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Will Walker Team Query Detainees?

Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners may soon be answering questions from lawyers for fellow Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, but the government doesn't want the detainees to know who posed the questions.

Under a proposal submitted Tuesday to a federal judge, Lindh's lawyers would submit written questions to Pentagon interviewers, who would make detainees in Cuba believe it was all part of their military interrogation.

"If detainees learn that they can communicate with one of their number through the American criminal justice system, including through defense counsel, their continued willingness to cooperate with interrogators may be severely compromised," the pleading said.

The written motion was part of a government plan that rejected the direct questioning of prisoners sought by attorneys for Lindh — even turning down a judge's suggestion for a video hookup.

Defense lawyers want to contact prisoners who could back up Lindh's assertion that he did not kill Americans and, specifically, played no role in the murder of a CIA agent during a prison uprising in Afghanistan.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has scheduled a May 28 hearing to impose a method of conducting defense interviews if the two sides can't agree voluntarily.

The government filing contended that a video hookup would not allow enough time for Pentagon officials to screen questions in order to protect national security information.

"Such judgments are far more safely and reliably made on the basis of written submissions, allowing as much time and consideration as is necessary," the government said.

The proposal would provide for:

  • DOD teams, walled off from prosecutors, to question the prisoners based on the written questions.
  • Written summaries of the responses, furnished to defense counsel as soon as possible.
  • Opportunity for follow-up questions by the defense.
  • Audio/video recordings of the interviews.

    A government review team would screen the questions to ensure they were relevant to the criminal prosecution and guard against release of sensitive information.

    Lindh, 21, who grew up in Marin County, Calif., is charged with conspiring to murder U.S. nationals; providing support and services to foreign terrorist organizations, including the al Qaeda terror network; and using firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence. Three of the 10 charges carry maximum life sentences; the other seven have prison terms of up to 90 years.

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