Spann was the first American killed in Afghanistan, on November 25, 2001, shortly after interrogating the ‘American Taliban’
Johnny “Mike” Spann was a CIA special operations officer who was the first American killed in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attack, on November 25, 2001.
I first wrote about him on May 3, 2011, after news of the death of Osama bin Laden, Remembering Johnny “Mike” Spann:
Since that first post, we have remembered Spann on each anniversary of his death.
Hearing the news of Osama bin Laden’s death brought forward many emotions and memories.
One of those memories for me was the story of Johnny “Mike” Spann, from Winfield, Alabama, the first American killed in the Afghanistan war, on November 25, 2001.
Spann was a CIA operative, one of a small number of Americans who landed in Afghanistan, helped coordinate local forces hostile to the Taliban, and directed bombing and other military action.
The story of this small band of men has been told, but not told enough.
Spann was killed during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi when Taliban prisoners gained access to weapons and attacked.
Each year the research seems to discover new facts and stories, including the letter from Afghan warlord Abdul Rahdis Dostum and the memorial he dedicated in Spann’s memory, interviews with his oldest daughter Alison, and the family’s reaction to the release of Bowie Bergdahl.
Researching each new post, I learned additional details about the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi , Spann’s interrogation of ‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh, and prison uprising in which Spann was killed, including this 2004 L.A. Times article, Detainees Describe CIA Agent’s Slaying:
Captives from Afghanistan have told FBI agents that CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann became the first American to die in a clash in Afghanistan after he shot to death a prisoner who was attempting to attack him, possibly sparking the prison riot that claimed his life.
The events surrounding Spann’s death three years ago have never been fully explained by U.S. officials. Government accounts have said he was swarmed by angry Taliban soldiers at the prison and crushed or beaten to death, but his father has suggested that his son may have been shoved to his knees and shot execution-style.
No concrete details on the death emerged in the court case of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban from Marin County, who had been interrogated by Spann shortly before the CIA agent died. The Afghan prisoners said Lindh shouted out around the time of the prison uprising that he was “an American and spoke English,” in an attempt to escape harm from U.S. and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces.
The newly public FBI reports, released Tuesday along with several hundred pages of other documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the U.S. government seeking information on the treatment of detainees, do not indicate whether the detainees’ accounts were considered believable by U.S. officials.
This photo of Spann “interviewing” American Taliban John Walker Lindh, in the prison:
This year, in researching this post, I discovered the partial transcript of Spann’s attempted interrogation of Lindh via a December 6, 2001 NBC News article:
Last week, just hours before Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners began their uprising at the Northern Afghan fortress of Kala Jangi, CIA agents interviewed John Walker, the 20-year-old American from northern California, NEWSWEEK has learned. The interrogation, which took place shortly before one of the agents was killed, was videotaped by an Afghan cameraman.
THE TAPE, reviewed by NEWSWEEK, represents the first evidence that the CIA knew that there was an American, or at least a Westerner among the hundreds of prisoners. It also demonstrates that Walker actually spoke to the U.S. agents; last week, he told NEWSWEEK that he had only “seen” the two agents.
A Kalashnikov rifle is strapped across his back. Dave is dressed in a black tunic that reaches below his knees, with tan trousers beneath. Walker had apparently been pointed out to Spann as a Westerner, or someone who spoke English.
Lindh was indicted in federal court for conspiracy to kill Americans and to assist Al-Qaeda.
He would ultimately enter a plea deal that sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Lindh had his backers, including his parents, who have claimed Lindh was unfairly demonized:
Paul Theroux writing in the NY Times in October 2016 called for Lindh to be pardoned, and described him as merely an idealistic young do-gooder who got caught up in a bad situation:
It was faith that induced John Walker Lindh to travel to the Islamic world. A Californian, raised as a Catholic, he converted to Islam at age 16. A year later he studied Arabic and Islam in Yemen, and subsequently, still a teenager, he relocated to Pakistan, where he studied at a madrasa. In the spring of 2001, stimulated by his faith, he volunteered for the Afghan Army. As his father, Frank Lindh, explained in The Nation in 2014: “John’s motivation was based on youthful idealism: He felt it was his religious duty to help defend civilians against Russian-backed warlords, the so-called Northern Alliance, which was seeking to displace the Taliban government. He was deeply moved by stories of horrific human rights abuses by the Northern Alliance.”
It was almost unimaginable then that the United States would declare Afghanistan an enemy. The George W. Bush administration, far from antagonistic, provided the country, which was led by the Taliban, with a $43 million grant in support of an opium growing ban in May 2001. Mr. Lindh was a foot soldier fighting the Northern Alliance when, after Sept. 11, the United States invaded Afghanistan on a punitive mission. Baffled by this turn of fortune’s wheel, Mr. Lindh fled on foot to Kunduz, was taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance, imprisoned and interrogated, and suffered severe physical harm. He was still only 20 years old when he was handed over to the United States military.
Ultimately remorseful, he accepted a plea agreement at a hearing in Alexandria, Va., in 2002, was sentenced to 20 years and is now in a federal penitentiary. He has been brutalized in prison; he spends his time studying and trying to avoid the attacks of his fellow prisoners.
His mission — like mine, like the volunteer Sinn Feiner and the ultra-Zionist — was to be useful, taking risks to help people perceived as oppressed; and like me, he did not fully understand the bigger picture, was in over his head, and was overtaken by events.
Hillary Clinton called Mr. Lindh a traitor on national television. I think that far from being traitorous, the idealism of Mr. Lindh is deep in the American grain….
With that in mind, those of us who have been no nearer to this White House than a picket line would appreciate it if the president, in his last months in office, reviewed the case of John Walker Lindh with a view to commuting his sentence on compassionate grounds.
Obama never pardoned Lindh, but Lindh will not have to wait long to be released. I also learned that Lindh is that Lindh is set to be released from prison in 2019.
Photographed naked and bound, California-born John Walker Lindh became detainee #001 in the global war on terrorism and dubbed the “American Taliban.”
Branded a traitor and terrorist back home, he was convicted of supporting the Taliban and sentenced to 20 years in prison in a media firestorm that captured the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 era.
Now 36 years old, Lindh is set to be released in less than two years.
When Lindh leaves prison in less than two years, he will be unrepentant, as a June 2017 Foreign Policy article documents:
Now 36 years old, Lindh is set to be released in less than two years. And he’ll leave prison with Irish citizenship and a stubborn refusal to renounce violent ideology, according to the U.S. government. Foreign Policy obtained two government documents that express concerns about Lindh: One details the communications of Lindh and other federal prisoners convicted of terrorism-related charges, and the second, written by the National Counterterrorism Center, addresses the intelligence community’s larger concerns over these inmates, once released.
“As of May 2016, John Walker Lindh (USPER) — who is scheduled to be released in May 2019 after being convicted of supporting the Taliban — continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts,” reads the National Counterterrorism Center document prepared earlier this year.
The report, marked “For Official Use Only” and dated Jan. 24, 2017, provides a window into how the intelligence community looks at the prospect of releasing American citizens still considered potential threats. The document indicates that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are already worried that “homegrown violent extremists,” like other criminals, could have high rates of recidivism.
The document, which cites various Federal Bureau of Prisons intelligence summaries, claims that in March of last year, Lindh “told a television news producer that he would continue to spread violent extremist Islam upon his release.”
While Lindh gets ready for release, apparently determined to continue whatever mission it was that brought him into the embrace of the Talibah, Mike Spann’s family still struggles to come to grips with their loss.
Spann’s daughter Alison recently spoke on Memorial Day 2017, at a gathering in Tuscaloosa, Alabama:
This Memorial Day, she urged the crowd to remember the families of fallen soldiers.
Alison Spann currently works with two scholarship programs, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and the CIA Memorial Scholarship Foundation, ensuring the children of fallen servicemen and servicewomen receive good educations.
“It’s really hard when a father or mother dies and leaves the other parent alone with three, four, even one kid to provide the basic essentials like education. So those specific projects are really close to my heart because I want to make sure all of those families are provided for,” she told ABC 33/40 News.
Alison Spann said her father’s legacy was putting God, family, and country first. He also always wanted to help others. She said he was passionate about freeing the people of Afghanistan from Taliban rule.
Spann’s father, also named Johnny, was interviewed last December:
It’s important to remember Johnny “Mike” Spann, particularly when John Walker Lindh goes free.DONATE
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