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Returning Jihadists Need Prison, not Couches

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

PARIS -- The Russian Defense Ministry and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made separate announcements last week that the Islamic State had been defeated. Of course, this doesn't mean that these terrorists won't be popping up elsewhere like bomb-toting, head-chopping Whac-A-Moles.

Last month, the BBC reported a deal that allowed some ISIS fighters to escape the Syrian city of Raqqa -- the Islamic State's former "caliphate" -- under the nose of Western and Kurdish officials, ostensibly to facilitate a declaration of "mission accomplished."

The question is where these fighters will pop up next. Are we supposed to believe that they're going to parlay their real-world experience making violent propaganda videos into careers with advertising agencies? Will they be making documentaries to peddle on the film-festival circuit?

Some prominent leaders are holding open the door for Islamic State members to return to the West. This is the subject of debate in Canada and France, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron entertaining the idea of allowing the return of citizens who left to join ISIS overseas. (I'm even more worried about countries that aren't having this debate and whose returning ISIS fighters have quietly slipped back in beneath the radar.)

"We are going to monitor them," Trudeau said of the returnees. "We are also there to help them to let go of that terrorist ideology."

It's head-chopping that we're talking about here, not a cigarette or hamburger addiction. The idea that you can just throw a battle-hardened jihadist down on a psychiatrist's couch and purge him of a value system that involves killing all those who don't adhere to it would be comical if it wasn't so dangerously naive.

France's Macron takes a slightly more nuanced approach to the revenants.

"When they return to France, adults are subjected to French justice, are incarcerated, will be judged," he said. "And as for children, they are already the object -- for those who have returned and those who come back -- of a special procedure and a very specific follow-up, on the medical and psychiatric level."

So apparently there will be no psychiatrists' couches for criminals who can be tried in French courts for crimes committed overseas. It sounds nice in theory, but it would be interesting to see how prosecutors dealt with the chain of evidence running from Syrian battlefields to French courtrooms that almost any defense lawyer on earth would be able to blast full of probable doubt. How will foreign battlefield intelligence be converted into admissible evidence?

Even high-profile, 1970s-era Venezuelan terrorist "Carlos the Jackal" (real name: Ilich Ramirez Sanchez) was only convicted in France of crimes committed on French soil, despite all the terrorist acts he was accused of committing around the globe during his heyday. Any crimes that returning jihadists might be charged with in France would be far more opaque than the overseas crimes Carlos is said to have perpetrated.

I realize that the touchy issue of due process must be acknowledged when it comes to stripping anyone of citizenship or locking them out of the country. That's why anyone who has been involved in overseas terror operations and who seeks to return to the West now that the jihad party is over should go immediately to jail (to await trial), just like in Monopoly: Do not pass Go, do not collect state-sponsored handouts.

They shouldn't be tried for acts committed -- which is problematic from an evidentiary standpoint. The mere fact that they were out of the country long enough to take up residence within a "caliphate' known for its head-chopping should be enough to put someone in jail while awaiting a trial to answer a single question: "Were you there or not?" Yes, you were? Prison for life.

Maybe if enough of the returnees are found guilty, the rest won't bother coming back.

Macron's idea of parsing out women and children as if they're completely innocent parties is either terribly naive or disingenuous. Is it really that politically unacceptable for society to assert that if you're a woman who watched internet videos of beheadings, communicated with unlawful enemy combatants and ultimately decided that was the life for you, you're a willing accomplice?

If the Mafia moved to the Middle East and set up its own self-declared territory, would our leaders treat their crimes as a mental affliction requiring rehabilitation rather than hard prison time? Jihadism isn't a sickness; it's a crime and should be treated as such.

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