What U.S. newspapers are saying

July 16, 2002 at 11:35 AM
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New York Times

The government and John Walker Lindh, the American captured in Afghanistan last year, brought his prosecution to a reasonable conclusion yesterday when Mr. Lindh unexpectedly pleaded guilty to two felony offenses. In return the government dropped the gravest charges against him, including conspiring to kill Americans and engaging in terrorism. The plea bargain reflects the unfolding realities of the Lindh case, which had more to do with the criminal conduct of a foolish young man than the actions of a hardened terrorist. The decision honors the demands of criminal justice, national security and America's commitment to constitutional rights.

Mr. Lindh, an American citizen who fought for the Taliban, will now serve up to 20 years in prison and has promised to cooperate fully with the government's continuing investigations into al Qaida and other terrorist threats. ...

Two other American terror suspects, Jose Padilla and Yasser Esam Hamdi, are being held indefinitely without formal charges or access to lawyers, even as two non-citizens, Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard C. Reid, await federal court trials. The public interest in all of these cases is straightforward. The guilty should be punished, future terrorists deterred, and constitutional rights protected as the authorities learn as much as possible to guard against future attacks. These goals were accomplished in the civilian prosecution of John Walker Lindh.

Washington Times

Politicians and farmers in Peru and Bolivia have discovered an opiate for mobilizing the masses: coca activism mixed with a potent dose of anti-American sentiment. The emergence of a coca-growing, yanqui-hating contingency in these countries has had a decidedly mood-altering effect on U.S. diplomats and Washington officials, who view with concern this political phenomenon that threatens U.S. interests. While the growing of coca leaves has long been a problem in Latin America's Andean ridge, widespread, sometimes violent political activism for the right to grow coca is a new phenomenon. What makes this activism even more disconcerting is that Peru and Bolivia were models of U.S.-supported counter-narcotics success. And the unholy union between drug-trafficking and terrorism in Peru makes the emergence of coca activism a heightened concern. ...

The war on drugs may appear to be a losing endeavor, until some of its substantive successes are on the verge of collapse. While U.S. demand for cocaine drives much suffering in Latin America, U.S. counter-narcotic efforts help to ameliorate some of the damage. Inertia often has a stuporous effect on Washington bureaucrats, but if the White House doesn't take notice of the coca crisis soon, the problem may quickly become too massive to contain.

Boston Globe

The plea agreement struck yesterday between Justice Department prosecutors and attorneys for John Walker Lindh, the young American found among Taliban captives last November in northern Afghanistan, is noteworthy because of the federal government's decision to drop the 10 terrorism charges that had been included in its original indictment.

The implication of the Justice Department's willingness to settle for conviction on two lesser charges -- a decision reviewed and approved by President Bush -- is that the government's case on the terrorism charges was not strong enough to risk going to trial, even in a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., where juries have a reputation for being inclined to favor federal prosecutors. ...

Since there was little evidence against him beyond his own words soon after he was captured, prosecutors faced the possibility that much of their case could be dissipated at the very start of the trial.

The chief prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, said that as a consequence of the plea deal, the federal government will be ''able to use our limited and very vital resources not only to continue to prosecute terrorists but to pursue the military campaign.'' This would seem to suggest, not very credibly, that the money saved by not prosecuting Lindh on terrorism charges was needed for the military war on terrorism.

Even less convincing was the triumphalist crowing of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said the plea agreement with Lindh's defense counsel was an ''important victory in America's war on terrorism.''

However, the two charges to which Lindh pleaded guilty were providing services to the Taliban and carrying explosives -- in this case two grenades -- during the course of that felony. If Lindh's conviction on those charges represents an important victory in the war on terrorism, as Ashcroft claims, then that war must not be going very well.

Boston Herald

The conviction of four men in connection with the disgusting murder of American reporter Daniel Pearl is a striking example of adherence to the rule of law under very difficult conditions.

Pakistan is home to many Islamic extremists, who could well unleash more murderous fury on their country's judicial system, the administration of President Pervez Musharraf and foreigners in general -- especially Americans, who have another reason to be grateful for the courage of many ordinary Pakistanis in helping their cause.

Pearl was killed in January or February after being kidnapped while looking into links between accused aircraft shoe bomber Richard Reid and al Qaida. Despite what the lawyers and families of the defendants are claiming, the evidence was strong. For instance, a taxi driver testified he saw Pearl get into a cab with the alleged leader of the kidnapping plot, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the night he disappeared.

Saeed admitted the kidnapping in an early, unsworn court appearance. There is nothing to substantiate accusations of a frameup, and the swiftness of the trial (five months from arrests) could serve as a challenge to the oft-stated American goal of "speedy" trials.

Saeed was sentenced to death and the three others to 25 years. There will be appeals; there is no reason to think they will not be honestly handled, but justice has been done.

Chicago Sun-Times

It's about time John Walker Lindh did his country a favor. As his trial drew nearer, and his lawyers began spinning the conditions under which he made his various self-indicting statements, the reason behind the prosecution tended at times to be overlooked: Lindh took up arms against his country. It was good to hear him admit it out loud, in court, and do away with all the procedural nitpicking. Betraying one's country at its moment of extreme duress is no small offense. Nor was it an impulsive one. Lindh traveled around the world to join the Taliban. He stayed with them after the Sept. 11 attacks. He carried a gun and grenades, and we can assume he would have used them, had he not fallen into the hands of the U.S. Army.

His parents would have him be seen as a victim. They compared his imprisonment to Nelson Mandela's. Perhaps that is inevitable. But we are under no obligation to accept their view. So committed are we to rights, to law, that the question of whether Lindh was read his Miranda rights on the battlefield was actually thought to be a germane point. The trial was sure to have been another glaring example of how America's greatness is used against her, how her enemies, such as Lindh, are content to damn our system up until the moment when they need it themselves. ...

We agree with the prosecution: 20 years is a tough, appropriate sentence. His crime calls out for tough justice, and the United States, as the wronged party, has the right to extract an apt punishment. And under the deal, Lindh must tell all he knows and thus may atone for his crimes by providing information that may prove beneficial in our war on international terrorism.

Chicago Tribune

We'll see who will die first, me or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me."

That was the defiant boast of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, mastermind of the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, after his conviction Monday by a Pakistani judge who sentenced him to death by hanging. Unfortunately, Saeed's boast cannot be written off as idle blather. Pakistan is home to some of the most virulently militant Islamists in the world and they have not been reluctant to resort to violence to assert themselves. ...

To the credit of the Pakistani government, the threats of extremists have produced no visible lessening of its determination to do justice in the Pearl case and to maintain President Pervez Musharraf's alliance with the United States in the war against terrorism.

The government will need all the spine and gumption it can muster, because Saeed plays mean and dirty and for keeps. From 1994 until December 1999, he was imprisoned in India for kidnapping Westerners. That's when a radical Islamist group hijacked an Indian airliner and used it to win his release. ...

Pearl's murder was but the first of five attacks on Western targets this year in Pakistan. Nevertheless, Musharraf and his government remain steadfast in support of the war against terror.

Saeed may be right: His henchmen may kill one or more of the "authorities" before he dies. But if Musharraf remains in power, it's a good bet that this brutal killer eventually will hang.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The prosecution of John Walker Lindh didn't live up to its advance billing as the "trial of the century." But the nation and Lindh are better off with the reasonable plea bargain that brought a surprisingly swift end to the case.

The nation avoids a long, disturbing trial. Lindh avoids a life sentence. And the government obtains a conviction, without having to prove that Lindh conspired with terrorists to kill Americans. ...

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft called the guilty plea an "important victory in America's war on terrorism." But Lindh's lawyers, in declaring their own victory, noted that the government had dropped all of the counts that accused Lindh of terrorism.

Significantly, the guilty plea is a demonstration that the civil courts can handle criminal cases against Americans accused of conspiring with the Taliban -- a lesson that the Justice Department should now apply to the two other American citizens it is detaining without charges in military brigs.

San Diego Union-Tribune

John Walker Lindh cut the deal of his misguided young life yesterday. By pleading guilty to two of 10 charges for aiding the Taliban and al Qaida, he stands to serve no more than 20 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors agreed to drop eight charges, among them conspiring to murder Americans and providing material support and resources to foreign terrorist organizations. Had Lindh's case gone to trial, had the so-called American Taliban been convicted of all the charges included in his original indictment, the 21-year-old from Marin County almost certainly would have spent the rest of his life behind bars. ...

Prosecutors declared victory in the wake of Lindh's plea bargain. "This is an appropriate sentence," said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. "This case proves that the criminal justice system can be an effective tool in the fight against terrorism." ...

Lindh's parents assure that their son, who converted to Islam at 16, did not intend to take up arms against his country, that he had no murderous intent toward Spann, who had interviewed Lindh and other Taliban prisoners. "John loves America," his father said.

He'll get to prove it in coming months and years by fully cooperating with federal investigators and prosecutors in America's continuing war on terror.

Dallas Morning News

The saga of John Walker Lindh, the product of a middle-class upbringing in Northern California who achieved infamy when he assumed the moniker of the "American Taliban," has never followed a script. From that dreadful day in December when Mr. Lindh crept from a cave in Afghanistan and was taken into custody by U.S. Special Forces, there has been nothing predictable about this story.

Monday was no exception. As the parties gathered in a pre-trial hearing to hear motions, even the trial judge was caught off guard by word that the 21-year-old had pleaded guilty in hopes of avoiding a life sentence.

That may have been one of the smartest things that this young man has done as of late. ...

Mr. Lindh deserves a tougher punishment for turning on his country, but he has promised to assist the government from now on in making cases against terrorists. That may be the only positive glint in his distasteful record.

Kansas City Star

With this country's help, the United Nations could prevent hundreds of thousands of abortions and save the lives of thousands of women and children. But first the Bush administration must quit playing games with funding for family planning.

In January, Bush froze $34 million that Congress had allocated to the U.N. Population Fund. The reason? Anti-abortion zealots raised the tired, old issue of forced abortions in China.

Everyone acknowledges that China has problems in its population program. That makes the U.N. money for contraceptives extremely important: It helps prevent unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, abortions.

But after freezing the U.S. contributions, the White House launched yet another in a series of investigations of how U.N. money is used in China. Bush sent a three-person team to China in May.

The team returned with this report: the U.N. fund is being properly spent. Knight-Ridder Newspapers on Monday quoted federal officials who said the team found no evidence of U.N. support for forced abortions in China.

Yet the U.S. money sits idle. And poor women in 140 countries lose a significant source of contraception and family-planning assistance.

The administration's position is indefensible. By law, the U.N. cannot use U.S. dollars for family planning in China. That has been the rule for eight years. The American money goes into a restricted account.

Without the $34 million -- and Washington's leadership in international family planning -- the overall U.N. program is damaged. With the U.S. dollars, the U.N. says it could help to prevent 800,000 abortions and save the lives of 4,700 women from complications of pregnancy and childbirth -- as well as the lives of 77,000 infants and children.

The fact that so many lives are at stake should encourage Bush to reconsider the freeze on American funding. It is time for a more enlightened and humanitarian approach.

Miami Herald

Credit the Bush administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service for extending the time that 260,000 Salvadorans may legally stay in the United States. They first were granted temporary legal status after earthquakes devastated their country in early 2001. Allowing them to stay, work and send money home boosts El Salvador's recovery.

''There continues to be a substantial disruption of living conditions in El Salvador,'' U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said last week.

The earthquakes killed some 2,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless. Salvadoran President Francisco Flores has done an admirable job of leading the rebuilding. But the scale of destruction makes it difficult for the country to absorb so many people returning home. Meantime, the money sent back home by Salvadorans in the United States is a lifeline. The Central Bank reported remittances of $2 billion for 2001, more than 10 percent of the country's (gross domestic product).

Salvadorans who now have temporary protected status or pending applications must re-register for TPS after Sept. 9 (not before).

Those entering the country before Feb. 13, 2001, won't qualify. The extension will provide legal status until Sept. 9, 2003.

(Compiled by United Press International.)

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