (the children must drive or walk to a nearby village to attend class). According to another civil society advocate, there are more than 40 such villages in Israel, all of them Arab, and all of them facing possible demolition. Most notable among these is the village of al-Araqib in the Negev, which has now been demolished more than 20 times.
So far I have been discussing what happens within what Israel considers to be its legitimate borders (despite East Jerusalem’s status as an occupied territory under international law). But nearly identical strategies of Judaization are also being applied in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Our delegation spent a night in the village of Bi'lin, which on a clear night is within view of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but located across the Green Line that demarcates the pre-1967 border. Bi'lin is an agricultural village whose farmers rely on their thousand-year-old olive trees to make ends meet. However, in 2002, under the pretext of security, Israel erected a wall in the West Bank that cut the villagers off from most of their agricultural lands, effectively annexing them for the expansion of nearby Israeli settlements, which at the time of our visit were undergoing further construction. The olive trees in the path of the wall were uprooted. 
For the last few years, the residents of Bi'in have mounted weekly non-violent protests against the wall. These protests have been brutally suppressed by Israel’s military. According to videos we screened, it appears that protesters are routinely fired upon with high-velocity tear gas canisters, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition—all of which can be fatal. We toured the site of the protests and discovered shell casings, spent tear gas grenades and even live bullets littering the ground. One large patch of earth emitted a foul, fecal odor that was the product of Israel's latest crowd-control method: spraying protesters with what our guides described as “sewage water.” The spray was last deployed a month ago and the stench remains to this day. 
There are also midnight kidnappings and imprisonment of protest leaders and participants by the IDF, including children. The twenty-year -old son of the family I stayed with was abducted from his home by soldiers in the middle of the night, dragged to a nearby olive grove, and nearly beaten to death. His brother, Abdullah, was still on the lam after being targeted for abduction. The charge against them was arranging non-violent demonstrations. In addition, several protesters and innocent bystanders have been killed by Israeli soldiers in Bi’lin, including a woman who recently died of respiratory problems after inhaling tear gas and sewage water. Our group screened a video of a soldier firing a tear gas canister directly into the chest of a local protest leader name Bassem, killing him instantly. He was unarmed.
In 2007, an Israeli court ruled that the wall should be moved back 500 meters. That decision was implemented only last month. In the process of moving the wall, the IDF set fire to much of the land being returned to Bi'lin, destroying a number of olive trees. The ground there is visibly charred. Either way, the 500 meter alteration in the wall's path has not ended the protests, which continue to demand the dismantling of the wall altogether. 
There are several others villages like Bi'lin, where the wall annexes agricultural lands and aquifers for the use of nearby settlements. But there are also other cities that have it worse. Qalqiliya, for example, is a West Bank city of 60,000 inhabitants that is entirely encircled by the wall. Gates in the wall open twice a day for two hours; otherwise, its residents are imprisoned. In the area of East Jerusalem, the wall cuts off certain Arab suburbs that once formed an organic part of the city, disrupting family, labor, and religious ties. According to a former IDF soldier, the thousands of Palestinian laborers who penetrate the wall each week in search of work belies its security justification as a bulwark against suicide terrorism. Its only ostensible purpose is land theft. 
We also visited Hebron. Hebron is unique among West Bank cities. It has an Arab population of 250,000, and a Jewish population of around 800 armed, highly ideological settlers that have underhandedly purchased or seized homes in the heart of the city. According to locals and the testimony of a former IDF soldier stationed in Hebron, these settlers perpetually antagonize and attack the Arab population. What is more, they do so with near impunity due to the fact that they are protected by 1,200 IDF soldiers whose orders are to arrest or kill any Palestinian that defends him/herself against settler assaults. The Palestinians know this and are forced to passively absorb all measure of abuse. To illustrate this, the soldier we spoke with told the following story. Responding to cries, he entered a marketplace one day to find several settler women violently beating the shopkeepers with rolling pins. When he demanded to know they were doing, one of them replied, "What does it look like? We’re beating the Arabs." The soldier surmised they were doing this in order to provoke a violent reaction from the shopkeepers, which would oblige him (the soldier) to shoot or arrest them. 
During our visit I personally witnessed a soldier striking a young boy because he was walking on a road accessible only to Jews and internationals. Our group also saw the mesh canopy that overhangs the Arab marketplace located below the settler houses. The canopy had caught cinder blocks, metal chairs, garbage, eggs, knives, and other objects thrown by the settlers onto the Arabs below. One of the overhangs had been eaten away by battery acid poured from above, and we heard reports of settlers urinating out of their windows onto the marketplace. All this, it appears, takes place in full view of an IDF watchtower. The soldiers do nothing to prevent settler rampages. It's not part of their orders. On the contrary, many of them are subservient to the settlers. We witnessed one settler command an IDF soldier to arrest our Arab guide for walking on a street where Arabs were forbidden. The soldier, who had been ignoring us hitherto, quickly began to oblige (luckily we eluded him). 
In order to hear the widest variety of perspectives on the situation in Hebron, we also met with a spokesperson for the settler community, a man named David Wilder. Wilder described a situation in which Jews, not Arabs, were the party facing ethnic discrimination in Israel and the West Bank. Jews, he said, were confined to 3% of the city, both by agreement with the Palestinian Authority and by the disinclination of local Arabs to sell them property. (In fact, Israel’s security control of Hebron, a city with 800 Jews, ranges over 30% of the city, including its holiest site, the Cave of the Patriarchs). He described what he considered Arab incitement—including the practice of shooting off fireworks to celebrate high school graduations—and cited instances of terrorism directed against Jews in Hebron during the Second Intifada. He denied the existence of premeditated settler violence, describing any attacks on the local population as the work of undisciplined youth reacting to Arab provocations. (Shortly after this meeting, our guide Issa, a local activist, recalled David Wilder holding a loaded pistol to his head as he attempted to videotape a settler pogrom.) 
After our delegation concluded, I joined a small group of Israeli activists called Ta'ayyush (“Coexistence”) in the South Hebron Hills, where they gather each Saturday to assist the local population with reconstruction and agricultural projects (at its request). As a group of Israelis and internationals, Ta'ayyush's very presence also provides these Palestinians with a measure of protection from violent settlers and apathetic military personnel who together conspire to make their lives unlivable.
Upon arrival, we split into two groups. The first was to accompany local shepherds who had lately been assaulted by settlers as they tried to bring their flocks to pasture. The purpose of this activity was not only to protect the shepherds, but also to document settler rampages that would otherwise be ignored by the military. The second group (my group) drove to the encampment of Bir al-Id to help an older man named Hajj Ismail and his family clear rocks and debris from the ruin of their demolished home. Following a fruitless court battle, the military had carried out its demolition order a month earlier on the typical grounds of “illegal construction.”
Hajj Ismail and his family are members of the most neglected substratum of Palestinian society. They are of a class referred to by village- and town-dwelling Palestinians as “cave people,” for the fact that many of them inhabit (and have from time immemorial) relatively well-provisioned caves in the South Hebron Hills. In recent times, however, population growth has forced families like Hajj Ismail's to leave their caves and establish hilltop encampments like Bir al-Id, which are then declared illegal by the occupation authorities and slated for demolition. Meanwhile, these same authorities actively facilitate the creation of new Jewish settlement outposts in the area (allegedly “illegal” under Israeli law) by provisioning racist bands of Israeli “hilltop youth” with water, electricity and security. One such “illegal” outpost, whose power lines and massive cisterns strike a familiar contrast with the makeshift structures of Bir al-Id, was perched less a kilometer from Hajj Ismail's ramshackle tent. 
After a few hours the two groups reunited to perform a “direct action” at the illegal outpost of Bat Maon, from which settler attacks on Palestinian schoolchildren had recently originated. (According to an Italian NGO worker who has been accompanying the children to class for several months, settlers from Bat Maon had only days earlier beaten two American activists with lead pipes as they attempted to film these attacks.) Camcorders in hand, our group circumnavigated Bat Maon in hopes of drawing the military's attention to what was going on there. We were immediately encircled by armored vehicles and asked to leave. One of our activists demanded to know why so many soldiers had been dispatched to quell Ta'ayyush's nonviolent action while none had been tasked with investigating the recent stabbing of a Palestinian by a masked settler. Such attempts to shame the military, he later told me, had in the past succeeded in achieving marginal improvements in the conditions of the local Palestinians.
Driving back to Jerusalem, I asked one long-time member of Ta'ayyush, a mathematician named Danny, how many leftists of his stripe he thought existed in Israel today. He guessed a couple of hundred. (Israel's Jewish population currently stands at 5.8 million.) 
This, in part, is the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories as I have seen it and heard it described by those who live there. I leave it to the reader to draw from this testimony his/her own conclusions about the nature of the political system under which Israelis and Palestinians live, both within and beyond Israel’s recognized borders.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Son the “American Taliban”

by Frank Lindh
Source: Guardian

John Phillip Walker Lindh, my son, was raised a Roman Catholic, but converted to Islam when he was 16 years old. He has an older brother and a younger sister. John is scholarly and devout, devoted to his family, and blessed with a powerful intellect, a curious mind, and a wry sense of humour.
Labelled by the American government as “Detainee 001″ in the “war on terror”, John occupies a prison cell in Terre Haute, Indiana. He has been a prisoner of the American government since 1 December 2001, less than three months after the terror attacks of 9/11.
John is entirely innocent of any involvement in the terror attacks, or any allegiance to terrorism. That is not disputed by the American government. Indeed, all accusations of terrorism against John were dropped by the government in a plea bargain, which in turn was approved by the US district court in which the case was brought.
Despite its proud history as a stable constitutional democracy, the US has, for 10 years, been affected by post-traumatic shock, following the horrific events of 11 September 2001. I can find no other explanation for the barbaric mistreatment and continued detention of a gentle young man like John Lindh.
John Walker Lindh and his father
John Walker Lindh, aged 15, with his father, Frank, on a family holiday, 1996. Photograph courtesy of Lindh family
John is blessed with a calm and curious nature. As a child, he was more sceptical than our other two children about such things as Santa Claus. When he was 12 years old, he saw the film Malcolm X, and was moved by its depiction of the pilgrims in Mecca. He began to explore Islam and, four years later, decided to convert.
What attracted John to Islam, I think, was the simplicity of its beliefs, and the authenticity of its source documents – the Qur’an and Hadith. It appealed to his intellect as well as his heart. To me and to John’s mother, his conversion was a positive development and certainly not a source of worry. I once told him I felt he had always been a Muslim, and only needed to find Islam in order to discover this in himself. He remained the loving son and brother he had always been. There was never a breach of any kind between us.
John had always been a good student, but his study habits improved after his conversion. He immersed himself in Islamic literature, and quickly came to the conclusion that he needed to learn Arabic in order to continue his studies.
In 1998, at the age of 17, John left home in California and travelled to Sana’a, the ancient capital of Yemen, where he embarked on a rigorous course of study. He was determined not only to become fluent in Arabic, but also to pursue an education in the old traditions of Islam. He returned home briefly in 1999, and then returned to Yemen in February 2000, just before his 19th birthday. John’s mother and I supported him, emotionally and financially. He remained in close contact with us and with his sister and brother while overseas.
In September 2000, John told me he intended to continue his studies in Pakistan, focusing on Arabic grammar and Qur’an memorisation. I wrote back: “I trust your judgment and hope you have a wonderful adventure.” He arrived in Pakistan in November 2000 and enrolled in a Qur’an memorisation programme in a madrasa.
John’s letters home showed passionate enthusiasm for both Yemen and Pakistan. He loved the cultures he discovered in both countries. He was a Muslim in a Muslim world.
In late April 2001, John wrote to me and his mother, saying he planned to go into the mountains to escape the oppressive summer heat. We had no further contact from him for seven months. Unbeknown to us, he crossed the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, with the intent of volunteering for service in the Afghan army under the control of the Taliban government.
John’s mother and I grew increasingly worried as the summer passed. John had warned us that there might be gaps in his contact with us, as there were no internet cafes in the mountains of Pakistan from which to send emails. But we did not anticipate such a complete lapse in correspondence from him. We also never guessed he was in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan. John’s mother, especially, was frantic with worry as the months passed with no word from him.
At that time, the Taliban governed most of Afghanistan, and were engaged in a long-running civil war against a Russian-backed insurgency known euphemistically as the Northern Alliance. John was quickly accepted as a volunteer soldier, and received two months of infantry training in a Taliban military camp before being dispatched to the front lines.
Rohan Gunaratna, an international terrorism expert and author of the book Inside Al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, conducted a lengthy interview with John, and prepared a written report for the American court to which John was brought for trial. Gunaratna is an expert consultant to the US government itself on terrorism matters. “Those who, like Mr Lindh, merely fought the Northern Alliance,” he wrote, “cannot be deemed terrorists. Their motivation was to serve and to protect suffering Muslims in Afghanistan, not to kill civilians.”
John described his motivation in similar terms. “I felt,” he later explained to the court, “that I had an obligation to assist what I perceived to be an Islamic liberation movement against the warlords who were occupying several provinces in northern Afghanistan. I had learned from books, articles and individuals with first-hand experience of numerous atrocities committed by the Northern Alliance against civilians. I had heard reports of massacres, child rape, torture and castration.”
To the western world, and to me as John’s father after I learned where he had been, this was misplaced idealism. John’s decision to volunteer for the army of Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban was rash, and failed to take into account the Taliban’s mistreatment of its own citizens. But his assessment of the Northern Alliance warlords was neither exaggerated nor inaccurate. The brutal human rights violations committed by the Northern Alliance were thoroughly documented in the US department of state’s annual human rights reports throughout the 90s. They did indeed include massacres, rape (of both women and children), torture and castration.
John’s impulse was to help. In doing so, he was responding not only to his own conscience, but to a central tenet of the Islamic faith, which calls upon able-bodied young men to defend innocent Muslim civilians from attack, through military service if necessary. This is not “terrorism” at all, but precisely its opposite.
From the time of the Soviet invasion in 1979, tens of thousands of young Muslim men from all over the world had volunteered, as John did, for military service in Afghanistan. It was comparable to the influx of young volunteer soldiers in support of the republic of Spain during the Spanish civil war.
These young soldiers performed heroically in the defeat of the Soviet Union. Their cause was openly supported by the American government itself, particularly during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, who took office two weeks before John’s birth in early 1981.
In March 1982, President Reagan declared: “Every country and every people has a stake in the Afghan resistance, for the freedom fighters of Afghanistan are defending principles of independence and freedom that form the basis of global security and stability.” In March 1983, he cited “the Afghan freedom fighters” as “an example to all the world of the invincibility of the ideals we in this country hold most dear, the ideals of freedom and independence”. In a March 1985 speech, he said: “They are our brothers, these freedom fighters, and we owe them our help… They are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French resistance. We cannot turn away from them.”
Given the history of US involvement in Afghanistan, it would seem absurd to suggest that John Lindh was being disloyal to America when he went into Afghanistan in 2001 and joined the army there. If the march of history could be arrested in the spring or summer of 2001, John’s odyssey might be regarded as quixotic and unusual for a young American, but not in the least bit sinister, and certainly not criminal in nature. In fact, John’s concern about the suffering of people in Afghanistan was shared by his own government. On 21 July 2000, for example, the US department of state issued a “fact sheet” that reported that the US was “the largest single donor of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people”.
The US also provided substantial economic assistance directly to the Taliban government. In May 2001, for example, the American government under President George W Bush announced a grant of $43m to the Taliban government for opium eradication. Secretary of State Colin Powell personally announced the grant himself in a press release and pledged: “We will continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans.” The New York Times called this “a first, cautious step toward reducing the isolation of the Taliban” by the new Bush administration.
This is not to suggest the US was entirely friendly with the Taliban. In 1999, President Clinton placed the Taliban government under economic sanctions as a consequence of its human rights violations, particularly against women. But there were no hostilities between the US and the Taliban, and by 2001 relations were improving.
In his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell describes a nightmarish world of perpetual war, in which two massive nations, Oceania and Eastasia, are aligned against a third nation state known as Eurasia. The alliance between Oceania and Eastasia ends, and Eastasia then begins fighting alongside Eurasia against Oceania. In what Orwell famously called “doublethink”, the population of Oceania then is taught to believe “we have always been at war with Eastasia”.
Something eerily similar happened in the US after 9/11. Thirty years of American policy abruptly changed and America swung to the opposite side. The Taliban became our enemy. “They have always been our enemy” is what people in America came to believe.
In October 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan and aligned itself with the Northern Alliance in order to oust the Taliban government. Colin Powell’s April press release was quietly removed from the state department’s website.
In early September 2001, days before the 9/11 attacks, John arrived at his military post in the province of Takhar in the far north-eastern corner of Afghanistan, near the border of Tajikistan. This was the frontline in the civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. John was issued with a rifle and two hand grenades – standard issue for an infantry soldier. He performed sentry duty and did some cooking for the Taliban troops. He never used his weapons. He served with a number of other foreign volunteer soldiers. They were called Ansar, an Arabic term meaning “helpers”.
The training camp in Afghanistan where the Ansar received their infantry training was funded by Osama bin Laden, who also visited the camp on a regular basis. He was regarded by the volunteer soldiers as a hero in the struggle against the Soviet Union. These soldiers did not suspect Bin Laden’s involvement in planning the 9/11 attacks, which were carried out in secret. John himself sat through speeches by Bin Laden in the camp on two occasions, and actually met Bin Laden on the second such occasion. John has said he found him unimpressive.
After 9/11, America’s intelligence agencies came under intense scrutiny for their failure to anticipate and prevent the attacks, and their apparent inability to track down Osama bin Laden. It is a curious fact of history that John Lindh, an idealistic 20-year-old Californian, suspecting nothing of bin Laden’s connections to terrorism, was able without difficulty to meet this notorious figure in the summer of 2001. Why American intelligence agents were unable to do so remains unexplained. John himself did not believe he was encountering a terrorist. John knew only that bin Laden had been generous in funding the military camp, and he was able to discern that Bin Laden was not a legitimate scholar or leader in the traditions of Islam.
The American invasion of Afghanistan commenced in October 2001. Few American troops were deployed in the northern reaches of Afghanistan. The Americans relied on Northern Alliance forces as their proxy, combined with aerial bombing, to displace the Taliban forces.
The front between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in Takhar where John was stationed quickly dissolved after the bombing commenced. Taliban troops fled in panicked retreat to Kunduz. They marched without stop for two days, covering a distance of 50 miles of harsh, desert terrain. The conditions were hellish. The Northern Alliance troops killed all stragglers who fell behind, often castrating them before killing them.
The soldiers at Kunduz who wished to surrender faced a terrible dilemma. For years it had been the practice of the Northern Alliance to torture and murder prisoners of war. These crimes were legendary and well known to both the Taliban soldiers and the US government.
John’s lawyers later obtained from the American government an unclassified cable sent from the US embassy in Kunduz on 20 November 2001, to Colin Powell and the joint chiefs of staff. The cable was labelled “priority”. It bore the subject line: “Kunduz representatives appeal for a bombing halt during surrender negotiations.” It said that, according to local authorities in Kunduz, Taliban soldiers trapped in Kunduz “wanted to surrender to someone who would not kill them”. This was described as a “sticking point” in the surrender negotiations. The Taliban, according to the cable, had “proposed surrendering to the US or the UN”. The cable confirmed that the American authorities had informed their counterparts in Kunduz that “neither was a realistic option and suggested that they seek the [Red Cross's] involvement if they had not done so already”.
On 21 November 2001, the regional Taliban military leader, Mullah Fazel Mazloom, entered into face-to-face surrender negotiations with General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance. The pact was destined not to end well. Dostum was a notorious figure who had served as an officer in the Soviet occupation government. Troops under Dostum’s command were believed responsible for the mass execution of an alleged 2,000 Taliban prisoners captured near Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997. The New Yorker magazine has referred to Dostum as “perhaps Afghanistan’s most notorious warlord”, a man who is “viewed by most human rights organisations as among the worst war criminals in the country”.
Nonetheless, a bargain was reached in which Dostum demanded and received a large cash payment, then agreed to grant approximately 400 disarmed Taliban soldiers safe passage through Dostum-controlled territory to the city of Herat. John, in haggard condition after the march through Takhar, was among those 400 troops.
The Taliban soldiers had no sooner laid down their arms when Dostum breached the agreement. Instead of the safe passage they had been promised, the soldiers were loaded into trucks and diverted to the ancient Qala-i-Jangi fortress on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif. As the prisoners were being unloaded in the courtyard, John heard a loud explosion when one of the prisoners detonated a grenade that he had concealed. Two of Dostum’s men were killed in the blast.
Dostum’s soldiers quickly regained control, but they were infuriated. The prisoners were crowded into the basement of a sturdy, pink Soviet-built classroom building adjacent to a horse pasture. The “pink building”, as it became known, was at the centre of the events that unfolded over the next seven days. It was dark in the basement rooms into which the 400 men were crowded. To retaliate for the earlier attack, Dostum’s men dropped a grenade down an air duct that wounded or killed several prisoners, narrowly missing John, who spent the night crouched in a corner unable to sleep.
The next morning, Sunday 25 November, was sunny and warm at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress. Video footage shows a seemingly calm scene as the prisoners, with arms tied behind backs, are led out of the basement and made to kneel in rows in the horse pasture beside the pink building. The main sound on the film is the chirping of hundreds of birds. Dostum’s men were rough. Some prisoners were kicked and beaten with sticks. John was hit in the back of the head and nearly knocked unconscious. Nonetheless, he hoped they would be released for the agreed upon journey to Herat.
Although there were no US or British troops at the fortress that morning, two American intelligence agents were present, dressed in civilian clothes. They circulated among the prisoners, occasionally giving instructions to Dostum’s guards. One of them, Dave Tyson, was dressed in a long Afghan shirt and carried a large gun and a video camera. The other, Johnny “Mike” Spann, a former marine, was dressed in a black shirt and jeans. He was also armed. As they moved among the prisoners, they singled out captives for interrogation. They never identified themselves as American agents, and so they appeared to John and the other prisoners to be mercenaries working directly for General Dostum.
John was spotted and removed from the body of prisoners for questioning. The moment was recorded on video and later seen by millions on television.
In the video, John sits mutely on the ground as he is questioned about his nationality.
“Irish? Ireland?” Spann asks.
John remains silent.
American Among Taliban Prisoners
John Walker Lindh at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress on 3 December 2001, awaiting treatment from the Red Cross, having been captured by US forces. Photograph: James Hill/Getty Images
“Who brought you here?… You believe in what you are doing that much, you’re willing to be killed here?”
Still no reply.
Tyson to Spann [for John's benefit]: “The problem is, he’s got to decide if he wants to live or die, and die here. We’re just going to leave him, and he’s going to [expletive] sit in prison the rest of his [expletive] short life. It’s his decision, man. We can only help the guys who want to talk to us. We can only get the Red Cross to help so many guys.”
I think it was apparent that Spann and Tyson were American agents, but because they were in the company of Dostum’s forces, unaccompanied by American troops, it clearly was not safe for John to talk to them. They meant business when they said John might be killed by Dostum, and that the Red Cross could only “help so many guys”. John was in extreme peril at that moment, and he knew it.
John was then returned to the main body of prisoners, while others were still being brought out of the basement and forced to kneel in the horse pasture. Then, suddenly, there was an explosion at the entrance to the basement, shouts were heard, and two prisoners grabbed the guards’ weapons. According to Guardian journalist Luke Harding’s account: “It was then… that Spann ‘did a Rambo’. As the remaining guards ran away, Spann flung himself to the ground and began raking the courtyard and its prisoners with automatic fire. Five or six prisoners jumped on him, and he disappeared beneath a heap of bodies.”
Spann’s body was later recovered by US special forces troops. He was the first American to die in combat in the American–Afghan war. He was buried with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.
As soon as the uprising began, the Northern Alliance guards turned their weapons on the 400 bound prisoners, killing or severely wounding scores of them. Some prisoners tried to stand and run; they were gunned down. It was a slaughter. John tried to run, but he was shot in the right thigh and fell to the ground. For the next 12 hours he lay motionless, pretending to be dead.
There were two groups of Taliban prisoners in the fortress: those who chose to fight and those who hunkered down in the basement of the pink building and tried to survive. John was in the latter group. The prisoners who fought put up a fierce resistance, looting buildings for weapons and ammunition, firing from windows, rooftops, and ditches. Using a satellite phone, Dave Tyson, who had just seen his colleague killed, telephoned the US embassy in Tashkent, shouting: “We have lost control. Send in helicopters and troops.” US air controllers stationed outside the fortress walls called in air strikes, which struck with devastating impact inside the fortress.
More air raids were staged the next day, Monday, when a massive 2,000lb bomb was dropped. It missed its intended target, the pink building, and hit Dostum’s soldiers. This “friendly fire” incident brought an end to the air strikes. For John and the other Taliban soldiers holed up in the basement of the pink building, the percussive effect of the bomb shook them to their bones and left them trembling.
By Wednesday, the last of the resisting Taliban fighters had been killed, and Dostum’s soldiers were once again in full control of the fortress. Luke Harding was allowed into the compound along with some other journalists, and he found a horrific scene: “We had expected slaughter, but I was unprepared for its hellish scale… It was hard to take it all in. The dead and various parts of the dead… turned up wherever you looked: in thickets of willows and poplars; in waterlogged ditches; in storage rooms piled with ammunition boxes.” Harding observed that many of the Taliban prisoners had died with their hands tied behind their backs.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Dostum’s troops engaged in a sustained effort to kill the Taliban survivors who remained in the basement of the pink building, which they were afraid to enter themselves. More grenades were dropped down the air ducts and RPGs were fired directly into the basement. John received shrapnel wounds in his shoulder, back, ankle and calf, in addition to the bullet still lodged in his thigh. At one point, fuel was poured down the air ducts and a fire was ignited in which some fuel-drenched prisoners were burned to death. John, choking on the black smoke, lost consciousness. He awoke with the taste of gasoline in his mouth and loud explosions in the hall, as more rockets and grenades ricocheted through the basement.
On Friday, Dostum’s troops tried yet another tactic. They flooded the basement with cold water. Unable to stand on his own, John braced himself on a stick and a fellow soldier for the next 24 hours to avoid drowning in the waist-deep water, which was full of blood and waste. The next morning no one inside the fortress thought it possible that anyone was still alive in the pink building, but 86 of the prisoners had managed to survive the week-long ordeal. One of them was John Lindh.
On Saturday 1 December, the Red Cross arrived at the fortress and the survivors, who for several days had been trying to surrender, were finally allowed to exit the basement. When they emerged into the bright sunlight, they encountered a confusing horde of journalists, Red Cross workers, Dostum’s soldiers, and British and American troops.
That evening John and the other survivors were taken to a prison hospital in Sheberghan. Although wet and cold from the flooding of the basement, they were transported in open bed trucks in the frigid night air. At Sheberghan, John was carried on a stretcher and set down in a small room with approximately 15 other prisoners. CNN correspondent Robert Pelton came in accompanied by a US special forces soldier and a cameraman. Despite John’s protests, Pelton persisted in filming John and asking questions as an American medical officer administered morphine intravenously. By the time he departed a short time later, Pelton had captured on videotape an interview in which John said that his “heart had become attached” to the Taliban, that every Muslim aspired to become a shahid, or martyr, and that he had attended a training camp funded by Osama bin Laden.
The CNN interview became a sensation in the US. By mid-December, virtually every newspaper in America was running front-page stories about the American Taliban, and the broadcast media were saturated with features and commentary about John. Here was a “traitor” who had “fought against America” and aligned himself with the 11 September terrorists. Newsweek magazine published an issue with John’s photograph on the cover, under the caption “American Taliban”.
Beginning in early December, President Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney, members of the cabinet and other officials then embarked on a series of truly extraordinary public statements about John, referring to him repeatedly as an “al-Qaida fighter”, a terrorist and a traitor. I think it fair to say there has never been a case quite like this in the history of the US, in which officials at the highest levels of the government made such prejudicial statements about an individual citizen who had not yet been charged with any crime.
I will offer only a small sample of these statements. In an interview at the White House on 21 December 2001, President Bush said John was “the first American al-Qaida fighter that we have captured”. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, told reporters at a press briefing that John had been “captured by US forces with an AK-47 in his hands”. Colin Powell, secretary of state, said John had “brought shame upon his family”. Rudy Giuliani, New York mayor, remarked: “I believe the death penalty is the appropriate remedy to consider.”
John Ashcroft, the US attorney general, staged two televised press conferences in which he accused John of attacking the US. “Americans who love their country do not dedicate themselves to killing Americans,” he declared.
A federal judge took the unusual step of writing to the New York Timescriticising the attorney general for violating “Justice Department guidelines on the release of information related to criminal proceedings that are intended to ensure that a defendant is not prejudiced when such an announcement is made”.
Even the ultra-conservative National Review thought Ashcroft had gone too far in making such prejudicial comments about a pending prosecution. It criticised the comments as “inappropriate” and “gratuitous”, stating that in the future “it would be better for the attorney general simply to announce the facts of the indictments, and to avoid extra comments which might unintentionally imperil successful prosecutions”.
I am a lawyer, trained in the law, with more than 25 years of experience. Never have I seen or read about a case in which a person accused of a crime was so conspicuously deprived of what we call “the presumption of innocence”. On the contrary, my son was presumed guilty, not only by government officials but by the entire mainstream journalism and media establishment in America. It was – and still is – widely reported in America that John Lindh is a “terrorist” who fought against the US.
Our lives back home were completely upturned by the sudden and pervasive notoriety of John’s case. We found ourselves dodging television cameras and reporters. In the first couple of days after John’s capture, I appeared on several news programmes in an effort to explain who John was and to ask for mercy. My sense of privacy and anonymity were at least temporarily destroyed.
All of us in John’s family also were wracked with anxiety about John’s own physical and emotional wellbeing. We had no source of information about John from within the government itself. They were holding our son incommunicado, even as President Bush and other officials made repeated statements about him. Anything we were able to learn about John came from the news media, not from the government.
Happily, our neighbours, friends, co-workers and even strangers in California were uniformly warm and supportive towards me, John’s mother and our other children. One Sunday, on my way to church, a friendly stranger stopped his car and shouted to me: “How’s John?”
John Walker Lindh’s father and mother
John Walker Lindh’s father, Frank, and mother, Marilyn, outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, 2002. Photograph: Hillery Smith Garrison/AP
Another enormous source of comfort to us came from James Brosnahan, a distinguished and courageous trial lawyer in San Francisco who agreed to represent John. On 3 December, Brosnahan took up his case, and from that day forward we had a valiant defender in him and the other lawyers who worked on the defence team. It felt as if a protective shield had been constructed around John and all of us in the family.

Once John was in the custody of the US military, the US government had to decide what to do with him. The FBI has estimated that during the 90s as many as 2,000 American citizens travelled to Muslim lands to take up arms voluntarily, and that as many as 400 American Muslims received training in military camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. None of these American citizens was indicted, or labelled as traitor and terrorist. They were simply ignored by their government, which made no attempt to interfere with their travel. But the 9/11 attacks changed everything, and it was the timing of John’s capture that contributed to his fate. It soon became apparent to me that, rather than simply repatriate my wounded son, the government was intent on prosecuting him as a “terrorist”.
In the days and weeks that followed, John endured abuse from the US military that exceeded the bounds of what any civilised nation should tolerate, even in time of war. Donald Rumsfeld directly ordered the military to “take the gloves off” in questioning John.
On 7 December, wounded and still suffering from the effects of the trauma at Qala-i-Jangi, John was flown to Camp Rhino, a US marine base approximately 70 miles south of Kandahar. There he was taunted and threatened, stripped of his clothing, and bound naked to a stretcher with duct tape wrapped around his chest, arms, and ankles. Even before he got to Camp Rhino, John’s wrists and ankles were bound with plastic restraints that caused severe pain and left permanent scars – sure proof of torture. Still blindfolded, he was locked in an unheated metal shipping container that sat on the desert floor. He shivered uncontrollably in the bitter cold. Soldiers outside pounded on the sides, threatening to kill him.
After two days in these circumstances, John was removed from the shipping container and taken into a building at Camp Rhino. When his blindfold was removed, John found himself in front of a man who identified himself as an FBI agent and then read from an advice-of-rights form. When the agent reached the part that concerned right to counsel, he said: “Of course, there are no lawyers here.” John was not told his mother and I had retained an attorney for him who was ready and willing to travel to Afghanistan. Worried that he would be returned to the shipping container if he did not sign the form, John signed the waiver.
A lengthy interrogation followed, after which US military personnel put John back in the metal shipping container, although this time his leg restraints were loosened and he was no longer bound by duct tape or blindfolded. On 14 December, he was placed on board the USS Peleliu, where navy physicians observed that he was suffering from dehydration, hypothermia, and frostbite, and that he could not walk. On 15 December, the bullet was finally removed from his leg in a surgical procedure – more than two weeks after he had been transferred to the custody of the US military. The doctor who removed the bullet later told John’s lawyers there had been little or no healing of the wound, which he attributed to malnutrition and cold.
In June 2002, Newsweek obtained copies of internal email messages from the justice department’s ethics office commenting on the Lindh case as the events were unfolding in December 2001. The office specifically warned in advance against the interrogation tactics the FBI used at Camp Rhino, and concluded that the interrogation of John without his lawyer present would be unlawful and unethical. This advice was ignored by the FBI agent who conducted the interrogation.
Interestingly, in an 10 December email, one of the justice department ethics lawyers noted: “At present, we have no knowledge that he did anything other than join the Taliban.”

The government brought 10 counts against John in its overblown indictment. “If convicted of these charges,” attorney general Ashcroft boasted, “Walker Lindh could receive multiple life sentences, six additional 10-year sentences, plus 30 years.” The most serious count was a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the death of Mike Spann. The charge was groundless: the prisoner uprising at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress had been spontaneous and John was also a victim, not a participant.
John arrived back in the US on 23 January 2002 in chains aboard a military plane that landed at Washington Dulles International airport. The government selected Dulles so they could bring charges against John in northern Virginia, near the Pentagon (one of the 9/11 targets), where hostility against John was assured. He was flown by helicopter to the Alexandria City Jail. John’s mother and I tried to visit him that night, along with the lawyers we had retained for him, but we were turned away. We finally were able to see our son the next morning in a holding cell on the first floor of the US courthouse. His lawyers met him only briefly before his first appearance in the court that morning.
The case of United States of America v John Philip Walker Lindh was set for trial before Judge T S Ellis III. On 24 January, the judge announced he was setting a trial date for late August. We were horrified, as this would ensure that John would be on trial on the first anniversary of 9/11. It would be hard to conceive of a more prejudicial circumstance for a criminal defendant, especially in the wake of the intemperate statements attorney general Ashcroft had made in his two press conferences.
John’s lawyers filed a motion to “suppress” the statements that had been extracted him under duress at Camp Rhino. A hearing was scheduled in July 2001, which would have included testimony by John and others about the brutality he had suffered at the hands of US soldiers. On the eve of the hearing, the government prosecutors approached John’s attorneys and negotiated a plea agreement. It was apparent they did not want evidence of John’s torture to be introduced in court.
In the plea agreement John acknowledged that by serving as a soldier in Afghanistan he had violated the anti-Taliban economic sanctions imposed by President Clinton and extended by President Bush. This was, as John’s lawyer pointed out, a “regulatory infraction”. John also agreed to a “weapons charge”, which was used to enhance his prison sentence. In particular, he acknowledged that he had carried a rifle and two grenades while serving as a soldier in the Taliban army. All of the other counts in the indictment were dropped by the government, including the terrorism charges the attorney general had so strongly emphasised and the charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Mike Spann.
At the insistence of defence secretary Rumsfeld, the plea agreement also included a clause in which John relinquished his claims of torture.
The punishment in the plea agreement was by any measure harsh: 20 years of imprisonment, commencing on 1 December 2001, the day John came into the hands of US forces in Afghanistan. The prosecutors told John’s attorneys that the White House insisted on the lengthy sentence, and that they could not negotiate downward.
On 4 October 2002, the judge approved the plea agreement as “just and reasonable” and sentenced John to prison. Before the sentence was pronounced, John was allowed to read a prepared statement, which provided a moment of intense drama in the crowded courtroom. He spoke with strong emotion. He explained why he had gone to Afghanistan to help the Taliban in their fight with the Northern Alliance, saying it arose from his compassion for the suffering of ordinary people who had been subjected to atrocities committed by the Northern Alliance. He explained that when he went to Afghanistan he “saw the war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance as a continuation of the war between the mujahideen and the Soviets”.
John strongly condemned terrorism. “I went to Afghanistan with the intention of fighting against terrorism and oppression.” He had acted, he said, out of a sense of religious duty and he condemned terrorism as being “completely against Islam”. He said: “I have never supported terrorism in any form and never would.”
After a brief recess, the judge granted a request by John Spann, the father of Mike Spann, to address the court and express his dissatisfaction with the plea agreement. He began by saying that he, his family, and many other people believed that John had played a role in the killing of Mike Spann. Judge Ellis interrupted and said: “Let me be clear about that. The government has no evidence of that.” Spann responded: “I understand.” The judge politely explained that the “suspicions, the inferences you draw from the facts are not enough to warrant a jury conviction”. He said that Mike Spann had died a hero, and that among the things he died for was the principle that “we don’t convict people in the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Osama bin Laden is dead. John Lindh, now 30 years old, remains in prison. He spends most of his time pursuing his study of the Qur’an and Islamic scholarship. He also reads widely in a variety of nonfiction subjects, especially history and politics. He remains a devout Muslim.
As a father, I am grateful that John survived his ordeal, and I am pleased that he maintains his good-natured disposition. I am especially proud of the dignity he displayed throughout his ordeal overseas and in court.
Other than his lawyers, the only visitors John has been permitted during all his years in prison are those of us in his immediate family. We treasure these visits. We are not allowed any sort of physical contact with John, and are kept separated from him by a glass partition. We must speak via telephones, and everything we say is monitored and recorded by a government agent who sits in an adjoining room. Despite these constraints, our conversations are free-flowing and punctuated with humour.
A commentator at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University called this “a petty prosecution” that was “unworthy of a great country”. But it was more than petty, in my view; it was brutally inhumane.
My hope and prayer is that at some point rational, fair-minded officials in the American government will see the wisdom in releasing John from prison, rather than making him serve the entire 20-year sentence. His continued incarceration serves no good purpose. Releasing John from prison would help restore America’s image in the world, and particularly among Muslim people, as a humane country committed to the rule of law.