US officials would not say Sunday if captured US Taliban fighter John Walker would face treason charges, but were hopeful of gaining valuable information from him about Afghanistan's Islamic militia.
US Vice President Dick Cheney, when asked if Walker was a traitor, told NBC's "Meet the Press" only that the 20-year-old would likely be turned over to civilian authorities to face trial, without commenting on possible charges.
But the vice president made clear his contempt for Walker's actions.
"I have trouble, and I think like many Americans do, understanding why somebody who grew up in this country, would ultimately find themselves in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban and Al Qaeda," Cheney said.
Walker has been in US custody in Afghanistan since December 1, after emerging from a week of fierce fighting between the militia's troops and US-backed opposition forces at a prison fortress near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
He is receiving treatment for a gunshot wound to his leg suffered in the prison riot at the US Marine Camp Rhino base in southern Afghanistan, where he awaits the charges are filed against him.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, the top US general, said Washington's priority was to gather any intelligence Walker could provide, especially regarding the Afghan campaign and potential future attacks.
"The first part of the process is to see... if he has valuable intelligence that either can help us in the conflict in Afghanistan or perhaps... if he has knowledge of any further terrorist actions" in the United States or abroad, Myers told Fox News.
"The process is going on to determine his final status," he added, when asked about possible charges.
The US general later told CBS Walker had been "reasonably cooperative".
Americans are split whether Walker should face treason charges, according to a Newsweek poll, with 41 percent favoring the move and 40 percent saying he should only be tried if found to have committed specific crimes against US interests.
Officials said he would be granted due process of law, refusing to speculate further. Cheney said only that decisions about charges and a future trial would "probably be made by the Justice Department".
The vice president said he was unaware of reports Walker may have worked as an undercover agent for the United States.
Former US deputy attorney general George Terwilliger told ABC Walker would likely face some sort of prosecution, especially given the suspect's connection to the death of CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann, killed in the prison revolt.
But he expressed doubt a treason charge could stick, as it is legally difficult to prove, and said Walker's statements about his activities in Afghanistan "may be very, very useful and a big mitigating factor."
When asked about reports two other Taliban fighters had claimed they were US citizens, Cheney said: "At this point, I can't confirm that," adding they perhaps held US passports but had lived elsewhere.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz refuted the reports, telling ABC News: "To the best of my knowledge, those rumors have turned out to be inaccurate." -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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