Republicans Move to Block John Walker Lindh-Style Early Releases of Terrorists

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Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Thursday introduced the No Leniency for Terrorists Act of 2019, a bill that would make convicted terrorists ineligible for early release from prison due to “good behavior.” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The bill was clearly and explicitly inspired by the early release of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, who served only 17 years of the 20-year sentence handed down after he was captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan while fighting for the enemy.

“In prison, Lindh continued supporting the actions and missions of ISIS and the Taliban,” Cotton’s office noted. “In a letter from prison, Lindh wrote as recently as 2015 that ISIS was ‘doing a spectacular job.’”

Not only does Lindh admire ISIS, but in those prison letters he explicitly endorsed violent jihad as the “only correct method” for the Islamic State to establish its “caliphate.” Government officials and journalists who have interacted with Lindh over the past few years describe him as an “unrepentant” supporter of violent Islamist extremism.

“Our safety depends on keeping dangerous terrorists where they can’t harm Americans, but right now even unrepentant terrorists are eligible for early release from prison, sometimes for so-called ‘good behavior.’ Supporting radical Islamist groups like ISIS is savage behavior, not good behavior,” said Sen. Cotton.

Shelby called Lindh’s release “disheartening and unacceptable,” fearing it will send “the wrong message to those who have fought against terrorism and those who want to cause us harm.”

Rep. Byrne said he was inspired to introduce his companion bill by the family of Mike Spann, the former Marine and CIA officer from Alabama killed in a prison riot shortly after interrogating Lindh. Spann is regarded as the first casualty in America’s post-9/11 “War on Terror.”

Spann’s daughter Alison, who was nine years old at the time of her father’s death is now a TV reporter in Mississippi and an outspoken critic of Lindh’s early release, calling it a “slap in the face” to her family.

“My siblings and I had to grow up without my father. My younger brother will never know his father. And so my family is serving a life sentence,” she told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.

Spann, like the authors of the No Leniency for Terrorists Act, believes Lindh remains “radicalized” and “releasing him into our public is a danger to everybody.”

Lindh is far from the only dangerous extremist who stands to be released from prison into American society. A wave of detainees is approaching release, early or otherwise, and the FBI is already strained to the breaking point tracking domestic terrorism threats.

Sen. Shelby wrote a letter last week with Democrat Sen. Margaret Hassan of New Hampshire to the Federal Bureau of Prisons asking for a more detailed explanation of Lindh’s early release and expressing concern that up to 108 other terrorist offenders will soon depart from federal custody.

“Little information has been made available to the public about who, when, and where these offenders will be released, whether they pose an ongoing public threat, and what federal agencies are doing to mitigate this threat while the offenders are in federal custody,” Shelby and Hassan wrote.

The senators cited reports that suggest the federal penal system lacks “sufficient nationwide programming to prevent incarcerated terrorist offenders from returning to violence upon completion of their sentence.”


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