Tuesday, September 08, 2009

How effective are terrorist rehabilitation programs? by David Montero

Recent attacks in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have left some wondering whether attempts to turn militants away from terrorism have failed.

Police in Indonesia were once lauded for their track record of rehabilitating hardened terrorists, turning them into informants and aides. But then a graduate of one of those programs turned back to terrorism and died in a spectacular shoot-out with police in August.

Saudi Arabia was also considered a good model of rehabilitating terrorists. But two weeks ago a graduate of a rehabilitation program detonated a suicide bomb in an attack on a Saudi prince, nine months after the kingdom disclosed that 11 graduates of the program had been rearrested for joining militant groups.

Many countries around the world – including Pakistan, Yemen, and the United States – are struggling with the issue of what to do with terrorism suspects in their custody. With Indonesia and Saudi Arabia's models seemingly compromised, rehabilitation has become both a pressing and confounding issue.

Recent attacks in Indonesia have generated much criticism of that country's rehabilitation efforts. But it doesn't mean the entire system needs to be thrown out, International Crisis Group's senior advisor for Asia Sidney Jones recently told The Jakarta Post.

"[It is] … simplistic and naïve to say that the program is a failure because there was a bombing. It's much more complicated than that," [said Ms. Jones].

... Jones believes the country needs to further integrate cooperation between state institutions including the ministries and the police.

"If we look at the program in Saudi Arabia, it is very integrated, with many different parts of the government involved," she said.

But Saudi Arabia's system is also in need of a major overhaul, argues Tawfik Hamid, in a blog for conservative US news outlet Newsmax.

[I]t is vital in such programs to have proper peer review for the study. Political statements of the program's success are not sufficient to consider it effective. Detailed statistical analyses and comparison to a control group in other Middle Eastern countries that do not use this approach are needed for further evaluation of the Saudi program. It may turn out that using other tactics is more effective or, that putting the terrorists in prison or under surveillance indefinitely may yield a better outcome. Releasing the terrorists may actually facilitate further spread of the radical ideology.

The Christian Science Monitor reported last month that Human Rights Watch criticized Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation program for violating international law by detaining people indefinitely without bringing charges against them or convicting them of a crime. The program also doesn't have a perfect track record. Two former Guantánamo Bay detainees and graduates of Saudi Arabia's program have joined Yemen's Al Qaeda branch, the Monitor reported earlier this year.

It's not just an issue the Saudis and Indonesians will have to grapple with, as this report in Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper reveals:

According to military officials, the 'Sabawoon' (morning light) Rehabilitation Centre will look after the young men brainwashed and indoctrinated by Taliban for suicide attacks on security forces and other targets in Swat. Many such youths were arrested by troops or found in camps raided by security forces during search and clearance operations in the valley.

Yemen has also created its own rehabilitation program, similar to Saudi Arabia's, in an attempt to convince the US to repatriate Yemeni Guantánamo detainees. Human rights groups are skeptical of Yemen's program, warning that "the programs ... don't always translate into practical transformation," the Monitor reported in June.

It is also an important issue for the US, since many of the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay could be released into countries where rehabilitation will be difficult, argued a recent opinion piece in the Monitor:

The detainees who remain at Guantánamo have had years to reevaluate and perhaps upgrade their ideological convictions as well as develop new personal networks. Those who are ultimately released are likely to be welcomed home as heroes by Al Qaeda followers, their status enhanced by the legend of their Guantánamo experience.

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