With the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Emmy Award-winning director Greg Barker and producer Tresha Mabile from Showtime’s upcoming doc Detainee 001 discussed the lessons they learned from John Walker Lindh’s story. The documentary will premiere on Sept. 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
“Watching the documentary now given what’s happened, John, in the great scheme of things, was on the winning side,” Barker said during the network’s TCA press day on Wednesday. “It’s hard to say what the lesson is right now given all that’s going on right now and how heart-wrenching it is for those of us who know people in Afghanistan.”
Mabile adds, “What I would’ve liked to have seen was a transition to a peacekeeping mission because 2,000 troops in Afghanistan is nothing—that’s why we have a military. I think the Afghan people wanted us to be there. [Donald] Trump’s plan undermined the democratically elected government and so it made it inevitable that the Taliban would take over. I do blame [Joe] Biden 100 percent because I think he should’ve said that this isn’t a great plan.”
Mabile has been making films about the U.S. military for 20 years including Showtime’s The Longest War (also with Barker) and she also worked for Defence Intelligence in 1993. Detainee 001 discusses the extent of Lindh’s culpability for the various crimes he was accused of, including the role he played in the death of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, the first American to be killed in combat during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
“There was no evidence against John. He is not responsible for the death of Mike Spann,” she said. “He was held in prison for 20 years for material support to the Taliban for carrying a gun and now we’ve turned over the country to the Taliban. In hindsight, it seems like it should’ve been a moment for everyone to stop and take a deep breath and sort out how they would deal with people like John. But instead, he became the face of this war, the poster boy for terrorism. He became a distraction to the fact that we had not caught Osama Bin Laden yet.”
Spann’s daughter Alison Spann was a subject in Detainee 001 and she said she doesn’t blame Lindh for the death of her father.
“At the time, people were saying John was complicit in Spann’s death and was charged with that though those charges were later dropped,” said Barker. “I think there’s really no evidence of that at all. He may have known there might be an uprising… I think what Alison is saying is that he could’ve warned, perhaps, and we can certainly argue that. And the fact that in these moments he didn’t say he was American at all which you question with hindsight.”
Lindh served 17 years of a 20-year sentence and was released on probation in 2019. His current whereabouts are unknown. The producers made multiple attempts to make contact with him and they were denied.
“I think John was on a spiritual journey,” said Mabile of Lindh. “Islam is a beautiful religion; the music is lovely and when you wake up in the morning you hear it on the loudspeakers. I think that’s what he bought into and then he bought into the idea of fighting for innocent Muslims. He didn’t have any understanding of what the Taliban was really like. One of the things the prosecutor said to us when they got him back was that they asked him if he knew the Taliban was beating women and he did not know that. I think he bought into the dreamy aspect of them. He said, ‘My heart became attached to them.’ He was oblivious in a lovesick way to the bad aspects of the Taliban. Now, I’d love to know how he feels about them right now.”
Said Barker, “It’s not just politicians. If you look at the news footage in this documentary from that time and the vilification of John Walker Lindh — I’m not defending what he did — but look at how he was treated as public enemy number one and the certainty of that and the sense that we could judge and dictate. Where are we now? The Taliban is back in power.”
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