WASHINGTON – The Justice Department is investigating whether any government officials leaked sealed documents to the media in the case of suspected American Taliban John Walker Lindh.
Last month, the court asked the government to report whether there had been leaks after a Newsweek article on the Walker case quoted a string of internals e-mails by Justice Department officials. The e-mails suggested that Walker might have a good argument in his motion to suppress statements he made just after his capture by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Federal prosecutors reported Wednesday that they directed the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate leaks. The inspector general assigned two investigators to the case, according to a court document.
"To date, they have taken signed sworn statements from numerous individuals who are within the universe of individuals who had access to the material in question and who are or may be bound by the court's sealing order," the government's court filing said.
Walker, a 20-year-old from California, was captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has sealed many documents that have details of Walker's capture because of the government's argument that such documents might be instructive to terrorists.
Walker is charged with conspiring to murder U.S. citizens, contributing services to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and using weapons in crimes of violence. He could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges in a trial scheduled to begin with jury selection Aug. 26.
The leaks in question are related to a central issue in the case — whether Walker's recounting of his experience with the Taliban while in U.S. custody can be used against him in court.
Walker's lawyers argued last month that all his statements made while being detained by the U.S. military should be thrown out because he was not promptly brought before a magistrate as required by federal criminal law. Prosecutors said those arguments ignore the differences between a civilian arrest and the detention of an enemy soldier by the military. It would be a major victory for Walker if they were suppressed.
"Lindh chose to communicate his story to anyone and everyone who would listen, including initially the American media," the government has argued. "And communicate he did — calmly, articulately, consistently, comprehensively."
The Justice Department is engaged in several investigations relating to leaks to the media. After requests from Congress, federal investigators are assessing how much damage leaks have done to the government's effort to fight terrorism. Investigators are also looking into a leak from the House Intelligence Committee to CNN about intercepts made by U.S. intelligence officials just before Sept. 11.