Washington -- The parents of John Walker Lindh, who is serving a 20-year sentence in the country's toughest federal prison, stepped up their request for his release, noting yesterday that the first U.S. war-crimes tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, recently resulted in a sentence of just nine months for an Australian detainee held since late 2001.
"John has been in prison for more than five years," said his mother, Marilyn Walker. "It's time for him to come home."
This, said his lead attorney, James J. Brosnahan of San Francisco, "is a simple cry for justice."
Lindh, who grew up in Marin County, left the United States at age 18 to study Islam. In 2001 he was in Afghanistan, fighting for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, he was taken into custody by U.S. forces and returned to the United States; the government contended that he had been trained at an al-Qaida camp.
He was branded "American Taliban" by the tabloids at a time when many Americans wanted instant revenge for the attacks. But in a deal with federal prosecutors in 2002, all terrorism charges were dropped. He pleaded guilty to being a soldier for the Taliban and carrying a rifle and grenades while doing so.
At the time, Lindh's sentence seemed fair, especially since he was facing a maximum of life in prison without parole. Now 26, he sits inside the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colo.
His family and lawyers believe that with the passage of years, there is an opportunity for a renewed effort to persuade President Bush to reduce his sentence.
They said the ruling last week that Guantanamo detainee David Hicks of Australia will be set free after serving just another nine months has moved them to seek equal justice.
Hicks was captured around the same time as Lindh in Afghanistan and was convicted of providing material support to terrorists.
"The Hicks result is again evidence that John's sentence should be commuted," Brosnahan said.
They began asking Bush for clemency in 2004, when Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan at the same time as Lindh, was deported to Saudi Arabia, where his family lives.
Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times.