[ExI] LA Times: Rehabbing militants in Saudi Arabia

PJ Manney pjmanney at gmail.com
Tue Dec 25 19:11:45 UTC 2007

Interesting article on Saudi Arabia's work psychologically
deprogramming former Islamic militants and repatriated US detainees
back to non-Militant or hate-filled ways.

"We have to deal with the minds and the emotional passions of the
extremists," said Turki Otayan, a psychologist at the center, which
has treated 1,500 alleged militants, including more than 100 released
this year from Guantanamo. "Fixing minds is like fixing a building
with 60 floors. It's not easy."

Or as a former militant said, "You could say the government cleaned
the hard drive of my mind. There were bad viruses and things in



>From the Los Angeles Times
Rehabbing militants in Saudi Arabia
A government center aims to turn accused terrorists away from
radicalism. Its inmates have included more than 100 released from
By Jeffrey Fleishman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 21, 2007

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — Juma al-Dossari is returning to his life the
way a photograph in a darkroom gradually takes shape on paper.

He is home after surviving six years and more than a dozen suicide
attempts as a U.S. prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Courtyard walls
have replaced barbed-wire fences, and Al-Dossari has completed what
the Saudi government describes as a "soft approach" rehabilitation
program to cleanse his mind, find him a wife, buy him a car and keep
him happy so he doesn't drift back toward Islamic fanaticism and

It is a strange, erratic journey toward self-discovery; Al-Dossari
says he can Google his name and find descriptions of a man he no
longer knows, but he's still unsure about what kind of man he will

"We can't go immediately from getting off a plane from Cuba to living
in society. Everything has changed," said Al-Dossari, a nervous, wiry
34-year-old in a checkered kaffiyeh. "There are more streets, bridges
and buildings here than I remember. I was gone a long time. My
driver's license expired while I was in Guantanamo. My father died.
Now, I'm trying to get things back on track."

The other day, Al-Dossari sat on a long couch at the Care
Rehabilitation Center with fellow released Guantanamo detainees. They
wore pressed white tunics. Some spoke in broken English learned from
their former captors; others were thin and still recovering from what
Saudi doctors described as torture and trauma. Several of the men
smiled as if posing for a family portrait, disguising the rage and
bewilderment of lost years and wondering how to fit back into their
native land, which was welcoming but suspicious.

This religiously rigid kingdom, a key U.S. ally that has been battling
Islamic terrorist networks for years, is known for harsh imprisonment
and interrogation tactics that often draw condemnation from human
rights groups.

But for three years, the Interior Ministry has been trying to turn
impressionable militants away from radicalism through six weeks of
psychological counseling, religious reeducation, job training and art
therapy that can produce Jackson Pollock knock-offs and stark desert
scenes. Those who complete the program, such as Al-Dossari, receive
outreach counseling and are kept under surveillance.

"We have to deal with the minds and the emotional passions of the
extremists," said Turki Otayan, a psychologist at the center, which
has treated 1,500 alleged militants, including more than 100 released
this year from Guantanamo. "Fixing minds is like fixing a building
with 60 floors. It's not easy."

Psychologists, sheiks and Interior Ministry officials occasionally
allow reporters to visit the center and talk to detainees. There is an
aura of public relations to the trip, but also a sense of mission to
quell extremism in a country that produced Osama bin Laden and most of
the Sept. 11 hijackers. With its strict tribal codes and devotion to
Wahhabi Islam, Saudi Arabia understands the motivations and warped
passions of young men willing to ignite holy war across the globe, and
increasingly, within the kingdom.

Most of the men in the program were arrested in Saudi Arabia or in
neighboring countries while attempting to travel to Iraq and
Afghanistan. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, terrorist
attacks across the kingdom, some aimed at Western targets, have killed
nearly 150 people. A recent nationwide raid captured 208 alleged
militants, some of whom were planning attacks on oil installations.
Saudi media reported that police also discovered eight Chinese-made
missiles that purportedly were to be fired at hotels and other

'Building trust'

The new rehabilitation program is aimed at militants who haven't
entirely crossed over to nihilism. The program is calculated to change
the image of Saudi Arabia as an exporter of terrorists while restoring
dignity and confidence to misguided young Islamists who can then help
lead others away from radical websites and bloody international

"We start building trust between us and them," Gen. Yousef Mansour,
spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said while sitting near a former
militant who had been burned and disfigured in an Iraqi bombing.
"There's no need for handcuffs. These guys are broken inside."

The center, a grid of low-lying buildings on the wind-swept outskirts
of Riyadh, the capital, does not resemble a prison, except for an
occasional glint of razor wire coiling above rose bushes and small
soccer fields. Metal courtyard doors open to bearded faces, some
smiling, some bemused. Some of the men make ink drawings, others dab
paint and pastels to sketch a ship or a map of their country.

There is pingpong, lunch on the grass and Islamic lectures by Sheik
Ahmed Jelan, a heavyset, jovial man who strolls the grounds in brown
robes trimmed in gold.

He told the men sitting before him on school chairs that they had
violated the Koran by not following the four conditions of holy war,
including receiving permission from the leader of their nation and
ascribing to a just and clear cause. He noted that Islamic tenets had
been perverted by Bin Laden and other terrorists, whom he referred to
as "gang leaders, not true Muslims."

He added, "If you don't follow the four conditions, you go to hell, not heaven."

The message -- Bin Laden is castigated with fervor here -- was part of
the rehabilitation center's pervading mantra: The militants were led
astray by corrupted ideals, and only state- approved imams and sheiks
can interpret the true meanings of the Koran. It is the same theme the
government has been spreading to villages and rural outposts in hopes
of undercutting the allure radical Islam has for young men with
limited opportunities.

"Bin Laden doesn't have the proper religious education to control so
many people," said Mohammed Fozan, a computer technician who was
arrested in Syria in 2005 on his way to build websites for Islamic
militants in Iraq. He was extradited to Saudi Arabia and placed in the
rehabilitation program. Today, he works as a computer programmer in
the Transportation Ministry while he fixes up a house and waits for
his family to choose his bride.

"I just want to get on with my life," he said, eating fish and chicken
with sheiks and security officials, the likes of whom years earlier he
despised as supporters of the infidel West's war against Islam. "When
I adopted that radical way of thinking, it was without analysis. I
just took it because I felt a responsibility for all those Iraqis

He glanced down at his plate and smiled. "You could say the government
cleaned the hard drive of my mind. There were bad viruses and things
in there."

Free from Guantanamo

Former Guantanamo detainees possess a quieter, more subtle air than
reformed militants such as Fozan. Many of them deny they were
extremists and, although not wanting to discuss how they ended up in
Cuba, say they were victims of circumstance. One man said he was on a
rug-buying trip to Afghanistan when he was arrested; another said he
was on a humanitarian mission to repair mosques when he was taken
prisoner with Taliban fighters.

U.S. authorities say the men were "enemy combatants" who enlisted to
fight with Islamic militants. The Pentagon has been repatriating Saudi
prisoners and those of other nationalities over the last year under
international pressure to free Guantanamo detainees who had not been
charged with war crimes.

Christopher Boucek, a Princeton professor doing postdoctoral research
on counter-terrorism strategies, lauded the Saudi rehabilitation
program as a logical, cost-effective and long-term approach to dealing
with the tens of thousands of war-on-terrorism prisoners the U.S. has
detained around the world.

"This isn't a problem they can jail their way out of or shoot their
way out of," Boucek said of the conflict and the teeming U.S.-run
prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Bukhari Abdul Hakim, a round-faced man with a graying mustache whose
conversation is punctuated by long pauses, spent six years at
Guantanamo. He was one of 133 Saudi prisoners, including three who
died, at the island jail. Hakim lost his construction job, became
diabetic and missed the birth of his granddaughter. He wants to get
married, but sometimes he confuses things; he despises the United

"The American government is a liar," Hakim said. "Why did they keep me
all those years? I'm not an enemy combatant. I'm not a terrorist. . .
. I don't want to talk about that time. I want to talk about now. My
country. Everything is good."

But amid the good there's a gloom he can't quite shake. "What can I
do? I have nothing," he said. "My government will help me buy a car so
I can become a taxi driver. I'm 54 years old. I'm an old man. I can't
do anything."

Juma al-Dossari, who has joint Saudi-Bahraini citizenship, has drawn
pictures and talked to counselors about how to move beyond his
Guantanamo years, which began with his arrest in 2001 on the
Pakistani-Afghan border. He spoke of the "bad ideals" of radicalism,
of how Bin Laden "used my religion and destroyed its reputation," of
how he is trying to "fix" himself but sometimes seems lost.

"Before all this happened, I lived in Indiana in 2000," he said. "I
worked in an Islamic center for a while. I like Indiana. I like
American life. There is a difference between real Americans and those
guys who run Guantanamo. I have to be fair, though. Some of the guards
at Guantanamo were kind. They apologized to me."

He sat in a room where videos and slide shows were shown earlier
depicting the rehabilitation center's successes. He wants to be one
but seems not to want to sound programmed or rehearsed.

Voices of other men murmured just beyond his, all recounting their
ordeals as the sheiks, psychologists and Interior Ministry officials
lingered at the edges until the day was done. He did not mention his
suicide attempts, including one in which he slit an artery in his

"I cannot forget those six years," Al-Dossari said. "When the airplane
came to take us back home, it was like a dream, a dream from prison to
Saudi paradise."

jeffrey.fleishman at latimes.com

Times staff writer Carol J. Williams in Guantanamo Bay contributed to
this report.

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