'American Taliban' John Walker Lindh is now a free man after serving over 17 years in prison following his capture on an Afghanistan battlefield in late 2001, three years ahead of schedule for good behavior.
The 38-year-old Lindh was released Thursday from the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana according to the Associated Press, citing the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Due to concerns that Lindh may still harbor radical ideology, a judge recently imposed additional restrictions on his post-release supervision. including monitoring software on his internet devices, a requirement that he communicate online in English, and undergoing mental health counseling. He has also been forbidden from possessing or viewing extremist material, holding a passport or leaving the US. Lindh initially opposed the restrictions, but eventually acquiesced.
Probation officers never explained why they sought the restrictions but it is clear that authorities retain misgivings about Lindh. In 2017, Foreign Policy magazine cited a National Counterterrorism Center report that Lindh “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”
On Wednesday, NBC reported that Lindh, in a letter to a producer from Los Angeles-based affiliate KNBC, wrote in 2015 that the Islamic State is “doing a spectacular job” and “is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.” -AP
As we noted earlier this week, Lindh converted to Sunni Islam at age 16 after dropping out of school and becoming obsessed with hip-hop and the movie Malcolm X (he pretended to be a black rapper online and criticized others for "acting black"). Shortly after his father left his mother for another man, the culturally appropriating Lindh began to attend San Francisco Bay Area mosques. After a 10-month trip to Yemen in 1998 to study the Qur'an, Lindh returned home for eight months, only to return to the Middle East - eventually winding up in Afghanistan to take up arms against Northern Alliance fighters in May, 2001.
He was captured on November 25, 2001 and held at an a makeshift prison in Afghanistan, where he would participate in an extremely violent prisoner uprising (the battle of Qala-i-Jangi) that led to the death of CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann and hundreds of foreign fighters. Lindh was one of 86 prisoners who survived after hiding in a basement with a group of detainees who shot at Red Cross workers sent in to collect the dead, killing one.
Spann's family has criticized Lindh's early release. His daughter, Alison Spann, said over Twitter that she asked President Trump to block Lindh's release, calling him a traitor, and saying that the early release was "a slap in the face."
In March, the legislature in Alabama, where Spann grew up, adopted a resolution calling Lindh’s release “an insult” to Spann’s “heroic legacy and his remaining family members.”
Mike Spann’s mother, Gail Spann, told reporters at the time that Lindh could have saved her son’s life had he warned him about the looming prisoner revolt.
“He chose not to because he was a Taliban. He’s a traitor to our country. He could have had an opportunity to save a great man that actually saved a lot of lives that day,” she said. -AP
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama and Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire have also expressed concern, writing in a letter to the Bureau of Prisons last week: "We must consider the security and safety implications for our citizens and communities who will receive individuals like John Walker Lindh who continue to openly call for extremist violence."