American Taliban

Behind the camera: This picture was part of a series that Special Forces troops took as souvenir pictures of them ‘posing’ with John Walker Lindh
Where: In a shipping crate at American military base, Camp Rhino (70 miles south of Kandahar)
Photo Summary: John Walker Lindh strapped to a stretcher
Picture Taken: Dec 7, 2001
This image is in the public domain because it was taken by a federal employee

John Walker Lindh or the American Taliban was made a media sensation after his discovery during the US military action in Afghanistan in response to the 911 attacks. Lindh in 2001 was serving in Afghanistan’s Taliban forces who were part of Afghan civil war against the Northern Alliance. After 911 the American government demanded the give up Osma Bin Laden when the Taliban refused US forces entered the ongoing civil war on the side of the Northern Alliance. Lindh was part of a group of Taliban soldiers in Konduz region that surrendered to Northern Alliance forces on November 25, 2001. These same soldiers staged a violent uprising in their prison near Mazar-e Sharif. Lindh, while wounded by a bullet in the thigh, was one of a few survivors of the failed prison uprising and was taken into US custody on, December 2, 2001. While in US custody American Special Forces took hundreds of souvenir pictures with Lindh strapped down to a stretcher. This was one of those pictures.

Prision Uprising at Qali-i-Jangi fortress near Mazar-e Sharif

This is against Islam. It is a major sin to break a contract
-Lindh

About 300 Taliban entered Qali-i-Jangi, a 19th-century fortress on Nov 24, 2001. Many of them where Non-Afghan fighters who felt they had been betrayed as they had been promised to be deported if they surrendered, not taken to the Qali-i-Jangi prison. An uprising was sparked on the 25th and over the course of the next 8 days, the prisoners were bombed into submission until 86 holdouts, including Lindh, agreed to surrender after Northern Alliance forces flooded the basement they were holed up. When Lindh’s Taliban Unit surrendered to Northern Alliance forces part of the agreement was that they would give up all weapons. In an interview taken shortly after being captured while he was partially drugged on morphine, Walker said that some of the Taliban had hidden grenades, “This is against what we had agreed upon [with the Northern Alliance], and this is against Islam. It is a major sin to break a contract, especially in military situations,”. It was these grenades that set the stage for the uprising that would wound Lindh and kill CIA operative, Mike Spann. Spann’s death went on to become major news as he was the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan.

Souvenir Shots

American Special forces took hundreds of souvenir pictures and home videos of Lindh while he was strapped down to a stretcher. Even though the Geneva Convention prohibits activities that might humiliate prisoners. The rest of the photos were not made public and most were destroyed when their existence was discovered by superior military personnel. While the government denies destroying evidence Lindh’s lawyers had to get a federal judge to order a “preservation order” for all evidence, including videos and photographs.

Lindh Treatment

He appeared to be suffering from hypothermia, and exposure, and acted delirious
-Special Forces Agents on Lindh’s condition

During the federal government prosecution of Lindh’s case, serious questions were raised about his treatment after his capture on Dec 1, 2001. It emerged that during the uprising which lasted from Nov 25 to Dec 1, 2001, Lindh had been wounded and had very little to eat and almost no time to sleep. From the fortress prison, he was bundled into a truck with the other prisoners and taken to the nearby town of Sheberghan where he arranged with CNN correspondent Robert Pelton to get medical care in exchange for an interview. According to Special Forces personnel who were present at the time Lindh, “was malnourished and in extremely overall poor condition … he appeared to be suffering from hypothermia, and exposure, and acted delirious”. The bullet in his thigh was not removed at this time. He spent the night in town and the next day was taken to the Turkish School House in Mazar-e Sharif where he was questioned by special forces over a week while receiving very little food or sleep. On Dec 7 he had still not received medical attention for his leg but on that day was transferred to official US military control and taken to an American military base, Camp Rhino (located 70 miles south of Kandahar). It was here while strapped to a stretcher that his clothes where cut off, placed in a metal shipping container and photographed. For two days he was held naked in the shipping crate, still without medical attention, before on Dec 9 he was handed over to the FBI for more questioning. After the questioning, he received some clothing and food but was placed back into the shipping crate. On Dec 14 he was flown to the USS PELELIU. The next day on Dec 15 almost two weeks after his capture at the prison Lindh had an operation to treat his wounds.
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Walker Growing Up

Walker was born in Washington, D.C.(born February 9, 1981), to parents Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh. He was baptized Catholic and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, until he was ten years old and his family moved to San Anselmo, California, in Marin County. Walker was sickly as a boy due to an intestinal disorder, after briefly attending several middle schools his family opted to home school him starting in 1993 when he was 12. He tried to go back to school but never fit in opting for self-study and earning a GED at age 16.
During this time Walker was a shut-in, rarely leaving home but increasingly participating in IRC internet chat rooms, often using fake names. He became a devoted fan of Hip-hop music, and engaged in extensive discussions on BBS groups about the music, sometimes pretending to be African American. During this time, Walker saw the Spike Lee film Malcolm X which made a deep impression on him and began his interest in Islam.
In 1997 he officially converted to Islam and began regularly attending mosques in Mill Valley and later San Francisco. In 1998, he travelled to Yemen for about ten months, to learn Arabic so that he would be able to read the Qur’an in its original language. He returned to the United States in 1999, living with his family for about eight months before returning to Yemen in February 2000, whence he left for Pakistan to study at an austere madrassa (Islamic school). It was in Pakistan that he attended a militant training camp and where he chose to go to Afghanistan in the spring of 2001. He was trained by a militant group funded by Osma Bin Laden and sent to front lines to fight the Northern Alliance just before the Sept 11 attacks.

Trial

I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban
-Lindh pleading guilty

The federal government initially charged Walker with the following charges:

  • Conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals
  • Two counts of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations
  • Two counts of providing material support and resources to terrorist organizations
  • One count of supplying services to the Taliban.
  • Conspiracy to contribute services to Al Qaeda
  • Contributing services to Al Qaeda
  • Conspiracy to supply services to the Taliban
  • Using and carrying firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence
  • If convicted of these charges, Walker Lindh would have received multiple life sentences, six additional 10-year sentences, plus 30 years. However, the government faced the problem that a key piece of evidence—Walker’s confession—might be excluded from evidence as having been forced under duress and torture.
    To forestall this possibility, Michael Chertoff, the head of the criminal division of the Justice Department, directed the prosecutors to offer Walker a plea bargain: He would plead guilty to two charges — serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons. He would also have to consent to a gag order that would prevent him from making any public statements on the matter for the duration of his twenty-year sentence, and he would have to drop claims that he had been mistreated or tortured by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and aboard two military ships during December 2001 and January 2002. Any profits Walker might make from telling his story will be taken by the government. In return, all the other charges would be dropped.
    Walker accepted this offer. On July 15, 2002, he entered his plea of guilty to the two remaining charges. The judge asked Walker to say, in his own words, what he was admitting to. “I plead guilty,” he said. “I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August to December. In the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades. I did so knowingly and willingly knowing that it was illegal.” On October 4, 2002, Judge T.S. Ellis, III formally imposed the sentence: 20 years without parole.:
    Walker is now imprisoned in a medium-security prison in Victorville, northeast of Los Angeles. His attorney, James Brosnahan, said Walker would be eligible for release in 17 years, with good behavior.

    Common Misconceptions About the American Taliban

    In 2001 Washington is the biggest donor of aid to the Taliban regime
    -US Gov

  • Around the time Lindh was deciding to go to Afghanistan, in early 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a grant of $43 million to the Taliban government for opium eradication
  • While he did attend an Osma Bin Laden funded camp and John actually met Osama bin Laden, he came away from those encounters very skeptical about bin Laden because John recognized instantly that bin Laden was not an authentic Islamic scholar based on what John himself knows.
  • John never fought against American troops.
  • When he was arrested by special forces after the prison uprising he was not armed but badly wounded.
  • He was tied up and could not have prevented the death of CIA agent Mike Spann.
  • In the few days he was actually sent to the front lines against the Northern Alliance he never fired his weapons.
  • Release

    On May 23, 2019, Walker Lindh was released from prison after serving 17 years of a 20-year sentence. His release stirred up controversy as the National Counterterrorism Center and the federal Bureau of Prisons published reports saying that, as of 2016, Lindh “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts … told a television news producer that he would continue to spread violent extremist Islam upon his release.” For the three years of his probation, he will be supervised by Judge T.S. Ellis, in Virginia. He faces a number of restrictions some of which include:

  • Not being allowed to possess any “internet capable device” and any approved device would be “monitored continuously”
  • No online communications in any language other than English
  • No communication with a known extremist
  • He cannot possess or view “material that reflects extremist or terroristic views”
  • Afghan Wars

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    Afghan Eyes Girl

    Behind the camera: Steve McCurry
    Where: Nasir Bagh refugee camp just outside Afghanistan on the Pakistan border
    Photo Summary: Sharbat Gula looking at the camera
    Picture Taken: Steve states that he meet her two years before the 1985 cover but then in 2003 says that he took the picture in 1984

    Sharbat Gula (Pashto: شربت گلا “sweetwater flower girl”) (Sharbat is pronounced as Sherbet in English) has only been photographed twice in her life. Once by Steve McCurry when he took her picture and again when he tracked her down almost 20 years later. Sharbat’s haunting eyes which got her on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic Magazine were not touched up in any way, there was no strobes or extra lighting used to take the shot. The cover became one of National Geographic most popular covers and came to represent the plight of Afghan refugees at the time.

    Covering Afghanistan

    Debra Denker and photographer Steve McCurry were covering the war in Afghanistan in the ’80s as Afghan Mujaheddin (“holy warriors”) fought the USSR’s Soviet army. After sneaking into Afghanistan to witness the ongoing war, they also visited the sprawling refugee camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border. In this conservative Muslim environment, Steve found it extremely difficult to talk to women who are not relatives, let alone get permission to photograph them. However, he was very determined to get a picture to have a visual representation of the Afghan refugee crisis from a female point of view.

    I was kind of walking through the refugee camp one morning and I happened across a tent. Which was being used as an elementary school and there were about 15 to 20 students in a Pakistani structure.
    So I went and asked the teacher if I could, umm you know photograph some of the students, if I could stay there for a while and she agreed and I noticed this one student, one young Afghan girl about 12 who had this very kind of haunted look in her eye and I asked the teacher about her and she told me her story, that she had to walk for about 2 weeks through the mountains of Afghanistan because her village had been ahh helicoptered, you know attacked by helicopter gunships and that umm that many of her family members had been killed and so they had this perilous trip through the mountains to get to this refugee camp and she was real traumatized and kind of freaked out as you can imagine. A 12 year old first she is in a village and then suddenly in another country…

    So I think this particular portrait kind of summed up for me the trauma and the plight and the whole situation of suddenly you know having to flee your home and ending up in a refugee camp, you know hundreds of miles away.

    National Geographic’s picture editor didn’t want to use the picture as it was too disturbing but finally relented and put the Afghan girl on the cover. The cover was and is a huge success. Steve recalls that “Right away, we got thousands of letters from people wanting to help her, send her money, adopt her, marry her,”. All these years later he still gets emails everyday wanting more information on the girl with the eyes.
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    Tracking Sharbat


    Afghanistan Pakistan eyes then and now

    Sharbat Gula 17 years after her first picture.

    Steve McCurry had tried several times to find the girl in his picture but was hampered by the remoteness of Afghanistan and the ongoing civil war. Finally in January 2002, along with a team from National Geographic he travelled to Afghanistan to locate the subject of the now-famous photograph. McCurry, upon learning that the Nasir Bagh refugee camp was soon to close, inquired of its remaining residents, one of whom knew Gula’s brother and was able to send word to her hometown. However, there were a number of women who came forward and identified themselves as erroneously as the famous Afghan Girl. In addition, after being shown the 1984 photo, a handful of young men falsely claimed Gula as their wife.

    The team finally located Gula, then roughly age 30, in a remote region of Afghanistan. To confirm that Sharbat Gula was the same girl as the famous image the National Geographic EXPLORER team used the same iris-scanning technology and face-recognition techniques used by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Modern pictures of her were featured as part of a cover story on her life in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic and was the subject of a television documentary, entitled Search for the Afghan Girl, which aired in March 2002. In recognition of her, National Geographic set up the Afghan Girls Fund, a charitable organization with the goal of educating Afghan women.

    Sharbat Gula

    In 2012 Wired.com did a series of photos of photographers and their iconic pictures


    When Sharbat was finally tracked down by the Explorer team she told of her life in war-torn Afghanistan. An ethnic Pashtun she was born around 1972 in a small village in Afghanistan. Her earliest memories include sounds of war, planes overhead and bombs falling. She remembers it as a time of hunger where she would rise for prayer at dawn and go to bed hungry. Sometime in the early 80’s, her village was attacked by Soviet helicopter gunships that killed her parents. Her, her siblings and grandmother hiked over the mountains to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan.

    She married Rahmat Gul in the late 1980s and returned to Afghanistan in 1992, eventually settling in the Taliban stronghold of Tora Bora. Gula had three daughters: Robina, Zahida, and Alia. A fourth daughter died in infancy. Sharbat has expressed the hope that her girls will receive the education she was never able to complete. McCurry has since set up a fund to see to her daughter’s education and any medical help they need.

    Sharbat remembered Steve McCurry and getting her picture taken as it was the first time anybody had even taken her picture. Looking at the picture she recalled the holes in the red scarf she had worn, were from earlier in the day when she burned herself at the campfire. She recalls the time under the Taliban as peaceful and she regards the burka as a thing of beauty and a Muslim women’s duty to wear. While doing the interview she would not allow him to see her face, only lifting the veil when his face was behind his camera.

    She had no idea that her face had become so famous and she had never seen her famous portrait before it was shown to her by the Explorer team in January 2002. At first, she was upset that her image was so widely seen, “but when I found out that I have been the cause of support/help for many people/refugees, then I became happy.” After meeting McCurry she stated that she wishes to live out of the limelight and, “will not give another media interview and she wishes not to be contacted”.

    Sometime after McCurry found her she moved back to Pakistan. In 2012 her husband died from hepatitis C. While in Pakistan Sharbat purchased a fake ID so that she could purchase a home and educate her children. As tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan heightened the Pakistani government undertook an effort to force the millions of Afghani refugees to return to their war-torn country. Thousands of refugees were arrested for having fake IDs. One of the those caught up in this police action was Sharbat Gul. In the fall of 2016, she was arrested and spent 15 days in jail for possession of false papers. When the international media discovered her plight it caused headlines all over the world. Embarrassed the Pakistan government offered to allow her to stay but she refused and moved back to Kabul, Afghanistan in the spring of 2017. She told the BBC:

    I told them that I am going to my country. I said: ‘You allowed me here for 35 years, but at the end treated me like this.’ It is enough. If I wanted to go back [to Pakistan], it will be just to offer prayer at the graves of my husband and daughter who are buried in front of the house we lived in.

    As of 2017, she lives in Kabul under the protection of the Afghan government.

    Steve McCurry

    Steve McCurry born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1950 is an American photojournalist best known for his color photography. Throughout his career, he has covered many areas of international and civil conflict, including the Iran-Iraq war, Beirut, Cambodia, the Philippines, the Gulf War, and continuing coverage of Afghanistan. McCurry’s work has been featured in every major magazine in the world and frequently appears in National Geographic magazine. It was the Afghan war that launched his career when he snuck into Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. His pictures were some of the first to show the battle between the Afghan Mujaheddin and Soviet forces.

    Consent Controversy


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    Afghan Wars

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