What Next

The “American Taliban” Goes Free

How John Walker Lindh’s case kept the American people in the dark about extremism and state-sanctioned torture.

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In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. forces scoured Afghanistan for Taliban fighters. They weren’t expecting to find John Walker Lindh, a young man from California who had converted to Islam and moved abroad to study the Quran. Lindh was dubbed the “American Taliban,” but his case ended in a plea deal, leaving his treatment while in custody a secret. At the time, Lindh’s story seemed uncomplicated: He was associating with extremists. Now, years later, his case feels like a missed opportunity. How did it happen that he went through our criminal justice system, but we learned so little about extremism and the nation’s treatment of detainees?

Guest: Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law. Her book is Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State.

Podcast production by Mary Wilson, Jayson De Leon, and Ethan Brooks.