Getting Out

He Was Branded the ‘American Taliban.’ Now He’s Getting Out of Jail.
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And that no one, including the most eager shamer, is perfect. Its demand for purity is uncomfortably close to the puritan obsessions of the religious right, so vigilantly attuned to the merest indication of atheism, sex, homosexuality, coarse language, and humanism. At best, leftist puritanism represents an attenuated, enervated, decadent left, a strain of the left that has lost its love of people and become thin and narrow as a reed. The left should take care lest it lose its humanity and adopt the censorship-fetish of the fascist right. Chris Wright has a Ph.

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Over the next five years, according to one study , more than 60 other U. The crime Lindh pleaded guilty to instead was violating a Clinton-era executive order that banned providing services to the Taliban; the service he provided was himself. He got 20 years in prison, with the possibility of early release after about 17 years for good behavior.

Lindh was living in Marin County, California, when he converted to Islam at the age of 16, inspired by watching the Malcolm X movie and moved by the notion of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. He left home at 19 to study Arabic and memorize the Koran, a journey that first took him to Yemen and then to northwestern Pakistan. That camp was also funded by Osama bin Laden, whom Lindh told interrogators he met at least once.

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He later maintained that he never meant to join a fight against Americans; his aim, he said , was only to help the Taliban fight its internal enemies and protect its Islamic state. Lindh had, however, stayed with the Taliban even after the September 11 attacks, even with the knowledge that bin Laden had ordered them, and even as American bombs began to fall on Afghanistan.

After that, Lindh was captured. He presented an early test of the system just after the Bush administration had given itself the authority to detain some Taliban members as enemy combatants to whom the laws of war did not apply.

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But Lindh was an American, who the administration ultimately determined was entitled to constitutional rights—even though he got them after being held by U. Read: Maybe the military should have kept John Walker Lindh. His case is in many ways unique among the terrorism prosecutions that followed.

Most of the Americans incarcerated for terrorism-related offenses in the U. To his defenders, he was a misguided kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. To his prosecutors, he had all but committed treason. Frank Lindh said in that speech that his son could have done the exact same thing and attracted no notice but for the events of September It was true that providing support to the Taliban was illegal even at the time Lindh joined, because the group was providing a base of operations for al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who had staged the bombings of U.

It was also true that in May , the U. Finally, it was true that whether or not Lindh initially intended to fight Americans, he had stayed with the Taliban even after September 11, knowing that bin Laden was responsible and that the Taliban had sheltered him. And when he was found among other Taliban prisoners captured by a U.

I like him a lot, but he is not a great warrior. Both of those cases involved al-Qaeda plots to kill Americans. Misdirected Americans cannot seek direction in murderous ideologies and expect to avoid the consequences. In the end, the defense and the prosecution struck a plea deal in the middle of the night on a Sunday in July The justice system had completed one early test in the War on Terror. Brosnahan, in his PBS interview, sounded unimpressed. I n the meantime, more than people have been convicted for jihadist-terrorism-related offenses in U. Americans have made up a very small group of the foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State.

Fourteen have come back, according to the study, and most of them have been arrested and charged.

The U. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, for example, killed 13 people in a shooting at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas, in , reportedly inspired in part by the internet sermons of the radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, himself a U. Omar Mateen, whose attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando killed 49 people in the deadliest jihadist-inspired terrorist attack in the U. Hasan is on death row following his conviction by a military court-martial; police shot and killed Mateen during his attack. Others, though, whether because they were convicted of less serious offenses or because they cooperated with investigators, have served their time, gotten out, and rejoined society.

Bryant Neal Vinas, like Lindh, traveled to South Asia to join a militant group—unlike Lindh, he traveled specifically to join al-Qaeda and did so as the War on Terror was well under way, in He became an FBI informant following his capture in in Pakistan, and ended up leaving prison less than nine years later.

Najibullah Zazi trained in bomb-making with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, came back to the United States, and plotted to bomb the New York subway system. He was arrested in in the U. He, too, received a shortened prison term for extensive cooperation with federal investigators—his year sentence ends this year. Lindh was never high up enough in the Taliban to try to negotiate a shorter sentence for intelligence cooperation, a person who was close to the case in , who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, told me.

Lindh did agree to provide information about al-Qaeda and other groups to the government.

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Vinas and Zazi pleaded guilty to plotting attacks in the United States, a step Lindh was never convicted of taking. L indh is one of dozens of American prisoners convicted of terrorism crimes following September 11 who will be getting out over the next five years. Because his conviction came so early and his sentence was so severe, the end of his sentence will correspond with that of higher-level offenders who received long prison terms. The few hundred people currently serving time for terrorism-related offenses are a tiny fraction of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the United States.

This is a good thing. But it also means the United States does not have much experience or data about how terrorism convicts reintegrate into society after leaving jail. The reason this worries some who follow the issue is that, according to one study , nearly half of federal prisoners get rearrested within eight years, though the recidivism rate for extremist prisoners might be lower—there is not a lot of data on the issue. In Europe, where terrorism-related sentences tend to be shorter—much to the chagrin of American officials—more people have gotten out, and more programs for monitoring and rehabilitating former extremists have been tested.

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Germany, for example, has deradicalization programs for all kinds of extremists , from jihadists to neo-Nazis, involving counseling and specialized risk-assessment tools to try to predict any returns to criminal extremism after release. The United States lacks anything comparable nationally, though general programs exist to help prisoners reintegrate after they leave.

So what? Federal probation officers have plenty of experience processing a wide variety of criminals—gang members, white extremists, and organized crime bosses included. That experience could very well be applicable to extremism cases. Just like crime bosses, for example, one concern about extremist convicts is that they can incite violence without ever personally conducting it themselves.

Vocational training is also offered. A spokesman for the federal Probation and Pretrial Services Office said in a statement that probation officers had discussed extremism cases with the Department of Homeland Security and are in regular conversations with the Bureau of Prisons about the releases of people convicted of terrorism-related crimes.

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That leaves open the question of whether society is ready to take Lindh back, and what that means for terrorism convicts set to leave prison in the coming years. Lindh will arguably be the highest-profile extremism-related prisoner released in the United States since September Lindh himself has worried about whether he will be able to live a normal life again, according to the leaked email exchange with his father.

He mused about claiming asylum in Ireland, where he has acquired citizenship, but the terms of his supervised release do not allow him to hold a passport or leave the United States without permission. So Lindh is once again unwittingly providing a test of the U.

And once again, the U. A dangerous trend in fake news has the potential to affect the upcoming U. The White House insisted allegations that it wanted to add a citizenship question to the survey for political reasons were conspiracy theories, right up until the moment the president confirmed them.

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The conservative justices on the Supreme Court apparently found this argument very persuasive.