If you saw the headline “‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh Is Getting Out of Prison Today. He Still Might Be Radicalized,” you might not have blanched at it.
After all, the article about his Thursday release could have been coming from a conservative source like National Review or The Daily Caller and conservatives would always be leery of a radical Islamist’s capacity to reform.
But if a closer look revealed the source to be the ultra-liberal Vice, you might realize the situation could be even more dangerous than you thought.
Lindh, arguably the most infamous detainee in the war on terror post-9/11 — not to mention the first — is 38 now.
He’s served 17 years in prison after his role in a prison uprising in Afghanistan, where he had been captured after joining the Taliban. That uprising resulted in the death of a CIA officer, the first American combat casualty of the war in Afghanistan.
John Walker Lindh, the California man who became known as the “American Taliban” after his capture on an Afghanistan battlefield in late 2001, released from prison after 17 years. https://t.co/TgylV0uFIs
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 23, 2019
Lindh was a young man when he was first imprisoned, but time doesn’t seem to have quelled his violent beliefs or revealed them as youthful folly.
However, at least one thing has changed. According to a report from 2017 in Foreign Policy, Lindh obtained Irish citizenship in 2013 through his paternal grandmother.
His father, Frank Lindh hoped his son could build a new life in a new country upon his release, though it wasn’t clear whether the United States would allow Lindh to leave the country immediately, or whether Ireland would even take him.
However, Foreign Policy noted that Lindh would “leave prison with Irish citizenship and a stubborn refusal to renounce violent ideology, according to the U.S. government.”
“As of May 2016, John Walker Lindh (USPER) — who is scheduled to be released in May 2019 after being convicted of supporting the Taliban — continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts,” a report from the National Counterterrorism Center obtained by Foreign Policy said.
Lindh, according to the documents, “told a television news producer that he would continue to spread violent extremist Islam upon his release.”
That individual wasn’t named in the report, but it doesn’t take too much intellectual effort to realize it was likely referring to a KNBC-TV producer whose letters with Lindh were detailed in a Wednesday report.
“During his time behind bars in Indiana, he responded with hand-written letters to questions from an NBC Los Angeles producer. All correspondence in and out of the prison is subject to inspection,” the report noted.
“In the letters, some with introductions on lined paper, Lindh identified himself as Yahya Lindh and said he spends his days in pursuit of Islamic knowledge.”
That knowledge hadn’t led him for taking any responsibility for his actions, as he said he and others were “in prison due to our beliefs and the practice of our religion, not for committing any crime” in a 2014 letter.
And he also thought, when asked, that the Islamic State group was representing that religion just dandily.
“Yes, and they are doing a spectacular job,” he wrote in a 2015 letter to the producer after being questioned about whether they represented Islam.
“The Islamic State is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation of establishing a caliphate through armed struggle, which is the only correct method,” he added, saying that he supported their efforts.
Oh, and as for remorse? There wasn’t much to be found, at least back in 2014.
“I feel honoured to have been able to take part in the Afghan Jihad and to contribute to the defence of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, albeit only in a very limited capacity,” he said in response to whether he had changed his views during his time in prison.
Granted, during his sentencing some 17 years ago, according to Vice, Lindh said he condemned “terrorism on every level, unequivocally.” But his letters from prison don’t seem to bear that out.
Lindh was given a 20-year sentence after pleading guilty to supplying services to the Taliban as well as a weapons charge as part of a plea deal.
He’s being let out early for good behavior, defiant letter-writing apparently not qualifying as problematic behavior.
However, former U.S. intelligence official Seamus Hughes called the conditions of Lindh’s release “one of the most restrictive sets of conditions I’ve seen in a terrorism case,” which “probably speaks to their concerns about him.”
Lindh won’t be allowed to own or use any internet-capable device. Should he ever be allowed to, his activity will be monitored constantly by law enforcement and his communications must only be in English. He cannot travel out of the country and will be forced to undergo mental health counseling.
If this is the risk that Lindh poses, why even let him out of prison?
Lindh’s letters prove we’re not dealing with a rehabilitated soul here.
This isn’t just some confused kid who went through a phase. He bought into violent Islamist ideology back in 2000 and, unless something has changed very recently, his own words prove that he buys into it now.
The fiction that always gets presented — that he was a confused kid who converted to Islam after watching “Malcolm X” in his teens and fell in with the wrong crowd after traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan — doesn’t take into account the fact that he remains a danger.
Letting a self-described extremist who was sent to prison for his role with the Taliban out early when he’s very recently expressed enthusiastic support for the Islamic State group is neither intelligent nor just.
Given the risk, Lindh needs to stay locked up.
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