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Sunday, December 3, 2023

States Weigh Terrorism Registries for Offenders After Leaving Prison

“American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, captured as an enemy combatant in Afghanistan in 2001, is set to be released in the next three years. He will have then spent 20 years in prison since being sentenced in 2002.

Should Lindh have to register on a terrorist watchlist so federal and local law enforcement know where he is and what he is doing upon his release? Should people imprisoned for terrorism be listed like sex offenders, and be required by federal law to inform local authorities and give their communities updates on their identities, address and whereabouts?

Missouri and Louisiana are considering establishing such a watch list, and the New York General Assembly struck down a similar measure 2016. There are hundred of convicted terrorists serving time in U.S. prisons, and many of them are scheduled for release in the coming years, according to TIME

“After the Pulse nightclub and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, we know we can be susceptible to terrorist attacks,” Florida state Rep. Mike Hill (R) told Fox News. “A proposal like this may draw a little opposition, but this should be something that unites us.”

Is It Practical? Is It Harassment?  

The worst offenders are not likely to see the freedom ever again, and the proposal has been criticized as creating additional levels of focus on a group of people who have paid their debt to society.

“So we’re talking about a lot of people who made a foolish donation to a foreign group, and not necessarily with the aim of supporting attacks on U.S. soil,” Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told HSToday. “In practice, this would mean putting local law enforcement unnecessarily on-edge about a lot of people who don’t present any more risk to the community than any other ex-con.”

“If anything, a guy who’s just served a term for armed robbery is probably riskier for the community than a guy who was convicted of wiring money to some overseas group,” Sanchez added. “Even if you think he’s going to backslide and wire some more money, that’s not really a problem the local sheriff is well-suited to tackle.”

MORE: No Domestic Terror Charge? Lack of Law Reflects ‘Considerable Ambiguity,’ Says DOJ Official

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act requires convicted sex offenders to register following their release, making it a federal crime to fail to register.

Sanchez said that it is hard to see what local authorities are supposed to do with the information and that it could be easily misconstrued as harassment.

“More generally, it’s hard to see what local authorities are supposed to do with the information,” Sanchez said. “Follow them around? Open their Amazon packages to look for suspicious purchases? I’m having trouble coming up with a plausible scenario where this information enables some local PD to foil an attack by lawful means, though it’s easy to see it inspiring a lot of unproductive harassment.”   

But the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association says that there is little coordination between the federal government and local authorities on the those listed on the terrorist watch list or under investigation for terrorist activities. The group has long called for an improved level of communication between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

“If these individuals are on a watch list, then who better to watch them than law enforcement officers who have constant contact with them,” said Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty in a statement.

James Cullum
James Cullum
Multimedia journalist James Cullum has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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