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Tali Boy or Traitor Man? - December 26, 2001

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

As additional facts emerge, the case of Johnny Walker looks increasingly grim.

Like other high-profile cases, Walker's story is getting a massage in the court of public opinion prior to the start of formal proceedings.

Walker's parents, lawyers and allies portray him as a "boy," a youthful lad who was merely following his passions. His father acts as if his son had been away on a school field trip that went a bit off course.

It is safe to say that most Americans would react far differently had their offspring been spotted holding an AK-47 and pledging fidelity to the enemy.

It is also safe to say that most people recognize that Walker is no kid. He is 20 years old. He has been around for as long as many of his more noble counterparts who are presently serving in our armed forces.

He is also older than 14- to 18-year-old delinquents who can, and oftentimes are, tried and punished as adults.

Reality check here. We're not talking truancy, we're talking treason. And our nation in no way can afford to treat these offenses equally.

Some now say that Walker should not be charged with treason because it would be too difficult to prosecute. There have only been around 30 treason cases in our nation's history.

This is partly because the definition of the crime is so narrow. But also, there is an evidentiary requirement that either two witnesses testify to the same overt act or a confession be given in open court.

In his interview with CNN, Walker said the Taliban jihad was a "just cause." If he is the zealot he appears to be, Walker may stand up in open court and express his pride at fighting against the "Great Satan." If he does, he will be confessing his state of mind, which gets rid of the two-witness requirement.

But difficult or not, treason must continue to be a prosecutorial option, unless it is eliminated by the evidence gathered during the investigation.

In fact, all legal options must remain available. As in any criminal prosecution, this one could end up with a plea bargain, depending on the outcome of the investigation. So the Justice Department is wise to keep under wraps the specific statutes it intends to use to indict Walker.

There is a maximum punishment that the law allows for treason, along with a few other select federal statutes. It is the death penalty.

Interesting how, for many criminal defendants, the threat of their own demise tends to induce cooperation and encourage the free flow of information that might otherwise be kept private.

But more importantly, we cannot forget for a second that we are at war. Through posture, speech and behavior, a nation at war sends a continual message to the enemy. Foes, within our country and abroad, will be carefully watching the way in which we deal with John Walker. A showing of weakness could cost the nation dearly.

Facts are still coming in, but the case against Walker appears to be getting stronger with the passage of time.

  • In October 2000, after the attack on the USS Cole, Walker e-mailed his father to convey a message that the U.S. military shouldn't have been in Yemen.
  • Walker attended an Al-Qaeda training camp in order to learn how to kill "infidels," which included innocent Americans.
  • Walker willfully took up arms with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and told reporters that he supported the Sept. 11 murders and the Taliban goals for our destruction.
  • After the U.S. began the war on terror, Walker persisted in his association with
    the enemy.
  • Forty-nine days into the war on terror, Taliban prisoners staged a revolt at a prison camp just outside Mazar-i-Sharif. Walker may have been directly involved in the riot in which CIA agent Mike Spann was severely bitten and eventually beaten to death.
  • Newsweek reports that Walker told FBI interrogators that he attended a small gathering in which bin Laden was present. The meeting took place sometime prior to Sept. 11 at an Al-Qaeda camp, where Walker received training in weapons and explosives.
  • A CNN taped interview contains statements from Walker that come very close to a confession.

Whatever ultimately happens to John Walker, one thing is certain. If we depart from the normal legal process and treat him as a special exception, it will be an insult to those who defend our nation's freedom and an affront to those of us who run a torch of remembrance for our murdered brothers and sisters in our hearts.

Walker had a duty to extricate himself from any affiliation with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda just as soon as he saw that the food, leaflets and bombs dropping all around him were from the USA.

Instead, he continued to fight alongside an organization that beats, dismembers and executes women and members of other faiths.

The sympathy of the American people is better placed elsewhere. This man doesn't need any additional attention or understanding. What he needs is a generous dose of American due process, with all punishments placed neatly on the table in their proper fashion.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2001
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

All Rights Reserved