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Patriot Games

At John Walker Lindh's hearing yesterday, his family and lawyers unveiled their defense: Lindh loves America.

11:00 AM, Jan 25, 2002 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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JOHN WALKER LINDH glanced casually over the shoulder of the U.S. Attorney standing next to him as the government lawyer read aloud the formal charges against the young man most people know as the American Taliban. Lindh was terse, but polite, in his almost-whispered responses to federal magistrate W. Curtis Sewell.

For a short time, things were almost routine--as routine as things could be, anyway, at a hearing for a young man who less than two months earlier had taken up arms against his own country.

Then his lawyer spoke. "My client went 54 days, your honor, without a lawyer," said James Brosnahan. "He asked for a lawyer on the first or second or third day."

Brosnahan acknowledged that the brief courtroom appearance--really just a pre-preliminary hearing--was not the appropriate time to air such grievances, but he did so anyway. And he was just getting started. "Don't miss this trial!" he shouted at the cameras assembled outside the courthouse.

That friendly warning came moments after Brosnahan joined Lindh's parents at a post-hearing news conference to kick off the public defense of their son. Their argument--at least the one they seemed to make yesterday--is bizarre: John Walker Lindh is a good American; those prosecuting him are not.

"John has told me, and I can assure all Americans, that John never intended to harm any American, never attempted to harm any American and never did harm any American," said Frank Lindh. "He loves America." His mother added that she was "grateful to God that he has been brought home to his family and his country."

Brosnahan, too, praised America in defense of his client. He saluted the Constitution. He invoked the names of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. He described the jury system as a "great process" and "the American way."

But if Brosnahan was effusive about the concept of America, he isn't too happy with those running it today--particularly the foot soldiers in the war on terrorism. Not only did government officials hold John "incommunicado," they "issued or leaked false, misleading, and prejudicial characterizations of the facts and law in this case." The government, he says, has created an "outrageous and unfair" situation for Lindh.

To be fair, coming up with a defense for someone who has twice admitted his guilt is no easy task. (Once on CNN, and once to the FBI, after he waived his Miranda rights.) That's Brosnahan's job in this case. And many people can sympathize with Lindh's parents and their obvious willingness to say anything--no matter how preposterous--to help their child.

No doubt some folks will be open to the criticism of the government's handling of the case. Within hours of the statements, O.J. Simpson-trial-retreads took to the air to echo Brosnahan's concerns. And can it be more than a few days until the ACLU--whose press releases are growing more strident by the day--will back Lindh?

What's more difficult to imagine, though, is how Brosnahan and others will convince anyone that Lindh, in his father's words, "loves America."

The government, after all, had nothing to do with the CNN interview in which the American Taliban revealed his al Qaeda sympathies. The government had nothing to do with Lindh telling a Newsweek reporter that he "supported" the September 11 attacks. And the government certainly had nothing to do with Frank Lindh's revelation that his son told him he backed the terrorist attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 Americans. On the basis of that evidence--not to mention the circumstances of his capture--many Americans have concluded that Lindh is a traitor. Brosnahan says such a view is "dangerous and a threat to all of our freedoms."

The real danger, of course, comes from Lindh and the terrorists he knowingly aided.

Stephen F. Hayes is staff writer at The Weekly Standard.