Glenn appeared on CNN's TalkBack Live to discuss American Taliban fighter John Walker on 12/11/01.
Below is a transcript.
Glenn appeared again on 1/16/02 to continue this discussion.
Click here for transcripts.
HARRIS, CNN TALKBACK LIVE HOST: Twenty-year-old John Walker fought with the Taliban, and now he's just sitting, cooling his heels in U.S. custody in southern Afghanistan. Now, was his choice to side with the Taliban an actual act of treason, was it a youthful indiscretion, as some believe, or should it be considered as act of courage? That's right, courage. we're going to ask our guests about that. Glenn Sacks is a columnist for the Los Angeles "Daily Journal." Curtis Sliwa is founder of the Guardian Angels, and he's a radio talk show host at WABC in New York. And Peter Noel, he is a columnist and investigative reporter.
We sure do thank all of you for coming in today. Glenn, I have to start with you, because I just heard the strangest thing. I heard someone tell me moments ago that you have admitted that you did something similar to what John Walker did in your youthful past. What's the story there?
GLENN SACKS, COLUMNIST: Well, when I was young, when I was 19, I left the United States looking for adventure, looking for a cause to believe in, and I tried to join a revolutionary movement in Africa. Fortunately for me, they wouldn't take me. But I look back now, I realize it was a brutal left-wing regime. But at the time, I was idealistic.
I thought this was a noble thing to do. I thought it was important to commit myself to what it was that I believed in. And there were a lot of young men like me, you know, that you could find in the hostels and train stations of Europe, who felt this way.
Some of them went to Nicaragua, some of them went to El Salvador. Some of them went to various places. So I can understand some of what motivated John Walker to do what he did.
HARRIS: All right, now that you think you understand it, what do you think he is? Is he a traitor? Is he some sort of a hero? What do you think?
SACKS: No, I don't think he's a hero. I give him credit for having the courage to put his life on the line for his religious beliefs. I think he's extremely foolish. I agree with President Bush, that he's a misguided young man who was sort of misled into thinking that he was going to join a great and noble cause.
I don't see that he's a traitor. There's no evidence that he ever fired on Americans or American soldiers. When he went to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, nobody could have imagined that the Americans would have been fighting a ground war in Afghanistan.
He want to Afghanistan in March or April. There's nobody in the United States who could have possibly imagined that we'd be fighting a war in Afghanistan. He went to fight the Northern Alliance. Taliban are one group of thugs. The Northern Alliance, in their day in power, they were a group of thugs, too. So I don't see where he's a traitor.
HARRIS: All right, but, Curtis, I'm going to guess that you're not going to see it the same way.
CURTIS SLIWA, WABC RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Not at all. And in fact, Johnny "Taliban" Walker there -- remember, as he prefers to be referred to, Abdul Hamid. Let's refer to him by his Muslim preferred name. He believed in martyrdom. That was part of his fundamentalist religious world of the world of Islam.
And if he believed so fervently in martyrdom, well, let's put him on that Paradise Express and let him meet his maker, Allah, at his side, and have his marriage to 72 vestal virgins, so he'll learn whether it exists or not. And I'll do it at taxpayers' experience.
Give him a trial. Get Alan Dershowitz to defend him. Give him all the defense that money can buy, and then put him up against the wall, shoot him as a traitor, and let's see if he can make it on the paradise express.
HARRIS: Let me play devil's advocate here...
SACKS: ... an armchair patriot who never put himself on the line for his beliefs, and now you're just calling for John Walker to be put up against the wall and shot.
PETER NOEL, COLUMNIST: Well...
SACKS: Armchair patriot.
SLIWA: I don't think you should jump to that conclusion. I have been shot five times out in the streets, the mean, tough streets of New York city defending people. So although I haven't served in the military I think I've earned a few stripes in the war against domestic terrorism.
HARRIS: Let's -- let's let Peter weigh in. He's -- he's earned his moment now. Go ahead, Peter.
NOEL: Right. I feel that look, at some point it's going come out that John Walker might have been working for some agency connected to the U.S. government.
SLIWA: Like what?
NOEL: I believe it. Who knows? The CIA and all the different agencies they don't ever speak to each other. At some point, he is going to come out as someone who may have been a patriot. You know, he went there, yes, to fight. He may have been misguided, yes. He's everything that they say about him.
But look at this: he -- how you can accept John Walker into the Taliban? People must have questioned him. He must have been suspicious to some other members of the Taliban. This is an American. This is the Great Satan. He must have represented a Great Satan before he came...
SACKS: Well, but he was American who was -- he was an American who was fluent in Arabic, which is the language that they spoke.
NOEL: But he was still an American. The point is, yes, the CIA -- CIA agents and different people infiltrate different groups. They must have felt he must have infiltrating the Taliban.
SLIWA: Can you imagine? This is like pearl diving. You get one of the evil ones, the Americans to convert to your point of view and you parade him around campfire talk to campfire talk about how your life was decadent and debaucherous (sic) before, how you've given up all Western cultural values and discovered...
NOEL: (OFF-MIKE) secret -- top secret group that the U.S. trained.
SLIWA: You are a looney kazooney.
NOEL: He might be doing this for his country. He might be doing the same thing and say, "look, I represent the government of the United States. I'm part of some secret war that the government sent me in there." Or what else. So they captured him, so what.
But it could be that he is involved in some top-level secret thing to topple the Taliban. He's providing information right now that can help the government.
HARRIS: Peter, I've got to tell you, if you listen real close, you're probably going to hear a lot of pins dropping at the CIA right about now.
NOEL: Hey, I have a different point of view, you know?
HARRIS: That's a heck of a stretch, man. That's a heck of a stretch.
NOEL: Listen, anything is possible. We didn't -- we didn't believe that -- that people -- some terrorists could come down and take care of the World Trade Center. We didn't believe they could fly two planes into the World Trade Center. Why is that a stretch?
HARRIS: I'll grant you that. But look, what -- we've got to take a break right now.
SLIWA: Saying that the Mossad ended up attacking the World Trade Center on one of those Al Jazeera routines.
HARRIS: Yes, we've heard that one, too. We've heard that one amongst many. But don't worry. We've got much more to talk about coming up. We've got a caller waiting on the line as well. Don't go away, caller from Kentucky. We'll get to you in just a minute. Back with more in a moment.
HARRIS: We are back and we are continuing our discussion about what should happen to John Walker. No shortage of opinions about what this young man's fate should be. We have got a couple of e-mails here I want to get through first. "I think he should be sent to Norfolk, Virginia. I have some Navy buddies who would love to have a chat with him." That's from Brett in Norfolk. I don't think he's talking about having any holiday cookies and tea.
"Mr. Walker is not a traitor. He simply chose his country." How about that? "He should neither be allowed to return to the U.S.A. nor be considered a citizen." That's from Brian in Atlanta, Georgia.
Let's go to the phones now. It's -- we've got a caller from Kentucky. Is it Michael from Kentucky?
HARRIS: Are you there? Thanks for -- from being patient, Michael. What -- what's your view here?
MICHAEL: Well, I'd just like to say that I think he should honestly be branded as a traitor, because of the mere fact that if had those been American troops rather than Northern or Eastern Alliance troops there that he was engaged with, that he would have engaged on us rather than just -- it's becoming one of them. He'd be the same as they are.
SACKS: He never went there to fight the United States. He went there to fight the Northern Alliance.
HARRIS: You know what? I hate to be a...
SACKS: But he went there to fight for -- for the Taliban at a time when the United States was giving aid to the Taliban.
HARRIS: Stay there, Michael. Is it...
SACKS: He never could have imagined that the Americans would enter that war.
HARRIS: Yeah, but he -- Michael, you also said one key word. You said "if." And if it can't be proven that he actually did that sort of thing, does that change your view about what he should -- what should happen to him?
MICHAEL: He stood up for a government that treated people that way. And I just don't think that -- I think was -- he betrayed the United States. You know?
SLIWA: ...benefit of the doubt, Leon. And September 11 came and he heard through the grapevine -- because we do know the Taliban were exalting Osama Bin Laden's ability to attack the World Trade Center, attack the Pentagon.
At that point, being an American, if he supposedly was there only to fight the Northern Alliance, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the non- Pashtuns, then he should have put his Kalashnikov down, gone back to Pakistan, shown his American Express card -- which is an American passport -- and gone back to the Bay Area in San Francisco. But he stayed with that lot of thugs and murderers and marauders. He declared war on America. He should be tried. He's a traitor. He's worse than Osama Bin Laden.
HARRIS: All right. Jump in, jump in.
NOEL: ...clearly on that. You know, if I was his lawyer -- if I were his lawyer, I would say, "Listen. Did you kill any Americans?" No. I mean, and I guess that's what most Americans -- if they brought him back to be tried in the United States in a federal court, most Americans would want to know did you kill any Americans. He didn't kill any Americans.
He -- he was fighting the Northern Alliance.
SLIWA: Hold on, Peter. We have the CIA out there...
HARRIS: Let's -- let's go back to the phones. We've got another caller from Oregon on the line right now. Sorry, we lost the call. All right. Listen. We've got a person here in the audience that had a very interesting point about what would happen if you say this was a person here in the States making the same choice about their life?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I was simply saying as a criminal lawyer here and an 18-year reservist in the military, if this was a case tried in the States, here, and you had individual in the courts who -- or a child who had joined a gang, there would be no discussion about whether or not they had committed a crime, and they wouldn't be talking about getting off because of their age. They would be punished according to the law and that would be the end of it. I think...
SACKS: But we're not talking about a crime. We're talking about serving an army.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think one of the mistakes that the gentleman in the middle was making is this: he talks about that he hadn't actually fired upon northern troops. But one of the things he doesn't realize is the reason why we have President Bush flying from country to country getting people to join in on this fight is that everything about terrorism begins as a philosophy, not as an act or an overt act of carrying a gun.
And you cannot stop a philosophy by waiting for someone to pick up a gun. You have to -- it's when -- when Walker got on the plane, bought that ticket and joined the Taliban, he showed you what his philosophy, where he was mentally and what he was trying to accomplish.
HARRIS: All right. Let's let Glenn respond to that. Glenn?
SACKS: He was studying in Pakistan as a devout Muslim. No doubt he was told a bunch of lies that the Taliban were this noble group of holy soldiers who were going to form the world's first Islamic, morally pure state according to the Koran, and he no doubt bought into it.
There were a lot of Afghanis six years ago, they welcomed the Taliban when the Taliban came to power. The Taliban, of course, wore out their welcome. But they were originally welcomed in Afghanistan.
NOEL: Glenn, Glenn...
SACKS: If the Afghanis can be fooled, if Pakistanis can be fooled, why is it that this foolish young kid can't be fooled?
NOEL: Glenn --- not just Pakistan, Glenn. There are people here -- there are people in the militia here in these United States who believe in what John Walker did. We forgot Timothy McVeigh already. Timothy McVeigh killed over 168 people, Americans. And is John Walker any different? Are we going to try him any differently?
SLIWA: Peter, you're absolutely right. Give...
SACKS: There is no evidence that John Walker has done anything except fight in a war.
SLIWA: And we should give John Walker the same treatment we gave Timothy McVeigh. Execute him. I have no problem with that.
NOEL: Well, if he killed Americans, yes.
HARRIS: OK. We'll continue...
SACKS: There is no evidence that he ever took part in any actions against civilians...
SLIWA: But wait. We do know. Wait a minute.
SACKS: ...any act of terrorism.
SLIWA: Excuse me. We do know that Michael Spann, the CIA operative who passed away, was shot and killed in that prison uprising there in Mazar-e Sharif...
NOEL: You have evidence that Walker killed him?
SLIWA: ...was questioning him.
NOEL: Walker didn't kill him.
SLIWA: He was sent back with the cabal, who rose up...
NOEL: Come on, Curtis.
SLIWA: ...stormed in the guards.
NOEL: Walker did not kill Spann.
SLIWA: He is complicit in the killing of that CIA agent.
SACKS: Well, actually -- but he actually... HARRIS: All right. We're going to have to -- I'm sorry, guys. We are -- we are up against it. We are going to leave it there. As you can see, pretty all of the emotion is tied up in this. Can we get one last, quick comment here from -- from Jenny?
JENNY: I think any comments that were made about Johnny Walker acting out of youthful indiscretion are wrong, because he is a 20- year-old. Of course, we have 18-year-olds in the Army who are fighting for the United States. And I think youthful indiscretion is something like shoplifting lipstick or something, but not...
SACKS: Well, they made -- they made a better decision than Johnny Walker did, those who fought for the United States. There's no question about that, that this man made -- this young man made some astoundingly foolish decisions.
But it doesn't mean he's a traitor. And you've at least got to give him some credit for -- for having the courage to leave the good life up in Marin County and travel halfway around the world, live under primitive conditions to fight for this thing that he believed in. No matter how foolish it is.
HARRIS: Glenn, we are going to have to leave it there. And I'm going to give you credit for having the courage to come out and say all of that. Thank you very much.
SACKS: Ah, well, thank you.
HARRIS: Glenn Sacks, we appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Curtis Sliwa and Peter Noel, you stay right there. We're going to come back and talk to you guys some more just a bit after the break.