Lindh (pictured in a 2002 police photo) will be freed from prison on Thursday
Outrage is mounting on the eve of the release of American Taliban John Walker Lindh, who will walk free from federal prison on Thursday after serving 17 years.
‘He shouldn’t be on parole at all,’ said Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and former Green Beret who served in the War in Afghanistan, in an interview on Wednesday with Fox & Friends.
‘He should be in prison for life, he’s a traitor,’ Waltz said.
‘We’re calling on the Federal Bureau of Prisons to explain why he is being released early, and then we are calling on law enforcement authorities to be watching him extremely closely,’ Waltz said. ‘We need to keep a close eye on him.’
Waltz is not alone in expressing outrage at the release of 38-year-old Lindh, who became known as ‘Detainee 001’ in the war on terror after 9/11.
Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and former Green Beret who served in the War in Afghanistan, blasted the pending release of American Taliban John Walker Lindh
The American Taliban soldier John Walker-Lindh is treated at an Army hospital on December 2, 2001 in Sheberghan, Afghanistan. He will be freed from prison on Thursday
In a letter this week to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, two senators asked how he would be contained, citing allegations that he continues to ‘openly’ support extremist violence.
‘We must consider the security and safety implications for our citizens and communities who will receive individuals like John Walker Lindh,’ they said.
Origins of the American Taliban fighter
Lindh (seen in an undated family photo) converted to Islam after watching Malcolm X
The quiet son of a middle-class couple living north of San Francisco, Lindh converted to Islam at age 16 after seeing the film ‘Malcolm X’, and traveled to Yemen in 1998 to study Arabic and the Quran.
In November 2000, he went to Pakistan and from there made his way to Afghanistan.
He joined the Taliban and was with them on September 11, 2001, when al-Qaida terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The U.S. attacked Afghanistan after the country failed to turn over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Lindh was captured in a battle with Northern Alliance fighters in late 2001. He was present when a group of Taliban prisoners launched an attack that killed Johnny Micheal ‘Mike’ Spann, a CIA officer who had been interrogating Lindh and other Taliban prisoners.
Television footage of a bearded, wounded Lindh captured among Taliban fighters created an international sensation, and he was brought to the U.S. to face charges of conspiring to kill Spann and providing support to terrorists.
This file image taken Dec. 1, 2001, from television footage in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, shows John Walker Lindh, right, after he was captured by U.S. forces
Eventually, he struck a plea bargain in which he admitted illegally providing support to the Taliban but denied a role in Spann’s death.
Incarceration and early release
Lindh is being released from the high-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana three years early for good behavior in a 20 year sentence.
He served roughly 17 years and five months, including two months when he was in military detention. Federal inmates who exhibit good behavior typically serve 85 per cent of their sentence.
Lindh has been housed in Terre Haute, Indiana, with other Muslim inmates convicted on terror-related charges. The rationale was to keep those inmates from radicalizing others in the general prison population.
Those inside the unit were supposed to be limited in their ability to communicate with each other, but experts say the reality is they likely do talk.
Lindh is currently being held at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana (pictured)
A former inmate who knew Lindh from the time they spent at the same federal prison said he never heard Lindh espouse support for al-Qaida or indicate a risk for violence, but he found Lindh to be anti-social and awkward around others, with an unyielding, black-and-white view of religion.
The inmate spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wanted to avoid further stigmatization from his time in Lindh’s prison unit.
Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, a researcher at the George Washington University Center for Extremism, says that while in prison Lindh became close Ahmad Musa Jibril, an Arab-American who since his 2012 release continues to preach an extremely conservative version of Islam popular among jihadists.
Lindh’s time in prison has provided only a few clues about his current outlook. He filed multiple lawsuits, which were largely successful, challenging prison rules he found discriminatory against Muslims. In the more recent lawsuits, he used the name Yahya Lindh.
Lindh was among a group of Taliban fighters who were captured by US forces in November 2001, just months after the September 11 attacks and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. He is pictured here being led to a prison by a Northern Alliance soldier following his capture
One lawsuit won the right to pray in groups at the prison in Terre Haute. A second lawsuit reversed a policy requiring strip searches for inmates receiving visitors, and a third won the right to wear prison pants above the ankle, which Lindh said is in accordance with Islamic principles.
In the strip-search lawsuit, Lindh offered a discussion of Islamic rules prohibiting exposure of the body. If he’s compelled to reveal himself, he said, he’s also compelled under his religion to fight the rules requiring him to sin.
What comes next for Lindh
Lindh, who is also an Irish citizen, cannot obtain a passport or travel abroad while on probation.
His probation officer asked the court to impose additional restrictions on Lindh while he remains on supervised release for the next three years.
Lindh initially opposed but eventually acquiesced to the restrictions, which include monitoring software on his internet devices; requiring that his online communications be conducted in English and that he undergo mental health counseling; and forbidding him from possessing or viewing extremist material, holding a passport of any kind or leaving the U.S.
Authorities never specified their rationale for seeking such restrictions. A hearing on the issue was canceled after Lindh agreed to them.
Lindh is seen in this undated file photo obtained from a religious school in Pakistan
The Bureau of Prisons said Lindh rejected an interview request submitted by The Associated Press, and his lawyer declined to comment. But there have been reports that Lindh’s behavior in prison has created cause for concern.
Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2017 that an investigation by the National Counterterrorism Center found that Lindh ‘continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.’
Michael Jensen, a terrorism researcher at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, said it’s clear the government has concerns about Lindh’s mindset.
‘For three years he’s going to be watched like a hawk,’ Jensen said.
He said Lindh represents an interesting test case, as he is on the leading edge of dozens of inmates who were convicted on terror-related offenses in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and are eligible for release in the next five years.
He said there’s little research to indicate the efficacy of de-radicalizing inmates with connections to radical Islam, but he said the research shows that recidivism rates for those connected to white supremacy and other forms of extremism are high.
John Walker Lindh, far right, leaves the Alexandria Detention Center in Alexandria, Va., before dawn, on the way to his first appearance in a nearby federal court in 2002
Lindh, for his part, admitted his role and his wrongdoing in supporting the Taliban, but he and his family have bristled at any notion that he should be considered a terrorist.
When he was sentenced, Lindh said he never would have joined the Taliban if he fully understood what they were about. He also issued a short essay condemning acts of violence in the name of Islam that kill or harm innocent civilians.
Outrage over early release
Some have criticized Lindh’s pending release. In March, the legislature in Alabama, where Spann grew up, adopted a resolution calling it ‘an insult’ to Spann’s ‘heroic legacy and his remaining family members.’
In addition, Republican Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby and Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan wrote a letter last week to the Bureau of Prisons expressing concern.
‘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,’ they wrote.
On Monday, Spann’s father, Johnny Spann, wrote a letter requesting that Lindh be investigated before he’s released, citing the National Counterterrorism Center’s investigation as his rationale for concern.
Flashback: American Taliban Fighter is captured in Afghanistan
This story was first published on December 2, 2001, when AP journalist Burt Herman reported on the discovery of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan:
An American who fought with the Taliban is in the custody of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after being discovered among captured Taliban troops and al-Qaida fighters.
In Islamabad, Pakistan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said the man identified himself as John Walker.
‘He’s representing himself as an American citizen. We’re checking on that,’ spokesman Keith Kenton said. ‘I have no reason to believe that he isn’t.’
Army Lt. Col Jim Cassella, a Pentagon spokesman, said in Washington that the man was injured and being given medical assistance by U.S. forces.
John Walker Lindh is seen during an interview soon after his capture. According to CNN, the interview took place Dec. 2, 2001
He could not provide further details about the man, nor would he immediately confirm whether the man was indeed a U.S. citizen.
The man was among a group of around 80 Taliban fighters holed up for six days in a basement of the Qalai Janghi fort, hiding from northern alliance soldiers who had put down a riot by Taliban prisoners in the fortress.
The revolt, which began Nov. 25, was put down after three days of bloody fighting; the men straggled out of the basement Saturday after norther alliance fighters filled it with water to force them out.
There were conflicting news accounts of the man claiming to be an American.
In an interview posted on Newsweek magazine’s Web site yesterday night, his parents identified him from photos as John Philip Walker Lindh, 20, of Fairfax, Calif.
CNN reported that Walker, a convert to Islam, had suffered grenade and bullet wounds. Newsweek said Walker had identified himself as Abdul Hamid.
In the Newsweek interview, Marilyn Walker described her son as a ‘sweet, shy kid’ who had gone to Pakistan with an Islamic humanitarian group to help the poor. She said reports of his capture were the first news she had received of her son’s whereabouts since he left a religious school in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, where he had been studying the Quran, seven months earlier.
‘If he got involved in the Taliban, he must have been brainwashed,’ Marilyn Walker, a home health care worker, said. ‘He was isolated. He didn’t know a soul in Pakistan. When you’re young and impressionable, it’s easy to be led by charismatic people.’
The mother said Walker was born in Washington, D.C., and his father was Frank Lindh, a lawyer. Lindh and Marilyn Walker are divorced. The parents did not return messages last night requesting comment.
Other residents of the leafy suburban neighborhood where Walker grew up were shocked at the news today.
‘The last thing in the world I expected to see was Fairfax, Calif., connected to the Taliban,’ said Russell Deaker, a Fairfax resident eating at the Koffee Klatch.
‘If he was pointing a gun at any of my soldier friends, put him on trial. If not, put him in a mental ward and bring him home,’ Deaker said.
Ed Wall, owner of Marin Coffee Roasters, down the block from Walker’s house, also said Walker should face serious consequences if he proves to be mentally fit.
‘Something had to be wrong. On the other hand, if this is his belief, then that’s how he’s got to be treated,’ Wall said. Walker is ‘obviously somewhat disturbed, in my opinion.’
Foreign militants – mostly Arabs and Pakistanis – have fought alongside the Taliban against the northern alliance, some of them members of the al-Qaida network of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The Taliban and foreign fighters who revolted at Qalai Janghi had been brought to the fortress after surrendering the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.
Scores of Taliban were killed in the battle, in which northern alliance fighters were assisted by U.S. special forces and air strikes by American warplanes. An American CIA officer was killed in the fighting.
On Saturday, the last 80-odd Taliban emerged from their hiding place. Some were visibly weak and thin after days without food or water, and at least one was taken out on a stretcher. Many were being treated in hospitals in the nearby city of Mazar-e-Shariff.