After Guantanamo, 'Reintegration' for Saudis
Monday, December 10, 2007; Page A01
For five years, Jumah al-Dossari sat in a tiny cell at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, watched day and night by military captors who considered him one of the most dangerous terrorist suspects on the planet.
In July, he was suddenly released to his native Saudi Arabia, which held a very different view. Dossari was immediately reunited with his family and treated like a VIP. He was given a monthly stipend and a job, housed and fed, even promised help in finding a wife. Today, he is a free man living on the Persian Gulf coast.
The treatment is part of a Saudi "reintegration program" designed to help Dossari, 34, and other former Guantanamo prisoners adjust to modern society and learn the meanings of Islam. About 40 of the more than 100 Guantanamo detainees from Saudi Arabia who have been transferred to Riyadh since last year have been released after participating in the program, and the rest are scheduled to be let go in coming months.
The Defense Department considered more than 90 percent of the transferred detainees to be terrorist threats to the United States and its allies, but sent them home as part of an agreement that Saudi Arabia would mitigate the threat, according to Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
"Our goal is to transfer out as many individuals from Guantanamo Bay as we can," said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. "The Saudis have developed a reconciliation program to address the needs of their population, and we strongly appreciate them finding a way to mitigate the threats that these people pose. We believe this is a very, very good program."
Critics are concerned that the arrangement will simply return some extremists to the streets. Defense officials say about 30 of the nearly 480 detainees released from Guantanamo have again taken up terrorist activities.
Steven Emerson, a terrorism analyst, said the program is intriguing because it is an alternative to holding detainees at Guantanamo indefinitely. But, he said, there is a "major risk" of releasing former detainees into the general population.
"If they are allowed to re-engage in jihad, then I think it's criminal," Emerson said. "I don't always believe the Saudis are doing what they say they are doing. Could it work? Technically, it could work. Would I trust them to become babysitters? Not on my life."
Under an unpublicized agreement between Riyadh and the Bush administration, the Saudis are preparing to repatriate half of the approximately 20 of their citizens who remain at Guantanamo. They have promised that all will participate in the reintegration program, Saudi and U.S. officials said.
That will leave about 10 Saudis in Guantanamo, who are scheduled to be tried by military commissions, according to U.S. officials. A total of 138 Saudis have been held there.
The Saudi government contends that the reintegration program helps break the terrorist mind-set by linking former detainees with their families, their communities and a stable lifestyle. "No one who has gone through the program, completed it and been released has presented a threat," said Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Defense attorneys, human rights advocates and former Guantanamo detainees say, however, that the Saudi program works because most of the men held at Guantanamo were not a threat in the first place.