The Associated Press reports that a white supremacist attacked convicted terrorist John Walker Lindh at a federal prison in Victorville, beating him up and leaving bruises but doing no permanent damage. Lindh was convicted in July 2002 after a plea bargain with the government, in which he pled guilty to was two counts of the indictment against him. In January, the federal Bureau of Prisons took custody of Lindh, presumably after extensive interrogation exhausted his usefulness. He was put into the general population at the federal prison in Victorville, California, about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert. Since the attack, Lindh has been moved to solitary confinement for his protection.
The incident happened Monday night at the medium-security federal prison in Victorville as Lindh was preparing to pray, said his lawyer Tony West.
"Our understanding is that the inmate tackled John and began hitting him while screaming obscenities before running off," West said in a statement. Lindh suffered a bruise on his forehead, the lawyer said.
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A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "It was a minor incident, a prison fight. He got a little scraped up, but he's fine. One guy was picking on him."
The official had no information on Lindh's attacker. The FBI said Thursday it was investigating.
Analysis: If I were warden, I'd be really careful about putting Lindh anywhere near the general prison population. First, he's a convicted terrorist, and that has to rank pretty low among prisoner status (somewhere near child molesters and rapists). Second, he's not a physically powerful or strong man. When I saw him in July 2002, he was a wiry young man who didn't look tough at all. Third, he's famous (or infamous), and a prisoner might accrue significant status by attacking such a famous person in prison. Fourth, he's not exactly a popular celebrity. More than a few Americans have expressed a desire to physically punish him. In the Hobbesian world of federal prison, I'm not surprised that someone acted on that urge.
Bottom Line: John Walker Lindh may have a long -- and lonely -- prison sentence to look forward to for his own safety. Unless some prison group -- e.g. guards or other Muslim prisoners -- steps up to his defense, he may be in grave danger. Thus, the most prudent course of action may be to keep him in solitary confinement, possibly for the rest of his sentence.
Update: I just read the original article in the San Bernardino County Sun on the Lindh attack. It has some more details that the AP story did not have, such as:
The source, who asked not to be identified, said Muslim inmates had been protecting Walker Lindh because they viewed him as a hero. But they pulled back their support because they decided he was not a radical dissident, the source said.
New Bottom Line: Lindh needs to be protected by the prison guards and/or kept in solitary confinement. Other than fellow Islamic prisoners, Lindh is likely to find few friends inside the walls of federal prisons.