Shaven, sluggish Lindh appears in court

John Walker Lindh, the Californian captured while fighting with the Taliban, finally appeared in public in his home country yesterday.

John Walker Lindh, the Californian captured while fighting with the Taliban, finally appeared in public in his home country yesterday.

Less than 15 hours after being flown back to the US, he made a 12-minute court appearance and spoke briefly three times, saying only that he understood the charges and the possible penalties and that he had no questions.

In a green prison suit, he looked very different from the Christ-like figure caught briefly on film when the Americans discovered him in the ruins of Mazar-i-Sharif two months ago. His hair was close cropped and his beard reduced to stubble.

There was no obvious hint of defiance in his demeanour, nor any other emotion. He blinked a lot and occasionally turned languidly towards his lawyers.

If he seemed zombie-like, he may simply have been bewildered and jet-lagged.

The judge outlined the four charges, including conspiracy to kill US nationals and providing support and resources to terrorist organisations, both of which can be punished by life imprisonment. On the instructions of President Bush Mr Lindh has not been charged with treason, which could have led to his execution.

Mr Lindh, 20, did not have to plead on this occasion, and was told he would appear in court again on February 6. Then he was led away "in the custody of the US marshal", a quaint phrase that conveys nothing of the panoply of security being used to guard the young man who may now be the US's most notorious citizen.

But it is clear that this image will not go unchallenged. The Lindh family has engaged James Brosnahan, a San Francisco lawyer with 43 years' courtroom experience, whose team includes a former president of the Federal Bar Asso ciation and four other former federal prosecutors.

Mr Brosnahan was critical of government statements that Mr Lindh had not asked for a lawyer while he was held in Afghanistan. "For 54 days the US government has kept John Lindh away from lawyers. He began by requesting a lawyer almost immediately."

Mr Brosnahan also attacked officials for leaking prejudicial evidence, which he said was contrary to court rules. He also clarified that John Lindh was the defendant's correct name and that he had never gone under his mother's surname Walker.

His divorced parents saw him for the first time for more than a year just before the hearing. Frank Lindh told reporters: "John loves America. We love America. John would not do anything to harm Americans ... He is innocent of these charges."

Marilyn Walker said: "I'm grateful to God for bringing him home."


Matthew Engel in Alexandria

The GuardianTramp

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