Alison Spann
© Image courtesy Spann family
Alison Spann
The last time Alison Spann saw her father, she was 9 years old. "My family drove to CIA," she recalls. "I was the only one who cried. The last memory I have of my dad is him walking away from us in the dark with all his bags."

That was shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Johnny "Mike" Spann was 32, a CIA paramilitary officer and former Marine who knew he was bound for northern Afghanistan and might never return. Less than two months later - and moments after he had been questioning a bedraggled Taliban detainee named John Walker Lindh - he was killed by a mob of prisoners attempting to escape from the remote fortress of Qala-i-Jangi.

In a cruel twist of fate, Alison Spann's mother died of cancer a month later. Suddenly, the young girl became the first orphan of what was already known as the War on Terror.

Now 27, Alison Spann is a television reporter working in Biloxi, Mississippi. After her father was killed, Lindh, now 38, was recaptured and it was discovered he was an American who had grown up in California, converted to Islam at age 16, and at 20, traveled to Afghanistan, joining the Taliban before 9/11 and attending al Qaeda training camps. After being captured by Northern Alliance fighters on Nov. 25, 2001, he was taken to Qala-i-Jangi.

To Alison Spann's dismay, Lindh, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison and is known as the "American Taliban," is to be released this Thursday, more than two years before he was due to be freed. "This man committed crimes against the United States and against my family," she said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. "My siblings and I had to grow up without my father. My younger brother will never know his father. And so my family is serving a life sentence."

"I've spent 18 years without my dad. It never crossed my mind that the United States would let someone like this out early," Spann said. "Lindh is a traitor, and I think his early release is a slap in the face."

Mike Spann
© Courtesy Spann family
Mike Spann with his daughter Alison
Over the years, she has researched Lindh's background and his responsibility for her father's death. "He's referred to as the 'American Taliban,' but I think it needs to be clear that he was working and training with al Qaeda, who carried out the 9/11 attacks," she said. "Before 9/11, he was training with al Qaeda. And after 9/11, he stayed with al Qaeda. You don't accidentally stumble into an al Qaeda training camp."

He is still dangerous, she said: "He hasn't denounced radical Islam. And I think whether it's the United States or the rest of the world - that should scare everybody."

Her memories of her father are now distant. She can remember him telling her why he was heading to Afghanistan, saying: "I have to go over there to protect you, so that they don't come over here and try to do something like Sept. 11 again."

She also remembers being flown down to Alabama with her family following her father's death. When men from the CIA delivered the news, she remembers her Aunt Tammy telling her, "Your dad got hurt in Afghanistan." When she asked her aunt if her father was going to be OK, she said her aunt told her, "He's never going to be OK."

But she has learned a lot about him from those who served alongside him in the CIA. "I will never get the chance to know my father as an adult, so that's the only chance. I know the kind of person he was as a parent and the kinds of values he instilled in me, but it's always nice to hear from the people who knew him."

Mike Spann
© Courtesy Spann family
Mike Spann had three children, including Alison and her 4-year-old sister Emily, who were born to his first wife Kathryn, and 6-month-old Jake
Shortly after Mike Spann and his fellow CIA officer David Tyson questioned Lindh - who refused to tell them he was an American - the prisoners rose up and overwhelmed the pair. Tyson opened fire with his pistol and then ran for his life. Mike Spann was killed in the melee, leaving behind three children, including Alison and her 4-year-old sister Emily, who were born to his first wife Kathryn, and 6-month-old Jake, born to his second wife Shannon.

Mike Spann is now memorialized by a star on the CIA's Wall of Honor. A small stone monument to him stands at Qala-i-Jangi.

He had joined the CIA in June 1999 after being an Marine officer. In Afghanistan, he operated with U.S. Special Forces troops and Northern Alliance fighters, riding into battle on horseback. There were hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who had been taken prisoner and taken to Qala-i-Jangi and only a handful of Americans to question them about whether another attack on America was planned.

Two government assessments of Lindh, one from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and one from the National Counterterrorism Center obtained by Foreign Policy in 2017, paint a picture of an unrepentant extremist who remains radicalized behind bars.

She contacted lawmakers and sent letters to members of Congress and President Trump. The letter to Trump, which Alison Spann provided to the Washington Examiner, reads: "Lindh was in Afghanistan training with al Qaeda while the September 11th attacks were planned, and he was there fighting with them after the attacks were carried out. He is a traitor and he should not be released early."

Her grandfather Johnny Spann, who still lives in Winfield, Ala. - where Mike Spann grew up - has also been a tireless campaigner against leniency for Lindh. Despite their efforts, last month, Judge T.S. Ellis set Lindh's supervised release for Thursday, May 23.

The letter from Mike Spann's daughter also highlighted what she believes people should know about her father: "Mike Spann made a positive impact on the world, both here in the United States and abroad. He is loved and remembered by two communities - his brothers in Afghanistan and his friends, family, and brothers here in the United States. He's admired and respected not because of the way he died, but because of the way he lived his life."

As Lindh prepares for freedom, Alison Spann wants people to remember her father's heroism. "Johnny Micheal Spann was a man who set out from his youngest days to make a difference in the world," she said. "I don't know he knew if he would make the ultimate sacrifice, but he wanted to make sacrifices for the greater good, and he did. And he instilled that in me."

Her father was humble, she said. "I don't think my dad would think he was worthy to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. I don't think he'd want the attention. He was just somebody who wanted to make a difference in the world, but in a quiet way."

She said that while she wants to block Lindh's early release, her broader aim is to keep the memory of her father alive. "My father was killed so many years ago. He was the first American killed after 9/11. But who even remembers that?"