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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 12:41 GMT
US denies lawyer to American Taleban
John Walker Lindh, the
John Walker Lindh is being treated for gunshot wounds
The US Government has defended its decision to deny a lawyer to the captive American Taleban fighter John Walker Lindh.

A White House spokesman described the 20-year-old as someone who fought against the United States in an armed conflict and was therefore being treated as a "battlefield detainee" under the Geneva Convention.

Mr Walker's family has demanded that he should be given access to a lawyer.

He has been in military custody since his capture earlier this month following the bloody uprising among Taleban prisoners outside the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

I was in the basement the whole time. I didn't see what was going on. I just heard

John Walker Lindh

Mr Walker, who called himself Abdul Hamid, was wounded during the revolt at which an American CIA agent, Johnny "Mike" Spann, 32, was killed.

The CIA man earlier had interrogated Mr Walker.

The Californian is now being held on a US navy ship in the Indian Ocean, and the White House said he was a being treated according to international law.

"When the questioning deals with military matters or matters of intelligence matters, the Geneva Convention does not require the presence of a lawyer", spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

No charges yet

No decision has been made yet whether Mr Walker should face criminal charges, and the US Justice Department says the case remains under review.

There have been suggestions that Mr Walker should be charged with treason, which carries a possible death penalty, or in connection with the death of CIA agent Spann.

Some American officials - quoted by US media - have suggested that Mr Walker should face the less serious charge of providing material support to a terrorist organisation.

John Walker himself has denied involvement in Mr Spann's killing.

Johnny 'Mike' Spann became the first US casualty in Afghanistan
In a television interview, recorded shortly after his arrest and aired on CNN on Wednesday, he described the prison uprising as "a mistake of a handful of people".

He said after their capture by Northern Alliance forces, some Taleban fighters hid grenades in their clothes and exploded them when being searched inside the fortress where they were being held.

"And so the fighting began", he said.

Speaking from his hospital bed, the wounded American said he was holed up in a room in the basement of the fortress when the fighting took place during which the CIA man was killed.

"I was in the basement the whole time. I didn't see what was going on. I just heard", he said.

He then described how Northern Alliance troops first pumped gas into the basement and later flooded the rooms to flush out the Taleban fighters.

'Freezing water'

"More than half of us were injured... We were standing in water, freezing water, for maybe 20 hours", he said

The 20-year old said the underground prison was filled with the stench of dead bodies and the survivors thought they would die as well.

That is when they decided to surrender.

Mr Walker was later handed over to the Americans and has been treated for gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

President George Bush has the final word on what should happen to him, based on recommendations from the US Justice Department and the Pentagon.

See also:

07 Dec 01 | South Asia
CIA questioned 'American Taleban'
05 Dec 01 | Americas
US shocked by American Taleban
14 Dec 01 | Americas
Enigma of American Taleban
14 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taleban Aussie to be handed to US
03 Dec 01 | South Asia
America's home-grown Taleban fighter
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