American Captured in Afghanistan Seeks Review of 20-Year Term

By PHILIP SHENON

The New York Times

August 14, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 - Lawyers for John Walker Lindh, the young American captured in Afghanistan after joining the Taliban and now serving a 20-year prison sentence, called on the Justice Department on Friday to review his case in light of the department's announcement this week that it might soon free another American captured with the Taliban.

"We hope that the government gives Mr. Lindh the same reconsideration they have extended to Mr. Hamdi," the lawyers said in a statement, referring to Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American-born Saudi who is expected to be released soon to return to his family in Saudi Arabia.

Justice Department officials had no immediate comment on the statement.

Mr. Lindh, a convert to Islam who is now 23, was sentenced to 20 years in prison as a result of a plea agreement reached in July 2002.

Within weeks of his capture, in December 2001, the United States took another American, Mr. Hamdi, into custody in Afghanistan.

But while it was clear immediately to his captors that Mr. Lindh was an American, military officials have said it took several months for them to learn and verify that Mr. Hamdi was American, and he was initially treated as a foreign enemy combatant and moved to the American military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for interrogation.

This week, the Justice Department disclosed that it was negotiating with defense lawyers over the release of Mr. Hamdi, who has never been charged with a crime.

A lawyer for Mr. Lindh, James J. Brosnahan, said in an interview that a decision to release Mr. Hamdi should prompt discussions in the Justice Department over whether Mr. Lindh deserved similar treatment.

"We're not today saying exactly what we're going to do,'' Mr. Brosnahan said, "but this is a situation in which there's an enormous disparity, and basic fairness would conclude that the department ought to take a look at this."

He said Mr. Lindh had received especially harsh treatment because of the timing of his capture, which occurred within three months of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It was sort of a ferocious reaction to him, which in human terms is understandable but in terms of fairness is not understandable," the lawyer said.

Mr. Brosnahan said Mr. Lindh was being held at a medium-security prison in California - he would not say exactly where - and was a model prisoner.

"He's studying, he's using his time productively," the lawyer said. "The last time I saw him, he had read about 100 books in the recent months before that."