Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Gitmo's Terrorists Be Rehabilitated?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Gitmo's Terrorists Be Rehabilitated?

Article excerpt

What happens to terrorist suspects after they leave the detention center at Guantanamo Bay?

According to a Pentagon report leaked in May, 14 percent are engaged in terrorist activity. While many of their identities remain unknown, details are available about a handful of high-profile recidivists.

Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi was picked up by the United States in Afghanistan, accused of aiding the Taliban. He spent four years at Guantanamo and was then released and repatriated to Kuwait. Acquitted by a criminal court, he then traveled to Iraq, where he drove an explosives-packed truck into an Iraqi Army base in 2008, killing 13 Iraqi soldiers and himself.

More troubling are the cases of Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul and Said Ali al-Shihri. Mr. Rasoul, who was released to the Afghan government in December 2007, is now the Taliban's operations leader in southern Afghanistan. Mr. Shihri was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program before becoming the deputy leader of Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen.

Some argue the alleged 14 percent rate is inflated, as it is based on a definition of "militant activity" so broad as to include merely associating with terrorists. Others say the figure compares favorably with the 68 percent recidivism rate for US criminals. Even if slightly inflated, these examples illustrate a broader policy problem for the Obama administration: unanticipated consequences of US counterterrorism policy actions.

Detainees from Yemen pose an especially difficult problem. Forty percent of the remaining detainees at Guantanamo are from Yemen, but it is a country ill-equipped to deal with their return.

Yemen has developed a rehabilitation program modeled on Saudi Arabia's, but so far it has yet to work as well. The escape of 13 Al Qaeda suspects from a Yemeni prison in 2006 undermines confidence in the country's ability to secure dangerous inmates if the US were to send them home.

Al Qaeda has a growing presence in Yemen, underscored by the attack last September on the US Embassy - an attack in which Shihri's involvement is suspected. A brutal murder of three foreign aid workers occurred just this month, bearing the hallmarks of Al Qaeda. An infusion of battle-tested jihadists back into that nation could further embolden the movement.

Yemen is applying diplomatic pressure to have its detainees repatriated upon the closure of Guantanamo. But in light of the country's counterterrorism track record, this would be unwise.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, appears to have developed a relatively successful effort to rehabilitate terrorists, though there are still no comprehensive and objective assessments. For a time, the Saudis boasted a 100 percent success rate, but recent cases like that of Shihri have put a damper on that record.

Still, the Saudi approach of intense religious discussion, followed by generous financial support, employment assistance, and long-term monitoring seems, so far, to have reintegrated a large number of former militants. …

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