May 21 2019

Senators Shelby, Hassan Express Concern Over Anticipated Release of Convicted American Taliban Fighter John Walker Lindh and Other Terrorist Offenders

WASHINGTON – Senators Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) sent a letter last week to Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Hugh Hurwitz expressing concern over the anticipated release of convicted American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other terrorist offenders. The Senators also requested further information about what steps the federal government is taking to ensure public safety upon the release of these individuals.

After being captured in Afghanistan in 2001, Mr. Lindh pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. He is scheduled to be released early from federal custody on May 23, 2019. According to a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Mr. Lindh intends to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison. In their letter, the Senators also raised concerns over the 108 other terrorist offenders who are scheduled to complete their sentences and be released from U.S. federal prisons over the next few years.

“We write to express concern over the anticipated release of convicted American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and request information about what steps the U.S. government is taking to ensure public safety,” the Senators wrote. “As many as 108 other terrorist offenders are scheduled to complete their sentences and be released from U.S. federal prisons over the next few years. 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 your agencies are doing to mitigate this threat while the offenders are in federal custody.”

The Senators emphasized their concern with both the lack of sufficient tools to assess the continuing threat that terrorist offenders pose and the absence of sufficient behavioral programs to prevent recidivism.

“Our highest priority is keeping America safe, secure, and free,” the Senators concluded. “To that end, 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.”

See the full text of the letter here or below:

The Honorable Hugh Hurwitz

Acting Director

Federal Bureau of Prisons

U.S. Department of Justice

320 First Street, NW, Room 628

Washington, D.C. 20534

 

Dear Acting Director Hurwitz: 

We write to express concern over the anticipated release of convicted American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and request information about what steps the U.S. government is taking to ensure public safety.    

Mr. Lindh was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, and the following year, he pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. Mr. Lindh was sentenced to twenty years in prison but is scheduled to be released early from federal custody on May 23, 2019.[1] According to a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Mr. Lindh intends to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison.[2]

Mr. Lindh is not the only convicted ISIS, al-Qai’da or Taliban related terrorist who may soon exit federal custody. As many as 108 other terrorist offenders are scheduled to complete their sentences and be released from U.S. federal prisons over the next few years.[3] 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.

Recent reports, including one by Chief United States Probation Officer, U.S. District Court of Minnesota, Kevin Lowry, suggest that neither the Bureau of Prisons nor the Federal Judiciary’s Probation and Pretrial Services have sufficient nationwide programing to prevent incarcerated terrorist offenders from returning to violence upon completion of their sentence. [4][5][6] More specifically, programing is not standardized between various types of federal correctional facilities such as pre-trial detention, transfer centers, BOP and non-BOP facilities. The reports also suggest that beyond a pilot program in Minnesota, federal agencies lack a coordinated and uniform assessment tool to judge whether a terrorist is likely to pose a public threat upon release.

Finally, a report by the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism[7] suggests that there is not a coordinated federal approach to preventing convicted terrorists from returning to violence. The report notes that information sharing protocols between federal agencies, the courts, the receiving state and local law enforcement, and supporting local service providers, is insufficient and lacks nationwide institutionalization.

Our highest priority is keeping America safe, secure, and free. To that end, 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. Therefore, we respectfully request detailed responses to the following questions no later than close of business on May 21, 2019:

Terrorist Offenders Scheduled for Release

1. Why is John Walker Lindh scheduled to be released before the completion of his 20-year sentence?

2. How many prisoners in federal custody convicted of terrorism related crimes, or who are categorized as extremist, will be released between now and 2025? Where will they be relocated?

3. What is the breakdown between those individuals inspired by Foreign Terrorist Organizations and non-Foreign Terrorist Organizations such as violent sovereign citizens, violent white supremacists, and violent militia extremists?

Risk Assessment

4. How does your agency assess whether terrorist/extremist offenders will pose a threat to the public upon their release? Please identify any interagency assessment tools that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons or its partner agencies use to assess the risk or threat of terrorist offenders upon their release.
 

Behavioral Programing and Intervention Efforts

 5. What behavioral programming—mental health, substance abuse, etc.—is available to terrorist/extremist offenders at each of the facilities where they are housed and what does it entail?
a.  Is such programming tailored to the individual’s age and life experience, crimes committed, and current commitment to terrorism?
b. How many extremist/terrorism offenders participate in this programming?
c. What is the ratio of programs offered per terrorist/extremist prisoner and how many weeks of life skills training and mental health services does the average terrorist/extremist offender receive for every year incarcerated?
d. Are program providers trained how to interact specifically with these types offenders?
e. What metrics do you use to determine if current programming is successful at preventing recidivism? 

Recidivism

6. What is the current interagency policy, strategy, and process for ensuring that terrorist/extremist offenders successfully reintegrate into society?
a. How are federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies notified and what is the mechanism for coordination between these agencies and local service providers?
b. Which non-government agencies/services providers are involved in probation and post release follow-up?
7. What training is provided to parole officers or supporting non-governmental partners to recognize the signs of violent radicalization and recidivism?
Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters. We look forward to your answers and the documents requested by May 21, 2019.  Should you have questions about this request, please contact Sam Fletcher (sam_fletcher@shelby.senate.gov) and Dave Christie (dave_christie@hassan.senate.gov).

Sincerely,

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