A Fuller Portrait of John Walker Lindh

The withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban makes particularly relevant a documentary on the so called “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, “Detainee 001” (Showtime, 9 p.m.).

Director Greg Barker doesn’t show his hand; he follows the story as it unfolds. What’s surprising is how much Lindh spoke about how he got involved with the Taliban and whether or not he had anything to do with the prison uprising that lead to the first U.S. casualty, a CIA agent — and how little of it has been reported before.

Barker told me that CNN ran two or three minutes of it at the time; and then played smaller and smaller variations of it since. “They never showed the whole thing,” he said. 

“It just became this bit of media for us all to consume and get angry over ,” Barker said. “This two or three movie minute clip — and totally taken out of context — with a guy who’s really just been through…this horrific, week-long ordeal. And suddenly we’re judging him and everything based on this one short clip.”

Though some called for execution for treason, Lindh ended up in prison and was released in May last year. But he wouldn’t participate in the film; nor would his parents, which made it hard, the filmmaker said. 

“I’ve never made a film where basically so many key players from all different sides did not want to be a part of the film. In fact, they didn’t even want us to tell the story.  Because, frankly, nobody comes out looking good 20 years on. I don’t think John looks particularly good. I don’t think the government looks particularly good, the justice department or the military, the soldiers on the ground. 

“Normally when you spend four years on a project, people start opening up,” Barker says. “No, they did not.  So, John didn’t want to speak. His family and lawyers played nice with us for a while but didn’t want to speak. And, frankly, it just made us all the more determined to tell the story and persevere.”

The fascinating finished product runs tonight after an hourlong special “Return of the Taliban: A Vice Special Report” (Showtime, 8 p.m.) that looks at more recent developments. 

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