The 'American Taliban' and Me

A former CIA analyst digests a new film on the saga of John Walker Lindh


Detainee 001 is the latest in several toture-related films released in recent years, following 2021’s The Mauritanian and 2019’s The Report, both of which took a hard look at CIA interrogation and detention programs. This latest entry, skillfully directed by veteran documentarian Greg Barker and narrated largely by John Wray, a novelist who traveled to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, offers a riveting and provocative take on the case of the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh—one that hit me unexpectedly hard as a former CIA analyst. 

The action of Detainee 001 centers on the battle of Qala-i-Jangi, in which my fellow CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed during a prisoner uprising, thus becoming the first American to die in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. While I never knew Spann, he was part of my CIA family and it is difficult to not take his death personally. Even as I felt my anger rising as the story unfolded, the film also reminded me how his death…

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