By Andrew O. Selsky
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Jan. 26 -- The re-emergence of two former Guantanamo Bay prisoners as al-Qaeda terrorists in the past week is not likely to change U.S. policy on transfers to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said Monday.
More than 100 Saudis have been repatriated from the U.S. military's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government puts the inmates through a rehabilitation program designed to encourage them to abandon Islamic extremism and reintegrate into civilian life.
The online boasts by two of these men that they have joined al-Qaeda in Yemen underscore that the Saudi system is not fail-safe, the Pentagon said. A U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington confirmed the men had been Guantanamo detainees. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose that fact on the record.
Two or three more Saudis who had been transferred from Guantanamo cannot be located by the Saudi government, said Christopher Boucek, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the United States sees the Saudi program as admirable.
"The best you can do is work with partner nations in the international community to ensure that they take the steps to mitigate the threat ex-detainees pose," he said. "There are never any absolute guarantees. There's an inherent risk in all detainee transfers and releases from Guantanamo."
The deprogramming effort -- built on reason, enticements and lengthy talks with psychiatrists, Muslim clerics and sociologists -- is part of a concerted Saudi government effort to counter the ideology that nurtured the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers and that has lured hundreds of Saudis to join the Iraq insurgency. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who attacked the United States on Sept. 11 were Saudis, as is the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden.
A total of 218 men, including former Guantanamo detainees, have gone through the reintegration program, according to the Saudi Interior Ministry. Nine were later arrested again, an "official source" at the ministry said in a dispatch from the official Saudi Press Agency. The report said some of the nine were former detainees, but did not give a breakdown.
The Saudi Interior Ministry official said most of the graduates "resumed their natural lives and some of them voluntarily contributed to the activities of this program to help others return to natural life."
The two men who went through the Saudi rehabilitation program and resurfaced in Yemen were seen in video clips posted on the Internet last week.
One man gave his name as Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi, whose prisoner number when he was held by the United States was 333.
According to documents released last year, the detainee said he was twice beaten by Americans, after he was captured in Pakistan in 2001 and was being flown to Afghanistan, and again after he landed at the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan.
The other former detainee said their detention by U.S. forces only hardened them.
"By Allah, imprisonment only increased our persistence in our principles for which we went out, did jihad for, and were imprisoned for," said Said Ali al-Shihri, whose prisoner number was 372.
About 22 Saudis are among the 245 prisoners at Guantanamo, according to a study by the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. The largest group of remaining prisoners is from Yemen.