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In Saudi Arabia, re-educating terrorists held at Gitmo

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoners said to be more likely to return to terror.

Then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in written testimony in 2009 that the rehabilitation course did “not address anti-Western/anti-U.S. views, focusing only on the difference between Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia's conservative branch of Islam, and takfirism, the violent ideology espoused by al Qaeda.”

Saudi officials designed the specialized “after care” component of the rehabilitation program in 2007 for returnees from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. It has become a sort of half-way house intended to ease released prisoners back into society. It involves intensive, one-on-one interactions between detainees and staff members, including Muslim clerics, psychologists, art therapists and employment counselors.

Recently, a history course was added to the curriculum to rectify misconceptions of extremists, according to Al Hadlaq. Al Qaeda always presents history as a fight between Muslims and non-Muslims ... which is not true,” he said.

The rehab program is rooted in Saudi cultural norms, which stress the importance of family connections and personal interactions. And its success depends heavily on families, who are asked to support and monitor the men after their release.

“The closer the family, the better the program,” said Al Hadlaq.

Prior to the return of Guantanamo inmates, Prince Muhammad often called their families himself and brought them to Riyadh, where they were put up at a hotel at government expense to facilitate meeting their relatives as soon as they arrived in the kingdom.

Later, if the Guantanamo returnee successfully passed the rehabilitation course, the government helped him find a job and a wife. He also was given money for the wedding and a car. The idea, officials said, is to engage the returnees in the responsibilities of a regular life.

Participants in the after care program also usually met the prince, who invited them to stay in touch, even giving them his cell phone number.

Khalid Al Hubayshi, one of the first Saudis released from Guantanamo, said that he and his family were taken to the home of Prince Muhammad. There, he recalled, the prince told him and two other former Guantanamo inmates: “You are our people and we trust you ... and we hope you learn from the past. We are going to take care of you. You are going to get married. We are going to get you back to your jobs. Don’t worry about anything.”

Al Hubayshi, who said he met the prince again twice, described his attitude as “Okay you made a mistake ... maybe following the wrong fatwa, being zealous. You are young, and you have been used. We will give you another chance. Are you going to take the chance or be stupid and miss that chance?”