News & Politics

Obama Planning to Send Gitmo Prisoners to Saudi Arabia For "Rehabilitation"

The plan involves 100 Yemeni detainees and is opposed by the government of Yemen, which argues it has its own program for ex-jihadists.

As he figures out how to shutter Guantanamo, President Obama is reportedly working out an arrangement to send prisoners to Saudi Arabia for "rehabilitation." The Wall Street Journal reports:

Some of the roughly 100 Yemenis held at Guantanamo Bay would go to Saudi Arabia under a plan being discussed by U.S. and Saudi officials, said people briefed on the talks.
Yemenis make up the largest national grouping among the roughly 250 inmates still at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo. U.S. officials believe addressing their fate is urgent if President Barack Obama is to make good on his commitment to close the prison by January 2010.

Some 30 prisoners are on track to be either sent back to Yemen or tried by the U.S. But the rest "pose a quandary."

The U.S. no longer wants to hold them, but it fears that Yemen's government lacks the means to rehabilitate the men, many of whom officials say pose a threat to the U.S. And American officials question whether Yemen has sufficient law-enforcement muscle to keep tabs on returnees.

The solution: Send them to Saudi Arabia instead.

U.S. and Arab officials said Saudi authorities have developed a program for Islamist extremists that is largely viewed as a success by U.S. and European counterterrorism officials. The program includes vocational training, family reunification and religious tutoring.

The program is housed at the "Care Rehabilitation Center," described as "a cozy chalet" outside Riyadh by Time Magazine, who archly labeled it the "Betty Ford Center for terrorists." ("Technically it's a detention center, but no one is forced to wear an orange jumpsuit or a blindfold." So it's, you know, practically a country club.) U.S.-style orange jumpsuits or not, Saudi Arabia is hardly known as a beacon of human rights. But others have a different concern:

U.S. officials say Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation program isn't fail-safe. Last month, two Saudi nationals who were released from Guantanamo and passed through the program appeared in a video as senior members of al Qaeda's Yemen operations.
Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet's Rights and Liberties and War on Iraq Special Coverage.
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