As U.S. Seeks to Close Guantánamo, Saudi Center Could Be Option

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Nobody was residence on the dusty brown campus of the reintegration middle for recovering Islamic extremists. The swimming pool was nonetheless. The lights had been on on the gallery of artwork remedy works, however there have been no guests. Not a slip of paper was misplaced on the psychological and social companies unit.

The beneficiaries of the Saudi authorities program, which helps prisoners re-enter society, had been on furlough for household visits for Eid al-Adha, the season of the Feast of the Sacrifice, leaving the place eerily empty, like a U.S. faculty campus on Christmas break.

Only a portray within the gallery supplied a glimpse of the non secular tolerance that could be a hallmark of this system: It was of a lady smelling a flower, her hair uncovered and flowing, towards the evening sky.

The program, with its campus in Riyadh, and one other in Jeddah, grew from a counterterrorism marketing campaign that started in 2004 to re-educate residents who had made their manner residence from jihadist coaching camps in Afghanistan and others influenced by them.

About 6,000 males have gone via some type of this system, amongst them 137 former detainees of the U.S. army jail at Guantánamo Bay, none of whom had been convicted of battle crimes.

The final Guantánamo detainee was despatched to this system in 2017, simply earlier than President Donald J. Trump dismantled the workplace that negotiated transfers.

Now the query is whether or not and the way the middle suits into President Biden’s efforts to shut the jail at Guantánamo, which opened greater than 20 years in the past to maintain terrorism suspects seized across the globe within the aftermath of the Sept. 11 assaults.

Over the years, the United States has held about 780 males and boys at Guantánamo Bay, with about 660 there at its peak in 2003. Saudi residents had been of specific curiosity as a result of 15 of the 19 hijackers within the Sept. 11 assaults had been Saudis.

The Trump administration launched only one prisoner from Guantánamo, a confessed Qaeda operative who’s at the moment serving a jail sentence in Riyadh beneath an Obama-era plea settlement. The Biden administration repatriated one other Saudi citizen in May, however beneath an settlement to ship him for psychiatric remedy for schizophrenia, not jihadi rehabilitation.

More than half of the detainees at the moment at Guantánamo have been cleared for launch however should anticipate the Biden administration to discover a nation keen to take them in with safety preparations. Most are from Yemen, certainly one of a number of nations Congress considers too unstable to obtain males from Guantánamo.

Other detainees are in plea negotiations with discussions about whether or not convicts might serve their sentences in international custody.

The Obama administration had tried to shut down the jail, and Saudi Arabia was one of many nations that figured prominently within the resettlement plans. Another was Oman, which acquired 28 Yemeni males in a extremely secretive venture that discovered them wives and houses and jobs, as long as they didn’t inform their neighbors that they’d finished time at Guantánamo, in accordance to former detainees.

None of these males who had been resettled had been ever tried for battle crimes.

The Obama administration despatched 20 prisoners to the United Arab Emirates, largely Yemenis but additionally a number of Afghans and a person from Russia. But the nation primarily jailed them after which abruptly repatriated all however the Russian, drawing human rights protests that the returnees risked persecution.

With that program deemed a failure, the Biden administration has been in search of different choices for cleared captives, chief amongst them the Yemenis.

A latest go to to the dusty brown campus within the outskirts of Riyadh highlighted one risk.

The program was based by and named for Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a former inside minister who had shut ties to U.S. intelligence companies. When he was pressured out by the dominion’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, this system was renamed the Center for Counseling and Care.

As described by managers, this system blends lessons on nonviolent interpretations of Shariah legislation with bodily health, recreation and counseling geared toward returning those that graduate to their households.

Or, as one workers member referred to as it, undoing “the brainwash that happens” when a younger man is drawn to non secular extremism.

A library options really helpful studying about profitable Saudis, “the right people, in order to avoid the wrong role models, not the way that turns you into darkness or death,” Wnyan Obied Alsubaiee, this system’s director, who holds the rank of a significant basic, mentioned via an interpreter.

One e book recounts the story of a Saudi man who studied in New York within the Nineteen Seventies and rose to prominence in civic life again in his homeland, together with a job in a Saudi-American dialogue after the assaults of Sept. 11. Another is a biography of a former authorities minister, “Building the Petrochemical Industry in Saudi Arabia.”

General Alsubaiee mentioned two former prisoners of Guantánamo within the Saudi jail system could be accepted into this system as soon as they accomplished their sentences. One is Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi, the confessed Qaeda terrorist launched by the Trump administration. The identification of the opposite isn’t identified.

The director bristled at portrayals of this system as a five-star lodge for extremists.

“This is not a prize,” he mentioned. “They are not prisoners anymore. They have to go back to society. We want them to feel accepted, and that this is another chance.”

Of the 137 males despatched to Saudi Arabia from Guantánamo, some by means of Saudi jail, 116 rejoined society and have stayed out of bother, 12 had been recaptured, eight had been killed and one is “wanted,” in accordance to a program reality sheet.

None of the boys had been recognized by the Saudi authorities in the course of the go to. But a number of the lifeless are identified, notably those that had been despatched in the course of the George W. Bush administration after which fled to Yemen, the place they joined Al Qaeda within the Arabian Peninsula.

In Riyadh, this system’s contributors reside in pods, particular person bedrooms organized round a courtyard with a mosque, kitchen and small open air range for making tea on cool desert nights.

As described by program directors, the Saudi contributors’ first visits residence are brief however evolve into long-term stays with household — for instance, the two-week vacation furlough that nearly emptied the middle in July.

The nation’s safety equipment is unseen however current. The director is a army official and safety staff and care suppliers gown identically within the basic white gown and crimson checked head masking favored by authorities staff and businessmen. In the gymnasium, a information gestured to a digicam in a nook of the burden lifting space and defined that facial expressions there have been beneath surveillance.

But on this go to, Saudi transparency solely went up to now. Nobody would say how most of the program’s 200 slots had been occupied, or when the newest individual or longest resident arrived.

At the gallery, an artwork therapist, Awad Alyami, described his program as a possibility for the boys to categorical their emotions and for program sponsors to consider them.

One portray was an expressionist take of the crowds circling the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest website, however clockwise moderately than the ritualistic counterclockwise. Program workers members had been involved concerning the depiction of the holy website, and had the artist meet with a cleric.

One part of the gallery showcases the work of former Guantánamo prisoners.

“A lot of weird stuff here,” Dr. Alyami mentioned.

The part has no signal however stands out for its picture of a guard tower, razor wire and males in orange uniforms. Other program contributors’ artwork tended towards desert scenes and different Saudi themes.

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