Commentary Magazine


Topic: Terrorist Recidivism I

Terrorist Recidivism

I recall visiting Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago and being briefed by Saudi officials on their program to reeducate and rehabilitate Islamist extremists in their prisons. The program had long been seen as a model effort; it influenced a similar program created in the U.S. detention system in Iraq that is now being replicated in Afghanistan. But recent events suggest the Saudi program was not all it was cracked up to be.

As the Financial Times notes, “The revelation that two of the alleged leaders of the plot to blow up a US passenger jet were released by a Saudi militant rehabilitation centre has thrown a renewed spotlight on the programme and the kingdom’s response to terrorism.” That includes Said bin Ali al-Shihri, second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Overall, the FT reports, 120 inmates from Guantanamo were released to the Saudis under the Bush administration. The result? The paper quotes Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Middle East program: “Of the Guantánamo prisoners, about 26 are wanted, in custody or killed – it is about [a] 20 per cent failure rate.”

That should be of great concern. The Obama administration is right to suspend repatriations of detainees to Yemen; perhaps it should suspend sending them to Saudi Arabia, as well. The Saudis have done an impressive job of cracking down on terrorists within the kingdom, but the suspicion remains that they deal with some of these troublemakers by encouraging them to emigrate to countries like Yemen or Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the problems there — and potentially here in the United States as well. The real issue is not the fate of Gitmo; it is whether we are locking up dangerous terrorists, whether on Cuban or American soil. Continued detainee releases — which, it should be noted, started under the Bush administration — are endangering our safety.

I recall visiting Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago and being briefed by Saudi officials on their program to reeducate and rehabilitate Islamist extremists in their prisons. The program had long been seen as a model effort; it influenced a similar program created in the U.S. detention system in Iraq that is now being replicated in Afghanistan. But recent events suggest the Saudi program was not all it was cracked up to be.

As the Financial Times notes, “The revelation that two of the alleged leaders of the plot to blow up a US passenger jet were released by a Saudi militant rehabilitation centre has thrown a renewed spotlight on the programme and the kingdom’s response to terrorism.” That includes Said bin Ali al-Shihri, second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Overall, the FT reports, 120 inmates from Guantanamo were released to the Saudis under the Bush administration. The result? The paper quotes Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Middle East program: “Of the Guantánamo prisoners, about 26 are wanted, in custody or killed – it is about [a] 20 per cent failure rate.”

That should be of great concern. The Obama administration is right to suspend repatriations of detainees to Yemen; perhaps it should suspend sending them to Saudi Arabia, as well. The Saudis have done an impressive job of cracking down on terrorists within the kingdom, but the suspicion remains that they deal with some of these troublemakers by encouraging them to emigrate to countries like Yemen or Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the problems there — and potentially here in the United States as well. The real issue is not the fate of Gitmo; it is whether we are locking up dangerous terrorists, whether on Cuban or American soil. Continued detainee releases — which, it should be noted, started under the Bush administration — are endangering our safety.

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