According to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, in reference to John Walker Lindh, the treasonous American Taliban fighter: “We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values, but we cannot ignore that he did … Youth is not absolution for treachery, and personal self-discovery is not an excuse to take up arms against your country.”
Ashcroft goes on: “[Lindh] chose to embrace fanatics, and his allegiance to those terrorists never faltered … Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them. John Walker Lindh chose terrorists.”
I applaud these words. But wouldn’t it seem to follow from these words that Lindh should be tried for treason? After all, he openly and proudly sided with one of the most brutal, vicious and determined enemies the United States has ever known. According to Ashcroft, Lindh even admitted in interviews with the FBI that he met Osama bin Laden and knew bin Laden had ordered the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. If ever there was such a thing as treason, this would most certainly qualify, would it not?
Apparently not. Ashcroft, speaking for the Bush administration, claims that we cannot try Lindh for treason because his actions do not meet the “strict evidentiary standard” required by the Constitution. Mind you: we’re talking merely about putting Lindh on trial here, not convicting him. (Though, speaking for myself, I would have no problem at all had our military shot Lindh on the spot). How on earth can Lindh’s actions, given the truth of what Ashcroft himself has said, not meet the evidentiary standards for simply being put on trial for treason?
How can a man such as Ashcroft — and, more importantly, a man such as President Bush, on whose behalf Ashcroft speaks — hold two such profoundly opposing viewpoints? It’s as if John Walker Lindh were both guilty and non-guilty at the same time. It’s as if we’re being told by our Department of Justice that we should not make excuses for him — but we should not hold him truly responsible for his actions either.
I thought that the Department of Justice had reached its lowest point when Janet Reno, at gunpoint, sent little Elian Gonzalez back into the hands of a dictator. It appears I was wrong. We have now sunk still lower. The Gonzalez incident ended the United States’ determination to stand for freedom and individual rights, and endangered the life of an innocent young boy. Now we are putting millions of our own lives — civilization itself — at risk by going soft on treason, and sending a message to dictators that we don’t value our freedom enough to put an obvious traitor on trial for his crime. How low can we go? And how safe are we when our enemies see what contradictory, cowardly fools our government officials can be?