Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Will Saudi Arabia Become the New Gitmo?

The administration continues to make progress, of a sort, on its commitment to close Gitmo. They have now resorted to begging the government of Saudi Arabia to accept our Yemeni detainees, who are the most problematic of the Gitmo Gang, into Saudi Arabia's deradicalization program. Good try, but it doesn't look like the Saudis will agree.

From today's Washington Post:

The [Saudi's success at the] rehabilitation of militants ... has convinced the Obama administration that Saudi Arabia is the ideal place to send dozens of Yemenis being held at Guantanamo.

-- snip --

As President Obama's promised January deadline to close Guantanamo approaches, the fate of 97 Yemenis remains the administration's biggest obstacle to closing the facility and forging a new detention policy. They are the largest community left at Guantanamo, roughly half of the prisoners who remain there, and are viewed as among the most radicalized, with deep jihadist roots inside Yemen, Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland.

-- snip --

Publicly, Saudi officials have said they will accept the Yemenis only if they come willingly. Privately, Saudi officials interviewed here say they would like to find a different solution. If Saudi Arabia were to accept the Yemenis -- a decision that most observers say will require the blessing of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz -- it risks becoming a greater al-Qaeda target. The kingdom also has close ties to Yemen's government, which would probably consider the detainees' transfer to Saudi Arabia a public embarrassment. Yemen has publicly declared that it wants its detainees to return home.

If the Yemenis participated and then rejoined al-Qaeda, it would be a severe blow to the program as well as to the kingdom's pride.

"It's a no-win situation for the Saudis. They can't rehabilitate these guys, and they don't want to become America's jailor," said Christopher Boucek, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has studied the rehabilitation program.

Apparently, the Saudi deradicalization program depends upon a kind of social surveillance that wouldn't be available in the case of foreigners like Yemenis.

Saudi officials say their success with former [Gitmo] detainees such as [Khalid al] Jehani lies in members of his family and tribe, who keep constant watch over him, and cannot be duplicated with those whose social networks and roots lie outside Saudi Arabia.

"If I try to do something bad, my family will tell the government about me," said Jehani, who joined a radical Islamist movement in the Philippines and trained al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. "How can you trust that will happen with a family living in Yemen?"

How, indeed?

Jehani is echoing - unconsciously, I'm sure - the Victorian English politician J. A. Roebuck, who memorably nailed that same point when he argued in the parliamentary debates on the Second Reform Act of 1867, "if a man has a settled house, in which he has lived with his family for a number of years, you have a man who has given hostages to the state, and you have in these circumstances a guarantee for that man’s virtue."

Without the guarantee that would be provided by such hostages, why should the Saudis agree to take any of our Yemenis off our hands?

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