Does U.S. Need a Registry for Released Terrorists?

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Dozens of Americans convicted of terrorism-related crimes are approaching the end of their prison terms, prompting a debate over how to reintegrate them into society in a way that lowers the potential for repeated crimes, The Hill reports. Experts say the U.S. has yet to formulate a comprehensive policy on the subject, 17 years after 9/11 heightened the nation’s fears of terrorist attacks. “It is a blindspot right now when it comes to counterterrorism policy,” said Seamus Hughes of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. “We have nothing right now. There are programs for reentry for gang members to get out of jail and there is not that right now for terrorism.” Experts also say the U.S. does not have a system to track the activities of individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes once they are released.

House Republicans are pushing legislation, known as the TRACER Act, that would establish a national database similar to that of a sex offender registry. Upon release, a federal correctional facility would send an individual’s information to state and federal authorities. “TRACER would actually do the same thing [as a sex offender registry] and be providing notification that someone has been released,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) The House passed the bill last year. The Senate has not acted. Richard Clarke, the chief counterterrorism adviser for the National Security Council at the time of the 9/11 attacks, believes each convicted terrorist should have “specially trained parole officers” to monitor them once out of prison. Others argue that people who have served their time should not be treated differently from other convicted criminals. Twenty-five Americans who have been convicted of terrorist-related crimes are expected to be released by the end of 2021, says the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

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