Sunday, January 20, 2002

American story


Suleyman and Matt grow up

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        John Walker Lindh will be with us for awhile. The 20-year-old “American Taliban” is to be tried in a civilian court, and we know what that means: lights, camera, action.

        The San Francisco lawyer hired to represent him is so fancy that he has his own spokesperson. James Brosnahan, “one of the best and most expensive lawyers in the country,” according to American Lawyer magazine, has been retained by the young man's parents.

        Of course, we do not know whether John aka Suleyman Al-Lindh aka Abdul Hamid will accept Mr. Brosnahan's services. According to Attorney General John Ashcroft, the young man so far has waived his right to an attorney. And his parents appear to have a history of respecting the wishes of their son, including allowing him to drop out of school at age 16 to study in Yemen.

Sooty soldier

        Right now, no one knows exactly what went on in that family. We will, though. John Lindh and his ex-wife, Marilyn Walker, and Suleyman surely will get their 15 minutes of fame and then some. We have already been treated to photographs, released by his parents, of their son as a toddler and as a teen-ager, perhaps to blur the image of their son as a bearded and sooty soldier, charged with conspiring to kill American citizens in Afghanistan.

        And although the comparison is probably unfair, I am reminded of a local 20-year-old who endured 15 minutes of fame right around the time the California boy was trading in his hip-hop CDs for white robes and a skullcap. In March 1996, two Anderson Township boys found $10,000 in a trash bin next to an ATM at Beechmont Mall. They did not keep the money. This extraordinary event made its way to the front page of The Enquirer, at least three radio stations and, eventually, onto national television.

        Kris Miller, 15, and Matt Disher, 14, dreamed a little, about a drum set and some car speakers. Then they turned the money in to the bank.

        “Some of the kids at school thought Matt was stupid not to keep it,” said his mother, Sharon. “He came in for a lot of teasing.” Matt graduated from Anderson High School in 1999.

        “Sometimes he struggled,” Sharon says, “but his father and I stayed right in his face. We weren't always popular.” They told him he'd appreciate this when he was older.

"A good kid'

        He's older, serving in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. And they were right. “My parents had a lot of rules,” he says. “And sometimes I hated that.” When he found the money and told his dad, Matt says, his father “kept saying I should do what I thought was right.” As in right and wrong, good and bad, yes and no. Absolutes. Standards. Boundaries. Kid stuff.

        “Matt was a good kid,” his father says. So, would you have let this good kid go off to Yemen on his own when he was 16? David Disher laughs. “No way.”

        Matt was on his way back from the Middle East, on a ship in the Pacific, when terrorists attacked New York and Washington. “I'd go back in a minute,” he says. “I'd be scared. But I think I could help.” He's what they call a “combat engineer,” somebody who clears out booby traps. “And that place is riddled with mines.”

        Two young men, born the same year. One was encouraged at a very young age to chart his own course, unfettered by adult interference. The other one had parents who were “in his face all the time.” Sometimes things turn out just the way you might expect.

       

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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