Plea Bargain Dismays Some Acquaintances

In the upscale suburbs where John Walker Lindh grew up, some people said his 20-year sentence was appropriate, while others said he was a mistreated pawn in the government's terror war.

And those who knew Walker during his teenage conversion to Islam in the Marin County suburbs of San Francisco were disappointed he would serve any prison time at all.

"The perception in the Muslim community is that these days, all sense of justice, righteousness, civil liberties, the Bill of Rights all don't apply if you're a Muslim," said Ebrahim Nana of the Islamic Center of Mill Valley, where Walker studied and attended prayers during high school. "Given that bias, then this is the best a Muslim can expect."

Bill Jones, a friend and former housemate of Walker's father, said he thinks Walker wasn't guilty.

"When I fist heard about it, I had a chill right down the middle of my stomach — just the word guilty," said Jones, who hosted Walker during one of the young man's return trips between studies in the Middle East.

"His only guilt as far as I'm concerned is that he became a fundamentalist Muslim," Jones said. "This kid should never be put in jail. He's like Job with what he's been through."

Walker was captured along with other Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan in December, was shot in the leg by Northern Alliance forces, went weeks without much food and nearly drowned in a prison cellar before he was taken into U.S. custody.

Jones said he was relieved that the deal avoids a "big trial."

He said he had dinner with Frank Lindh on Friday night "and I don't even think he knew" about the deal. "He didn't say anything."

An intelligent but introverted teenager who wore full-length robes in high school and asked his family to call him "Suleyman," Walker had an intense interest in Islam that was encouraged by his Buddhist mother and Irish Catholic father.

Walker, 21, agreed to serve two consecutive 10-year prison sentences and cooperate fully with U.S. authorities in the investigation of the Al Qaeda and terrorism.

By pleading guilty to aiding the Taliban and carrying explosives, Walker avoids eight other charges in the original indictment that carried at least three maximum life sentences.

The plea bargain was a hot topic in Fairfax, where Walker lived with his mother during high school.

Some residents said they thought the punishment fit Walker's crimes.

"I think it's fair that he has to pay," said Deborah Celle, 49, a librarian from Fairfax. "I'm glad to see it resolved without a trial."

"It doesn't matter to me if he was 12. He should be put away. People shouldn't turn against our country, no matter how old they are," said Edwin Jorgansen, 70, who was getting breakfast at the Koffee Klatch Cafe in downtown Fairfax.

Others were more sympathetic, expressing compassion for Walker and his parents.

"He got brainwashed over there. I think they're just trying to make an example out of him," said waitress Kaity Shaner, 18, working the counter at the Koffee Klatch.

And Colleen Austin, 55, a pharmacy worker, said 20 years was a fair sentence, but Walker "wasn't old enough to know the consequences of his actions," or to understand how extreme the Taliban are.

Still others, expressing cynicism over the federal government's war on terrorism, said Walker was simply being practical in pleading guilty.

"He took the lesser of two evils. He's sort of a sacrificial lamb — he was going to be found guilty of something," said Peter Forni, 53, a pharmacist stopped by Fairfax Coffee Roasters, a gathering place on the town's quiet commercial strip. "He is being used by the administration to try to justify what they are doing."

"If I were in his shoes, I would probably have pleaded guilty too," Jason Diesel, 33, a Fairfax resident who manufactures "pleasure toys for adults" said. "Who wants to fight the U.S. government?"