President George W. Bush described American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh as a "poor fellow" when he was captured two weeks ago. But administration views about Walker hardened significantly after officials began reviewing reports of Pentagon debriefings of Walker in the field. Officials told NEWSWEEK the reports were startling. Walker acknowledged a lot more than fighting for the Taliban: according to administration sources, he also admitted to being a member of Al Qaeda and training at its camps, where he participated in terrorist exercises--including learning to use explosives and poisons--and met with visiting Qaeda officials, including Osama bin Laden. Walker also admitted having been instructed in how to act in airports so as not to attract police attention. "He was no innocent bystander," said one official. "This wasn't like learning to be a soldier in Patton's Army. He was training to commit terrorist acts."

The disclosures have intensified the debate inside the administration over what to do with Walker. Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked Justice lawyers to review crimes that Walker could be charged with, specifying that he wants to know which ones carry the death penalty. The most likely possibilities: treason and conspiracy to murder U.S. government employees. (Walker was present at the Mazar-e Sharif prison camp when CIA agent Mike Spann was killed; his precise role is unclear.) Another possibility is to court-martial Walker as an "enemy belligerent" in a U.S. military court--an option that could also carry the death penalty. Officials are divided. Some believe Walker may hold more value as a cooperating witness who could be used to prosecute top Qaeda leaders before military tribunals. Justice officials are also concerned about using information gleaned from Walker's admissions in a civilian court because they were made without a lawyer present and without advising him of his Miranda rights. But Ashcroft aides believe there are ways around the problem: the Walker interviews were conducted in the battlefield for tactical military purposes and, therefore, they argue, didn't require reading him his rights. Still, two FBI agents were dispatched to Afghanistan last week to advise Walker of his rights. Walker's lawyer, James Brosnahan, called his client's alleged admissions "rumor." The FBI actions were "awfully late," Brosnahan told NEWSWEEK. "They've been interrogating him for nine days, which is a long time to go without allowing him to have counsel," he said. "Our position... is that all U.S. citizens have right to counsel."

Walker has been transferred to a Marine amphibious ship, the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea, and a decision on his fate could come shortly--most likely by Bush. His parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, issued a statement, saying "We love John" and were "pleased" he had been moved from Afghanistan. "We're asking that people withhold judgment until we know what the facts are," they said, adding they "want very much for John to have an opportunity to speak to his attorney."


Two Scions, One Bill

The partnership got off to a rocky start. When President-elect Bush summoned a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to Austin, Texas, for an education summit last December, he neglected to invite Kennedy, the Senate's education guru. Recognizing his gaffe, Bush began an intense yearlong courtship of his would-be ally. In late December Bush phoned Kennedy, who was vacationing in the Caribbean, schmoozed about the two political dynasties, then eased into education reform. After Bush was sworn in, he invited Kennedy to the White House for meetings, offered him a lift in the presidential limo and hosted a White House screening of the JFK movie "Thirteen Days." Last week he even let Kennedy's Portuguese water dog, Splash, stroll on the White House lawn while his master was inside. And it didn't hurt Bush's cause that, in November, he renamed the Justice Department headquarters after Ted's brother RFK.

But Kennedy wasn't won over with flattery alone. Early on, Bush gave ground and dropped school vouchers from his plan. Kennedy compromised, too, walking away with less funding than he initially wanted. The new law, which Bush vows will "leave no child behind," requires annual testing of students in grades three through eight and boosts the education budget, especially for needy urban schools. "We have a president who says, 'I'm prepared to get the resources for the neediest children'," Kennedy said after meeting with the president to seal the deal at the White House. "It's a dramatic sea change." Still, Kennedy was anxious to downplay suggestions that the two men were now best buddies. "I don't want to overstate the nature," he said. "It's been very professional."

Maybe so, but the odd couple is already looking for other opportunities to collaborate. At one recent education meeting, Bush leaned over and told Kennedy, "Now I want to work with you on the patient's bill of rights." Kennedy is open to the idea. "I'm interested in seeing what can be accomplished," he told NEWSWEEK. At a White House dinner last week to honor his sister Eunice Shriver for her work on the Special Olympics, Kennedy began chatting up First Lady Laura Bush on early-childhood education. Kennedy hasn't forgotten being slighted in Austin last year. But now the senator is willing to joke about it. As he noted: "Hopefully I've earned my spurs."


Bloody Problem


Go to the Videotape Edition

C.W. Bush = Releases OBL tape an hour after killing ABM treaty. Did he think we'd miss it? Bin Laden - Worst new show: "Al Qaeda's Sickest Home Videos." We have to get this beast. Arafat - Israel now gives him most cutting insult of all: He's irrelevant. But who's next? DeLay + The Hammer mobilizes House troops after Armey's retreat. A demon for the Dems. A. Andersen - Biggest collapse ever, and Enron's green- eye-shaders miss it. Audit them. Notre Dame - Losin' Irish hire coach who fumbles resume and has to quit. Channel the Knute.