John Walker Lindh, Known as the ‘American Taliban,’ Is Set to Leave Federal Prison This Week

John Walker Lindh, Known as the ‘American Taliban,’ Is Set to Leave Federal Prison This Week

John Walker Lindh, identified as the “American Taliban,” shortly just after his seize in Afghanistan in 2001.Credit historyCredit scoreJames Hill for The New York Occasions

This short article was made in partnership with the Pulitzer Middle on Crisis Reporting.

WASHINGTON — He was the “American Taliban” captured through the invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. Photos showed him as a gaunt, filthy, 20-yr-aged held in the aftermath of a prison rebellion that claimed the initial United States casualty of the war, a 32-calendar year-outdated C.I.A. officer named Johnny Micheal Spann.

On Thursday, that captive, John Walker Lindh, is scheduled to leave a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., produced on probation after serving seventeen years of a 20-calendar year sentence for giving assistance to the Taliban.

The case of Mr. Lindh, who converted from Catholicism to Islam at 16 and initial still left his California residence at seventeen to research Arabic in Yemen much more than three a long time just before the Sept. eleven, 2001, terrorist assaults, has stirred inquiries and controversy from the start off. His journey took him to Pakistan in 2000 and later to Afghanistan, the place he used time at a Qaeda schooling camp as a Taliban volunteer.

The govt has characterized Mr. Lindh in recent yrs as holding on to extremist sights, and his release has now brought objections from Mr. Spann’s family and elected officers and raised queries about how he can be safely reintegrated into society with out some variety of formal federal government method for rehabilitating previous jihadists.

“What instruction is offered to parole officers or supporting nongovernmental partners to identify the signs of violent radicalization and recidivism?” Senators Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, a Republican, and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, a Democrat, wrote in a letter previous 7 days to Hugh J. Hurwitz, the performing Bureau of Prisons director, questioning the knowledge of Mr. Lindh’s launch.

Mr. Lindh, now 38, his parents, legal professionals and prosecutors all declined to explore where he will stay or his other ideas just after prison, wherever he has been described as a studious, standoffish prisoner. In 2012, he joined an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that won the right for Muslim prisoners at Terre Haute’s significant-security Communications Administration Unit to pray in groups.

As an American citizen, he was experimented with in federal court docket, in contrast to citizens of other international locations who have been also picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan but who finished up in the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. At his sentencing in Oct 2002, he condemned “terrorism on every single level, unequivocally,” stated he built a slip-up by becoming a member of the Taliban and denounced Osama bin Laden’s terrorist assaults as “completely towards Islam.”

But two leaked United States government intelligence counterterrorist assessments to start with released by International Plan journal in 2017 forged Mr. Lindh in a unique gentle. A 2017 report by the Countrywide Counterterrorism Center titled “U.S. Homegrown Violent Extremist Recidivism Likely” stated without the need of elaboration that as of May possibly 2016 Mr. Lindh “continued to advocate for world wide jihad and to generate and translate violent extremist texts.”

A 2017 Federal Bureau of Prisons intelligence evaluation, which provided a photograph of Mr. Lindh with a shaven head and a bushy brown beard, claimed he had previously manufactured supportive statements about the Islamic Point out.

“From all I’m listening to inside of government, he is still as radical as he went in,” mentioned Seamus Hughes, who is the deputy director of George Washington University’s application on extremism.

As disorders for Mr. Lindh’s release, Judge T.S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., who managed Mr. Lindh’s 2002 demo and responsible plea, has imposed sweeping limitations.

Mr. Lindh, who still left California for Yemen in July 1998, two months before Google was started, will be barred from heading on the web or possessing a website-able system devoid of prior permission of his probation officer. If he is ultimately granted permission to personal a single, it would be on the affliction of continual checking of his on-line things to do as nicely as utilizing only English in his communications.

Mr. Lindh will also be barred from touring internationally and obtaining a passport or any other type of vacation doc. The vacation ban thwarts any speedy chance of his moving to Ireland, whose citizenship he acquired even though in prison through his father’s mom, who was born in Donegal.

The funeral of Johnny Micheal Spann, a C.I.A. officer, at Arlington Nationwide Cemetery in Virginia in 2001. Mr. Spann was killed in a prison uprising in northern Afghanistan.Credit ratingMike Theiler/Agence France-Presse

Other probation provisions involve mental wellbeing counseling and prohibit Mr. Lindh from communicating “with any regarded extremist” or possessing, viewing or reading “material that reflects extremist or terroristic views.”

When Mr. Lindh’s existence in Afghanistan as a member of the Taliban for the duration of the 2001 invasion makes his circumstance remarkable, some of the identical challenges lifted in link with his launch utilize to hundreds of other men and women who have been imprisoned in the United States for jihad-associated terrorism crimes considering that 2001.

“In lots of approaches, he’s a case review of a bigger issue they have in federal government: They arrested hundreds of people since 2002 but there’s not a process in put to address these people,” Mr. Hughes said.

In all, 346 folks have been charged and convicted of jihadist terrorism related crimes since the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to David Sterman, an analyst at New The usa who research terrorism and violent extremism, citing a database taken care of by the analysis corporation. About one-fourth of these prisoners, 88, have been introduced, he claimed. About 50 percent should be produced by the end of 2025, with 19 of them, like Mr. Lindh, on the path for release this year and subsequent, Mr. Sterman explained.

Mr. Hughes previously labored on how to counter violent extremism in his capacity as a employees member at the National Counterterrorism Middle, which was founded in response to the 2001 terrorist assaults. So considerably, even so, he reported, the Bureau of Prisons, Justice Department, F.B.I. and courtroom probation places of work have still to create a single tactic for helping former jihadists re-enter society.

Due to the fact of the vacuum, he stated, the best hope for Mr. Lindh is that his probation officer finds a Muslim previous federal prisoner — another person who has conservative beliefs but is not radical — to assist him navigate modern society.

“Ideally, you’d workforce him up with a mentor, any individual who possibly had the similar ordeals as he may perhaps have had and arrived out the other facet much better of simply because of it,” Mr. Hughes explained.

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Johnny Spann, the father of the C.I.A. operative who was killed in Afghanistan, continues to be bitter about the Lindh scenario and stated he is distrustful of the selection to enable Mr. Lindh go. His son is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, about 8 miles from the Alexandria courthouse the place Mr. Lindh was charged.

“We’ve got a traitor that was supplied twenty yrs and I cannot do anything at all about it,” stated Mr. Spann, a true estate vendor in Winfield, Ala. “He was specified a twenty-12 months sentence when it should’ve been lifestyle in jail.”

Mr. Spann’s son, who went by Mike, was killed at the commence of an rebellion by prisoners inside a mud-walled 19th-century fortress at Qala-i-Jangi in northern Afghanistan following he questioned Mr. Lindh, videotapes at the time confirmed. But even before Mr. Lindh’s guilty plea to two costs — to providing assistance to the Taliban and to carrying a rifle and grenade — the federal government available no proof that he participated in the revolt.

Mr. Lindh used months in United States military services custody just after getting captured. He was interrogated aboard a Navy assault ship, just before currently being taken to the United States on Jan. 23, 2002 to encounter demo. By then, the Camp X-Ray detention web page at Guantánamo Bay was crammed with 158 overseas prisoners. Most of all those males, many of them captured in equivalent situation, would ultimately be repatriated without the need of costs while Mr. Lindh served his sentence in the United States.

It even now enrages Mr. Spann that, a 10 years in the past, Mr. Lindh’s father, Frank Lindh, said in a CBS job interview that both their sons had been “victims of the exact circumstances.”

“Mike Spann was a human being who considered in the rule of regulation,” the elder Mr. Spann said of his son, who joined the C.I.A. from the Marine Corps. “Mike Spann would’ve under no circumstances agreed for a traitor to have obtained twenty a long time.”

Karen J. Greenberg targeted on the Lindh circumstance in her 2016 e book, “Rogue Justice: The Producing of the Safety Condition.”

“He devoted his yrs in jail to starting to be a university student of Islamic texts,” claimed Ms. Greenberg, who is the director of the Heart on Countrywide Security at Fordham University College of Regulation. “I feel the most effective you can hope for him is that he finds a way to stay a peaceful daily life, along people traces, doing whatsoever it is he needs to peacefully do.”


An earlier model of this report misstated the family member by means of which John Walker Lindh was capable to acquire Irish citizenship. It is his father’s mother, not his father’s grandmother.

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‘American Taliban,’ Held seventeen Years, Nears Release

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