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Glenn on CNN's TalkBack Live (1/16/02)
Glenn appeared on CNN's TalkBack Live to discuss American Taliban fighter John Walker on 1/16/02.

Below is a transcript.

Glenn first appeared on TalkBack Live on 12/11/01 to discuss Walker.
Click here for transcripts.


Did John Walker Know About September 11 Attacks?; Firefighters Statue Sparks Debate

Aired January 16, 2002 - 15:00   ET


CAROL LIN, HOST (voice-over): The John Walker decision...

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: These crimes which -- that are charged, they fit the evidence which we now have. And they are not death eligible crime. The maximum penalty is a penalty of life in prison.

LIN: But what if he knew ahead of time about a planned suicide attack on the U.S.?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In light of everything that's happened, he'll probably be lucky to, you know, to get off with life.

LIN: Also, what is there about this statue that makes a firefighter want to protest?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're changing history. They're trying to rewrite a historical picture. They can't do it. They shouldn't do it.

LIN: Is diversity more important than accuracy?


(on camera): All right. Welcome to TALKBACK LIVE: "America Speaks Out." I'm Carol Lin. We have got some great topics today. Later we are going to find out more about that Alabama man who apparently is being held hostage in Afghanistan.

First though, let's look at the case against American Taliban John Walker. Court records say Walker knew as early as June that Osama bin Laden had sent suicide squads to the United States. Attorney General John Ashcroft says Walker's allegiance to the al Qaeda terrorists never faltered. He is charged with taking up arms against his countrymen. For that, he faces life in prison but not the death penalty.

Here to talk about this is Melanie Morgan. She's a radio talk show host on KSFO in San Francisco; and Glenn Sacks, a columnist for the "Los Angeles Daily Journal." He wrote a column for the "San Francisco Chronicle" sympathizing with Walker. Good afternoon, Glenn. Good afternoon, Melanie. Thanks for joining us today.



LIN: All right. What do you make of these charges? Let's start with you, Melanie. Are you satisfied with the charges at hand?

MORGAN: No, I'm not. I'm very disappointed in fact. I think that it was a political decision made by the Bush administration. And I am -- make no mistake about it -- a conservative Republican. But I think that the Bush administration made a political decision to make this a criminal matter rather than take it to the military tribunals. If we have set up the military tribunals, why aren't we using them?

LIN: Glenn?

SACKS: Well, he is a U.S. citizen. He has the right to be tried in a U.S. civilian court. I don't see how you could try him in a military tribunal.

MORGAN: Of course you can. You can argue that he has lost his -- forfeited his right to be an American citizen by taking up arms against Americans.

SACKS: I would think that you would first have to have stripped him of his citizenship rights and then try him for whatever it is he did after his citizenship rights were stripped. As of right now, he is a U.S. citizen, like it or not.

MORGAN: Well, according to the law, there is argument in precedent for that exact scenario.

LIN: Melanie, Glenn, before we get into the details of the legal question, let me ask you this. The Justice Department has said that it may not be done with building its case against John Walker, that they may try to build a case that still would add capital punishment as a penalty. What do you make of that?

MORGAN: Well, if that's true, I hope so. But it looks to me like it's a trial balloon on the part of the administration. They want to see how Americans react to these charges and the way they are being handled. And my reaction is not very flattering at this point in time.

LIN: But don't you think...

MORGAN: I have no sympathy for John Walker.

LIN: Well, there you raise the question. I mean, aren't we really just talking about a 20-year-old man and what really happened to him in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan? Nobody really knows the full story yet.

MORGAN: Well, nobody really knows the full story. But I have to say that I was 16 years old when I left home and I didn't go out to Yemen or any place else and take up arms against my country. This man made some choices. He is going to have to live with those choices. There are other young men in this country who have made choices to become American Marines and soldiers and sailors who are the same age as John Walker, who have already lost their lives and will continue to lose their lives in the future. He needs to face the consequences of his actions.

LIN: Glenn, why don't you agree with that?

SACKS: My concern is not with the charges specifically. My concern is about this Miranda waiver that he supposedly signed. According to Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, he was providing valuable information to the United States about the Taliban in early December while the war was still going on. Now we find out that he was given this Miranda waiver back in early December. Are we going to use information that he gave to us help us in our war against the Taliban against him in court now? I have a real problem with that.

MORGAN: You may be surprised to find out that I have a problem as well. And that's why I felt the military tribunal would resolve some of these issues. But I have deep concerns about whether or not any of this confession is going to be allowed in. I'm not a lawyer and so I'm only looking at it from, you know, a layperson point of view. But I'm also concerned about the circus environment that we are going to see with a criminal trial in the northern district of Virginia.

SACKS: I have no problem with a circus environment in a criminal trial. I have no concern with high-priced lawyers or talk shows or anything like that. My copy of the Constitution doesn't say anything about that. He is an American citizen. He has the right to be tried in a U.S. court and all the rights due to an American citizen.

LIN: All right. Hold that thought you two because everything that you are saying right now is getting a strong response from our audience that wants to get in on this. Who do you have, Chris?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Michael from Ithaca, New York -- Michael.

MICHAEL: He is an American and I think he deserves a defense, a legal defense, no matter what.

LIN: No matter what. All right.

MORGAN: He will get a legal defense no matter what. There's no question. It's whether or not his defense will be made in a military court or in a criminal court.

LIN: Well, right now it's being made in a criminal court.

SACKS: A U.S. citizen should not be in a military court.

LIN: Well, it's already been established that it's going to be tried in a criminal court, and he does have rights. The question is, what really -- what were the circumstances under which he waived those rights?

SACKS: That's something I have a real question about. One thing, we know his condition. He was wounded twice. He was on morphine, possibly addicted to hashish. He was lying there half dead in that military hospital. And then, he's been held for 45 days without right to counsel, and then they stick this Miranda waiver in front of him. And he supposedly signs away his rights.

This is a very complicated case. And I think the Bush administration had a responsibility to bend over backwards to respect this guy's rights, and instead, they appear to have shortcut -- used some kind of a shortcut and gotten all of these supposed confessions out of this guy that now they are going to use in court.

MORGAN: I could not disagree more. I think the Bush administration has gone too easy on this guy.

LIN: We have a legal analyst with us today, Cynthia Alksne. Cynthia, maybe you can address some of these legal questions in terms of a grown man waiving his Miranda rights and, according to the Justice Department, speaking to FBI agents of his own free will.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I understand that there's a signed waiver of his Miranda warnings, which are, you know, the right to remain silent, the right to go forward without a lawyer or one will be appointed for you, those classic warnings that we all know, and then he signed it. And that, my guess is, will be valid.

But let me tell you, there are two major battles being formed now in in this case. The major battle for the defense is whether or not theses statements are going to be admissible. And clearly that's where their focus is going to be. There will be a hearing about whether or not they are admissible and was he able to really form the mental processes to sign this waiver and to tell the FBI agents that he was willing to go forward.

My guess is legally, in the end, they will testify about what his condition was and ultimately, a court will decide, yes he could sign the waiver. And remember, not only are there these statements against him to the FBI, but also he gave CNN an interview where he said very similar things which can also be use against him. And the question of the Miranda waiver is not at all involved with the CNN interview. You have no right to remain silent to CNN.

SACKS: But he was on morphine during that CNN interview.

ALKSNE: Not in the beginning of it. He actually got a morphine shot in the middle of it.


LIN: And a CNN interview is not an interview with the FBI. I mean, it's not necessarily...

ALKSNE: No, of course it's not, but it is a statement of the defendant which can be used against him in a court of law. And that's the question here. In this battle of the statements, it's an interesting addition that, since we are on CNN, we might as well note that CNN is a player in this statement issue.

The second major battle is what is going to happen in the grand jury. As you know, he has been charged in a criminal complaint which is what we use in this country to advise somebody of their charges and to make bail recommendations. But ultimately, a grand jury will issue an indictment. They are not restricted to the charges that are in the complaint, and so we may see different charges and can consider whether or not we want to -- or whether or not the Justice Department wants to go ahead and charge him with treason or whether or not they want to do different things.

And that's the battle going on with the prosecutors. Now, they are trying to find out what can we prove against John Walker that is independent of all these statements, so they don't have to deal with the statement issue for a minute. What do we have, independent of the statements, and that's the prosecution battle that is happening right now.

LIN: All right, Cynthia. I want to get a quick question in from our audience here. I know we have got some legal questions here. Chris, what do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Brent. He has a legal question. Go ahead.

BRENT: Why can't he be charged with treason against the United States?

ALKSNE: He can be changed with treason. As you know, the Constitution speaks to treason and says that a person has to either, in order to be convicted of treason, they have to either have an in- court confession or have two witnesses to each overt act or each act that is required under treason, being a United States citizen and taking up arms.

So every time you had a fact about -- and then he took up arms by doing X, and then he took arms by doing Y, you would have to have two independent witnesses for each X and each Y. So, procedurally, it's a cumbersome case. My hunch about it is that given that they are putting together the case for now with the conspiracy charges and aiding and abetting terrorists, they are going to put together a treason case, and ultimately they will have to make a charging decision. Does this really feel like it's so serious that it ought to be treason? Is it the equivalent of Benedict Arnold? On some level, are we raising his importance in this battle or is he more like Patty Hearst and we'll just charge him with the regular criminal charges. So that's what happen in the Justice Department, my guess is, regarding treason.

LIN: But in order to upgrade the charge to treason, don't they have to find witnesses, at least two witnesses who would come forward and say that John Walker was in fact actively plotting against Americans or to even get John Walker himself to confess?

ALKSNE: Yes, of course they do, but they have to do that anyway. I mean, they aren't going to be able to prove the case they have without witnesses. If they -- no smart prosecutor, and these are smart prosecutors, no smart prosecutor would rely solely on his confessions when there is a issue about his confessions. So they are looking actively, and may already have and have already put these witnesses in front of the grand jury and have sworn statements to every person they can find who can be witnesses to these charges anyway and all the underlying facts. So putting together the treason case is the same as the conspiracy case.

LIN: All right. We have got to take a break, but a quick wide shot of the audience here. I just want to get a hand poll here. How many people think that the charges should be upgraded to treason?


Looks like a majority here. All right, interesting topic. We are going to continue with it. And later, we are going to find out about that Alabama man who may have been abducted by an Afghan warlord.


ASHCROFT: Youth is not absolution for treachery and person self- discovery is not an excuse to take up arms against one's countries.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope this is going be an open and televised trial so the public will get the better chance to understand what really happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He made choices, chose his religion which is fine, you know. But then to become so extreme, that was his choice also.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he did have the ability to make choices. I don't think he was brainwashed. I think he went into it definitely.


LIN: That's what the hometown thinks, John Walker's hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lots of people split about what should happen to this young man. He's only 20 years old, left for Pakistan, Yemen and ultimately fought for the Taliban.

Now joining us today as we debate the issue of what charges are being filed against him and whether he will, in fact, fact the death penalty is Melanie Morgan. She is a talk show host from KSFO in San Francisco. Also joining us is Glenn Sacks. He is with the "L.A. Daily Journal"; and our legal expert of the day, Cynthia Alksne. Thanks everybody for joining us.

We've got some questions and comments from the audience, and we have got one from Melanie, right? It's asking about precedence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Maryellen (ph).

LIN: Maryellen.

MARYELLEN: Have there been cases like this in our history? And how have they been resolved?

LIN: Cynthia?

ALKSNE: Well, there are Civil War cases where people were charged with different aiding and abetting the enemy. There are certainly those cases. There's the case of, you know, Tokyo Rose. We have cases and ultimately, I think there is precedent to charge him this way. My guess is he will not in the end get treason because of his level of information and level of assistance is so low. But we will have to wait and see.

SACKS: Well, I think there are other problems with the treason charge. He didn't go to Afghanistan to fight against the United States. He went to fight against the Northern Alliance. He never could have dreamed that the Americans were going to end up fighting a ground war in Afghanistan when he went there several months ago. And once the war began, he couldn't have simply left the army. He would have been shot as a deserter.

MORGAN: Well, that's not exactly true, Glenn. That's not exactly true. The information that we are getting today was that he had met personally with Osama bin Laden and had been given a choice to become involved with a suicide mission in the United States...

SACKS: And he said no.

MORGAN: ... or to go to the Northern Alliance front. So -- he was aware that there was definitely a possibility of being involved with fighting American forces.

SACKS: He was aware that the people with him were anti-American, and that's certainly a problem. But I don't think he ever could have dreamed he would have been fighting against the United States. The people in this room...

MORGAN: Oh, we don't have any idea whether he could have dreamed that or not. We don't know his state of mind.

SACKS: Did the people in this room knew we were going to be fighting against the United States in Afghanistan before September 11?

MORGAN: He was there in the same time period, Glenn, as when we became involved in the conflict. Remember, this has been four months now.

SACKS: He went there in the spring when nobody could have dreamed the United States would be fighting a ground war in Afghanistan.

LIN: Well, let me ask you this: Is this charge of conspiracy to kill Americans is just knowledge that Osama bin Laden had been plotting these attacks. Is knowledge really a form of conspiracy? I mean, was he really expect to do anything about this legally?

ALKSNE: Yes. Conspiracy requires an overt act. So he has to not only have known that -- known about the plots to kill Americans and mentally agreed to that -- must have taken steps to assist that. And that's what is interesting...

SACKS: He may not have even believed it.

ALKSNE: ... in this debate you just had. And that is that he has to make some kind of steps against Americans in the current charge and he'd have to take steps against Americans in a treason charge. So it isn't this lack of information is the reason why they aren't charging treason because they have to do it in both cases.

LIN: We have got a question from Lorna here in the audience about John Walker's rights.

LORNA: Having done something as devious as this, isn't he automatically stripped of his rights as a U.S. citizen?

SACKS: I don't see how he could be stripped of his rights as a citizen because of what he has done.

ALKSNE: No. He's only been charged. He's presumed innocent in the United States of America and he is not automatically stripped of his citizenship.

LIN: OK. We've got another question, also on the phone with us right now, John in Pennsylvania. John, what's your question?

JOHN: Hi there. I can see the lynch mob forming already around this guy. Remember what they did to Wen Ho Lee. Here's my question: I want to know in detail what actions this guy took that caused the charges to be thrown against him? What, in detail, what actions caused -- brought these charges against him? And remember what they did...

MORGAN: Do you recall the circumstances, sir, in which he was caught?

JOHN: I don't care about the circumstances. What did he do?

MORGAN: He was caught with a kalashnikov rifle...

JOHN: Oh, Christ, is that against the law?

MORGAN: ... in a basement in Mazar-e Sharif. He was taking and bearing arms against Americans where there was one American CIA...

SACKS: Bearing arms against the Northern Alliance.

MORGAN: He was in the same prison in which John Spann died.

LIN: All right. Hold that thought. Hold that thought. My apologies to the audience and our guests. We have got some breaking news. Let's go to Leon Harris upstairs in the newsroom -- Leon.


LIN: We continue our debate here on the charges against John Walker. What are his rights? Should those charges be upgraded to treason? Should he face the death penalty?

We got a comment from one of our audience members, David.

DAVID: Well, this guy, I'm sure he had been trained real good, you know, and I think maybe he might be using this as strategy because the things he's telling us, you can't use it against him in a court of law.

LIN: You think it's part of his legal strategy?

DAVID: Right. So he might be using that, see...

LIN: Do you think he is clever enough to do this all...

DAVID: I sure do.

LIN: ... on his own, without legal representation?

DAVID: Absolutely.

LIN: Interesting. Thank you very much, David. A hot topic, as always. John Walker, 20-year-old American.

Melanie Morgan, Cynthia Alksne and Glenn Sacks. Thank you so much for joining us today. Glad you could be with us. We are going to be right back with much more.



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