The story of the Saudi center, which America hopes will receive Guantanamo detainees, and can it integrate extremists into society?

Shafakna – “Swimming pool, libraries and paintings” are unthinkable tools that exist in a place teeming with what are described as Islamic extremists, but they are in fact some of the contents of the Saudi rehabilitation center for extremists, which some consider as a more humane alternative to Guantanamo Bay, which the United States wants to close.

No one was inside the building, which was intended as a rehabilitation and reintegration center for Islamic extremists. The pool was quiet. The lights were on at the art therapy exhibit, but there were no visitors.

Beneficiaries of the Saudi government’s program, which helps prisoners re-enter society, were on vacation for family visits on Eid al-Adha, leaving the place empty, the New York Times reported.

Only one painting in the exhibition offered a glimpse of the religious tolerance that is a hallmark of the show: A woman smelled a flower, bared her hair and swayed against the night sky, the paper described.

The program, with a center in Riyadh and another in Jeddah, grew out of an anti-terror campaign that began in 2004 to target Saudi nationals making their way home from jihadist training camps in Afghanistan and others who affected them, to re-educate, and was known as the Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Centre.

About 6,000 men have undergone some form of the program, including 137 former prisoners at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, none of whom have been convicted of war crimes.

The last Guantanamo detainee was sent to the program in 2017, before former US President Donald Trump dismantled the office that negotiated the transfers.

The question now is whether the center fits in with US President Joe Biden’s efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, which was opened more than 20 years ago in Cuba’s Bay of Pigs region to hold terror suspects from around the world was arrested in the aftermath of 9/11. attacks.

Over the years, the United States has held about 780 men and boys at Guantanamo Bay, and there were about 660 in 2003. Saudi nationals were of particular concern because 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.

Half of the Guantanamo detainees have been acquitted, and Saudi Arabia is a candidate place to receive them

The Trump administration has released only one Guantanamo detainee, a recognized al-Qaeda operative currently serving prison time in Riyadh under an Obama-era deal. The Biden administration returned another Saudi national in May, but under an agreement to send him for psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia, not rehabilitation.

More than half of the detainees currently in Guantanamo have been cleared for release, but they will have to wait for the Biden administration to find a country willing to accommodate them in the security arrangements. Most of them are from Yemen, one of several countries that Congress considers too unstable to receive men from Guantánamo.

Other detainees are engaged in plea negotiations, with debates over whether convicts can serve their sentences in foreign detention.

The Obama administration sought to close the prison, and Saudi Arabia was one of the countries that figured prominently in plans to relocate prisoners. Another was Oman, which took in 28 Yemeni men in a top-secret project that found them wives, homes and jobs as long as they didn’t tell their neighbors they had spent time in Guantanamo, according to former detainees.

Some of the detainees were sent to the Emirates

The Obama administration sent 20 prisoners to the UAE, most of them Yemenis, but also many Afghans and a man from Russia. But the state basically jailed them and then suddenly returned all but one Russian man, sparking human rights protests that the returnees faced the risk of persecution.

With this program considered a failure, the Biden administration has been looking for other options for the prisoners who have left Guantanamo, especially the Yemenis.

Other difficult cases include a stateless Rohingya Muslim, a Maryland-educated Pakistani who became an informant for the US government and fears prosecution if repatriated, and a Saudi national critical of the kingdom’s ruling family.

The story of the Saudi Center for the Rehabilitation of Extremists, which is an alternative to Guantánamo

A recent American visit to the dusty brown campus of the Saudi extremist rehabilitation center on the outskirts of Riyadh highlighted an option to house them.

The program was founded by Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the former Saudi interior minister and crown prince who had close ties to the US Central Intelligence Agency.

When he was driven from power by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the program was renamed the Counseling and Care Center.

How to persuade participants to abandon their extremist ideas?

As described by the directors, the program mixes lessons on non-violent interpretations of Sharia with fitness, entertainment and counseling aimed at returning those who have graduated to their families. Or, as one employee put it, the “brainwashing that takes place” reverses when a young person is drawn to religious extremism.

Wanyan Obaid Al-Subaie, the program director, who holds the rank of major general, said the library advises reading about successful Saudis, “to avoid false examples, and to stay away from ways that lead you to darkness or lead to death.”

Major General Wanyan Obaid Al-Subaie said that two former Guantanamo prisoners in the Saudi prison system will be accepted into the program once their sentences have expired. One is Ahmed Muhammad Hazaa al-Darbi, the al-Qaeda terrorist released by the Trump administration, and the other’s identity is unknown.

The program director was concerned that the Saudi Rehabilitation Center for Extremists was being portrayed as a five-star hotel for extremists.

“This is not a reward,” he said. They are no longer prisoners. They must return to society. We want them to feel accepted, and this is another opportunity.”

Of the 137 men sent from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia, some via the Saudi prison, 116 men joined the community and stayed out of trouble, 12 were rearrested, eight were killed, and one was “wanted “, according to the program’s fact sheet.

During the US delegation’s visit to the Saudi Center for the Rehabilitation of Extremists, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not specify which of the men had returned to extremism. But some of the dead are known, especially those who were sent during the George W. Bush administration and then fled to Yemen, where they joined al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In Riyadh, program participants live in rooms, individual bedrooms arranged around a courtyard with a mosque, a kitchen and a small outdoor stove for making tea on cold desert nights.

The first visits of the Saudis enrolled in the program to their homes are short, as described by program officials, but they develop into a long-term stay with the family – for example, the holiday that vacated the center in July 2022 has a period of two weeks.

The security apparatus is invisible at the Saudi rehabilitation center for extremists, but it is present. Security staff and caregivers wear the same classic white Gulf robes and red headscarves favored by government officials and businessmen.

At the gym, a mentor pointed to the camera in the corner of the weightlifting area and explained that the facial expressions there were being monitored.

In the art gallery, art therapist Awad Al Yami described his program as an opportunity for men to express their feelings and be evaluated by program sponsors.

“There are a lot of strange things here,” Dr Al-Yami said. The art of many of the other participants in the program is oriented towards desert scenes and other Saudi themes.

the end

Leave a Comment