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As U.S. Seeks to Shut Guantánamo, Saudi Heart Might Be Possibility

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — No person was dwelling 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 providers 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.

Solely a portray within the gallery provided a glimpse of the spiritual tolerance that may be a hallmark of this system: It was of a lady smelling a flower, her hair uncovered and flowing, in opposition to the night time sky.

This system, 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 method dwelling from jihadist coaching camps in Afghanistan and others influenced by them.

About 6,000 males have gone by way of some type of this system, amongst them 137 former detainees of the U.S. navy jail at Guantánamo Bay, none of whom had been convicted of warfare 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 carry terrorism suspects seized across the globe within the aftermath of the Sept. 11 assaults.

Through the years, america 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 below an Obama-era plea settlement. The Biden administration repatriated one other Saudi citizen in Might, however below an settlement to ship him for psychiatric therapy for schizophrenia, not jihadi rehabilitation.

Greater than half of the detainees at the moment at Guantánamo have been cleared for launch however should look forward to the Biden administration to discover a nation prepared to take them in with safety preparations. Most are from Yemen, one among a number of international locations Congress considers too unstable to obtain males from Guantánamo.

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

The Obama administration had tried to close down the jail, and Saudi Arabia was one of many international locations that figured prominently within the resettlement plans. One other was Oman, which acquired 28 Yemeni males in a extremely secretive mission that discovered them wives and houses and jobs, as long as they didn’t inform their neighbors that they’d completed time at Guantánamo, based on former detainees.

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

The Obama administration despatched 20 prisoners to the United Arab Emirates, largely Yemenis but in addition a number of Afghans and a person from Russia. However the nation basically 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 current go to to the dusty brown campus within the outskirts of Riyadh highlighted one chance.

This system 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 compelled out by the dominion’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, this system was renamed the Heart 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 known as it, undoing “the brainwash that occurs” when a younger man is drawn to spiritual extremism.

A library options really helpful studying about profitable Saudis, “the suitable individuals, to be able to keep away from the mistaken function fashions, not the way in which that turns you into darkness or loss of life,” Wnyan Obied Alsubaiee, this system’s director, who holds the rank of a serious basic, mentioned by way of an interpreter.

One guide 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. One other is a biography of a former authorities minister, “Constructing the Petrochemical Trade in Saudi Arabia.”

Common Alsubaiee mentioned two former prisoners of Guantánamo within the Saudi jail system can 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 id of the opposite just isn’t recognized.

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

“This isn’t a prize,” he mentioned. “They aren’t prisoners any extra. They’ve to return to society. We wish them to really feel accepted, and that that is one other probability.”

Of the 137 males despatched to Saudi Arabia from Guantánamo, some by the use of Saudi jail, 116 rejoined society and have stayed out of hassle, 12 had been recaptured, eight had been killed and one is “wished,” based on a program reality sheet.

Not one of the males had been recognized by the Saudi authorities through the go to. However a few of the useless are recognized, notably those that had been despatched through 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 members 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 members’ first visits dwelling are brief however evolve into long-term stays with household — for instance, the two-week vacation furlough that just about emptied the middle in July.

The nation’s safety equipment is unseen however current. The director is a navy official and safety staff and care suppliers costume identically within the basic white gown and crimson checked head overlaying favored by authorities staff and businessmen. Within the health club, a information gestured to a digicam in a nook of the load lifting space and defined that facial expressions there have been below surveillance.

However on this go to, Saudi transparency solely went to date. No person would say how most of the program’s 200 slots had been occupied, or when the newest individual or longest resident arrived.

On the gallery, an artwork therapist, Awad Alyami, described his program as a possibility for the boys to specific their emotions and for program sponsors to guage them.

One portray was an expressionist take of the crowds circling the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest website, however clockwise somewhat 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.

“Quite a lot of bizarre stuff right 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. Different program members’ artwork tended towards desert scenes and different Saudi themes.

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