December 8, 2004


Detainees Describe CIA Agent's Slaying: Johnny 'Mike' Spann shot a prisoner trying to attack him, spurring the 2001 Afghan prison riot that led to his death, captives tell the FBI. (Richard A. Serrano, December 8, 2004, LA Times)

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.

Four prisoners being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were interviewed by the FBI. Their accounts describe Spann as wearing bluejeans, an AK-47 rifle slung over his back and a pistol on his hip, trying to interview Taliban captives — including Lindh — when he was attacked by a prisoner and shot him.

Spann, one captive told the FBI, "was jumped by an Arab or Pakistani male, but the armed man [Spann] shot the prisoner. People began running and chaos ensued."

Another captive described the events of Nov. 25, 2001, in a prison courtyard near Mazar-i-Sharif somewhat differently. Taliban forces had been overcome by Northern Alliance troops at the fort, and Spann was accompanying the Northern Alliance.

"There was an explosion … from a grenade," the other detainee told the FBI. "The American male wearing jeans then ran away from the lines of prisoners. One of the prisoners ran after him. The American turned and fired his pistol, shooting the prisoner in the head. The guards above began firing into the courtyard."

Spann's death and Lindh's capture unfolded as a national drama in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., with Spann hailed as a hero and Lindh vilified as a traitor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 8, 2004 7:42 AM

This account differs little from those of late 2001. Spann shot a guy who jumped him but eventually was overwhelmed.

He's a hero, Lindh's a traitor still.

Posted by: JAB at December 8, 2004 8:06 AM

The LA Times circulation is falling faster than Eli Manning's QB rating and they still don't get it. Lindh took up arms against the American military, he was therefore a traitor. Calling someone/something what he/it is does not constitute villification.

Posted by: Bart at December 8, 2004 12:33 PM