Nearly 18 years after John Walker Lindh was captured while fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan, he is set to be released from custody on Thursday by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And many members of Congress — including Republicans — are livid that he will not serve his full 20-year sentence.
Lindh, who moved from the United States to Afghanistan in 2000 to join the fight against the Northern Alliance, was captured in November 2001 while working with the Taliban. He pleaded guilty to two charges in February 2002: supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive while committing a felony. Under the plea deal, prosecutors dropped several charge including material support of terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder, which could have carried multiple life sentences. Media outlets at the time branded him the “American Taliban.”
Now, Lindh is set to be released on probation, after serving just 17 years of his sentence. And Republican lawmakers are criticizing his early release, a decision that is up to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
During a Fox News appearance on Wednesday, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), a former counter-terrorism adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney (R) and a stalwart supporter of President Donald Trump, lambasted the Trump administration for the decision to release Lindh early and allow him to serve out the rest of his sentence on probation.
“I think this is absolutely outrageous. It’s bad enough that he was only given 20 years. But that he is being released early, we have no idea why,” Waltz told FOX and Friends. “He shouldn’t be on parole at all. He should be in prison for life; he’s a traitor.”
Waltz demanded that the Federal Bureau of Prisons explain why Lindh is being released early and that law enforcement officers “keep a close eye on him.”
He is not alone. On Friday, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) joined with Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to write to the bureau — which is part of the Department of Justice — to raise similar objections.
“We write to express concern over the anticipated release of convicted American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh,” they wrote, noting that other “convicted ISIS, al-Qaeda, or Taliban related terrorist[s]” were also likely to be released from federal custody in the near future. “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.”
.@SenatorHassan & I expressed our serious concerns regarding the release process of John Walker Lindh & other convicted terrorists from federal custody in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Read more here: https://t.co/Gie9Z2zJg4
— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) May 21, 2019
Shelby and Hassan also suggested that Lindh and others “continue to openly call for extremist violence.”
While Lindh denounced “terrorism on every level, unequivocally” at his October 2002 sentencing, Foreign Policy reported in 2017 that leaked government documents and Lindh correspondence suggest he “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.” In one letter to his father, Lindh wrote, “I am not interested in renouncing my beliefs or issuing condemnations.”
Trump vowed during his 2016 campaign to “keep America safe from terrorism.” He promised to use every tool of the federal government to punish anyone involved, pledging: “We will pursue aggressive criminal or immigration charges against anyone who lends materiel support to terrorism. There will be consequences for those people. There will be very serious consequences. Similar to the effort to take down the mafia, this will be the understood mission of every federal investigator and prosecutor in the country.”
While the president has yet to explain why his administration is releasing Lindh early, he did tweet on Wednesday morning that his approval rating would be at 65% if not for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.