WASHINGTON – Lying in a hospital bed, cringing from the pain of a gunshot wound, American Taliban John Walker Lindh said he had served with a group of Arab fighters financed by Usama bin Laden.
He also said he had attended a training camp run by bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi-born fugitive accused of masterminding the September attacks on the United States.
Walker told his story in an interview done Dec. 2 by a CNN reporter, just after he was captured. It was aired in its entirety for the first time Wednesday.
Walker, from San Anselmo, Calif., said leaders of the Afghanistan's once-dominant Taliban militia organized fighters in branches based on ethnic groups. At first, Walker stayed with Taliban fighters from Pakistan, where he had been studying Islam. He then was put with the group of Arab fighters — the Ansar — who were paid for by bin Laden. Walker can speak Arabic.
"Originally I came with Pakistanis," he said. "They sent me to the Arabs."
What Walker did while traveling with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan could play a key role in the charges he might face in the United States.
In the TV interview, Walker, 20, defended the Taliban, who took power in Afghanistan in 1995 after a bloody civil war against other factions. Walker said the Quran, Islam's holy book, permits Muslims to kill other Muslims during holy war.
"That is a question that is addressed in the Quran itself," he said. "In certain cases Muslims by necessity can kill, and ... there are situations in which a Muslim can be killed (by other Muslims)."
Referring to jihad, Islamic holy war, he said, "It's exactly what I thought it would be."
Asked if the Taliban's cause was the right one, Walker said: "Definitely!"
Walker was found holed up with captured Taliban fighters last month after Northern Alliance forces quelled a prison uprising in northern Afghanistan.
He was taken into custody by American forces and flown to the amphibious landing ship USS Peleliu, in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Pakistan.
He told of dodging grenades and helping other Taliban fighters as Northern Alliance forces closed in on the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
His face was blackened from battle and he swooned as he spoke, telling the reporter he was taking morphine to quell the pain from a gunshot wound. He had been speaking Arabic for so long that his English was tinged with an accent.
Walker said he went to join the Taliban in Afghanistan after studying in Pakistan because his "heart became attached to the movement. I wanted to help them one way or another."
He said that after being captured, a few Taliban soldiers hid grenades in their clothes as they were taken to prison. He called the uprising a "mistake of a handful of people" because the Taliban soldiers had agreed not to fight.
"This is against what we had agreed upon, and this is against Islam," Walker said. "It is a major sin to break a contract, especially in military situations."
The spirits of the Taliban fighters were broken when rebel forces pumped gas, then water, into the prison, he said.
"More than half of us were injured on that last day when they poured water into the basement," he said. "We were standing in water, freezing water, for maybe 20 hours."
Talk of surrender came quickly.
The prison "was filled with the stench of bodies, and we didn't have any more weapons available. We said, 'Look, we're gonna die,"' he said.
"If we surrender, the worst that can happen is they'll torture us or kill us. So right here in the basement, they're torturing us and killing us, so we might as well surrender."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday that President Bush will make a decision about Walker once Justice Department and Pentagon officials finish reviewing his case.
"He is being treated as someone who fought against the United States in an armed conflict. And that's why he's classified properly as a battlefield detainee, and he is being treated well," Fleischer said.