NEW YORK – A government lawyer told a judge on Monday that American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh deserves privacy for his written arguments aimed at shortening his 20-year federal prison sentence.
At a Manhattan hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross Eric Morrison urged the judge to reject arguments by The Associated Press that Lindh's reasoning for a shorter sentence should be made public because there is high public interest in his case and how the government has handled it.
Morrison told U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska that the AP cannot "meet its burden of showing compelling evidence, much less any evidence, of government misconduct" in the case. He said the AP is therefore not entitled to invade "substantial privacy interests" and see records that are presumed to be confidential.
AP attorney David A. Schulz disagreed, telling the judge it was the government's burden to prove it has a compelling reason for keeping sealed court papers that might reveal what happened to Lindh.
"We want to know why he thinks he deserves clemency," he said. "I think everybody recognizes there's a public interest in this."
Schulz said the petition for clemency might reveal that Lindh, captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, has been repeatedly threatened in prison or that he believes his conditions of confinement have been so harsh as to warrant a shorter prison term.
"How the government metes out justice is fundamental to who we are as a nation," Schulz said
The judge said she will rule later.
Lindh, 25, was captured in the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was charged with conspiring to kill Americans and support terrorists but pleaded guilty in 2002 to lesser offenses, including carrying weapons against U.S. forces. He also agreed to withdraw claims that he had been abused or tortured in U.S. custody.
Lindh, held at the medium-security federal penitentiary in Victorville, Calif., first applied for clemency in September 2004.
The AP said in its lawsuit that it sought the records early this year and within days was told by the government that it could only release documents with Lindh's written consent. Lindh, though, is barred by his plea agreement from publicly commenting on the matter, including consenting to the release, the lawsuit said.