After 17 years in prison, John Walker Lindh, the American who joined the Taliban prior to the 9/11 attacks, was released. He was captured by 5th Special Forces Group soldiers and Northern Alliance fighters during the opening days of the war in Afghanistan. Often referred to as the “American Taliban,” Lindh converted to Islam as a teenager.
There are stipulations regarding his release. A CNN report states Lindh “is not allowed to possess any ‘internet capable device’ without permission from the probation office.” He’s barred from possessing or watching extremists videos. He’s also banned from foreign travel and will be supervised by parole officers.
In a letter to NBC producers, Lindh responded to the question of whether he felt that ISIS represents Islam. He replied, “Yes, and they are doing a spectacular job. The Islamic State is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation of establishing a caliphate through armed struggle, which is the only correct method.”
At his sentencing, Lindh expressed remorse before the court and said that terrorism is never justified. However, in another letter to news producers in 2014 he wrote, “I feel honoured to have been able to take part in the Afghan Jihad and to contribute to the defence of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, albeit only in a very limited capacity.”
On Wednesday, I appeared on CNN, where host Brooke Baldwin asked me about John Walker Lindh and his release. The reality, from my point of view, is that our legal system still isn’t equipped to handle terrorists we’ve arrested abroad. Brooke asked if the restrictions placed on Lindh’s release were enough.
MURPHY: It seems what we can do, what’s possible, what’s plausible under the current legal system. And then you get into questions, how comfortable are we with mass surveillance of American citizens? And it all plays into that. But I think the monitoring of him and preventing him from using electronic devices seems appropriate given some of these alleged statements he’s made, that he still has these radical sentiments.
BALDWIN: Can you really stop someone from using the internet?
MURPHY: It doesn’t seem so. I mean, again, it’s a question, do you just have the FBI park a surveillance van outside his residence forever?
The answer to my somewhat rhetorical question as of today is yes, the nature of these types of counterterrorism investigations is perpetual surveillance on the suspicion that the suspect may commit a crime or in this case, a parole violation. Baldwin also asked if Lindh could be put through some kind of rehabilitation program.
MURPHY: I think these programs have been tried in Scandinavia and in the U.K. And honestly, I couldn’t speak to that. I think they would have to look at them and see how effective they’ve been. There’s a certain type of person who maybe, they went and did something stupid when they were a teenager, as has happened with ISIS, but John Walker Lindh appears to be quite a zealot. I’m not sure if you can rehabilitate that.