BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week in the case of the United States versus John Walker Lindh, a.k.a. the American Talib, the defendant was indicted on ten counts and denied bail. The government drew on three sources to make its case against Lindh's release. Information gleaned by the FBI and the CIA, e-mails Lindh wrote to his mother, and a CNN interview and news report produced by Robert Pelton who spoke with Lindh in an Afghanistan hospital. The government's original complaint quotes extensively from the CNN broadcast. Pelton has seen the government's complaint and objects to the way his narration was used to make its case. Robert Pelton, welcome to OTM.
ROBERT PELTON: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So then what's your complaint? We heard the report. We saw the government's complaint. And the facts as you stated them on CNN seemd to jibe perfectly.
ROBERT PELTON: Yeah. The only catch here is that when you commit a crime you would hope that a federal investigative agency would have proof of the actual crime -- not use sort of secondhand or casual conversations by people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well here is what the complaint says. In reference to your broadcast, it says: In the same broadcast the correspondent who conducted the interview went on to say that Walker had said that he is a member of Ansar, who are the Arabic-speaking fighters who are funded and supported by Bin Laden. He did tell you he was a member of Ansar, right?
ROBERT PELTON: Right. But Ansar is actually any group that cannot speak the language of the Taliban --they go into the foreign camps.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So he didn't tell you that this is a group of Arabic-speaking fighters who are funded and supported by Bin Laden--
ROBERT PELTON: Well he said he was a member of Ansar, but I explained it more fully because I'm very conversant with the camps and the people that go through them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The complaint also says that he told you he was trained in the use of a Kalashnikov rifle and was sent to Kashmir to fight.
ROBERT PELTON:What he said to me was that he was tr-- I asked him about his military training, and he laughed. He did not say that he was trained in the use of the Kalashnikov, and then he did not say he was sent to Kashmir to fight. He said he was with the Kashmiris, and then in--later on he said that he went to Kasmir. But once again, this - these are words that I'm writing to narrate a report with.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the quotes that they are quoting are you paraphrasing and adding and addending his remarks to you.
ROBERT PELTON: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is your concern here that he sounds more knowledgeable by way of your explanations than he was in fact when you spoke to him?
ROBERT PELTON:Right. I, I have two concerns here. One is I'm making assumptions because I know exactly what Walker did and where he came from and so on and so forth, but at the same time let's say I'm a good journalist and I get my facts right. Well there are plenty journalists who don't get their facts right, and if it becomes precedent that simple-- that the FBI simply uses television reports to convict people, God help us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think that John Walker Lindh was drugged when he spoke to you?
ROBERT PELTON:The only drug that he had received was an antibiotic. There is a specific point at which the medic says I'm going to give you morphine now, and I say to Walker and I also say it so it's on tape: you're going to have happy juice, cause I also knew that that would be a problem if people listen to this and thought he was drugged. If you know the effects of morphine, he has about 5 or 10 minutes in which -- and you can actually watch it on the tape -- he gets sort of sleepy and he starts to drift off. During that time period I don't ask him any incriminating questions. I don't, you know, I don't ask him if he's killed people or-- is he a terrorist or anything like that, so I'm very cognizant of the fact -- and also the effects of morphine.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:It seems very unlikely that the government could accept this testimony, whether directly from Walker and certainly not from hearsay after drugs like that were administered.
ROBERT PELTON: Well that's actually incorrect. One of the things that you'll find and one of the reasons why this is so important is because we're fighting this new War on Terrorism, the military can interrogate a prisoner by any means they want and extract any information they need. That information can then be used to prosecute them -- not necessarily in a court of law, but it can be used to find out other information.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
ROBERT PELTON: Can I say one thing?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sure!
ROBERT PELTON:One of the things I'm concerned about is when we talk about the media and the press, you know, one of the things that makes America so unique is that we have these very rigid protections of the media and how they gather information. And what I'm seeing here is, is all the rules are being rewritten in terms of how we handle prisoners, how we fight wars and things like that, and I also see this sort of starting with the media in that how the media is covering the war is now being used to prosecute a war, and that bothers me deeply.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
ROBERT PELTON: You're welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Robert Pelton is the author of The Hunter, The Hammer and Heaven, and he interviewed John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan.