The Pentagon never instituted an anti-extremism rehabilitation program for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, even as it released hundreds of detainees to their home countries and saw scores go back to practicing terrorism.
The lack of a deradicalization program takes on added importance this year as the Obama administration prepares to shut down the Guantanamo prison and send more combatants to other countries for adjudication.
Guantanamo’s lack of an anti-extremism program stands in contrast to prisons in Iraq, where a commander instituted programs that swayed insurgents away from an extremist view of Islam.
“We don’t have a rehabilitation program down there,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, the Pentagon spokesman regarding Guantanamo. “It was constructed to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield.” The complex of camps in Cuba was expanded after the Sept. 11 attacks to house terror suspects, most of whom were captured in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. At its peak, the prison held 780 detainees.
At least 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates have returned to terrorism, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). That number may not reflect all ex-detainees who have reverted. For example, a former detainee who recently appeared on an extremist Web site as an al Qaeda leader had not been listed among the 61.
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The utility of rehabilitation programs run by other countries is questionable.
Saudi Arabia, the home country of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, announced recently that 11 ex-Guantanamo detainees who went through a Saudi rehabilitation program are on the government’s most-wanted list for terrorism.
Last month, U.S. counterterrorism officials disclosed that Said Ali al-Shihri, who was released from Guantanamo in late 2007, had resurfaced as the deputy leader of al Qaeda operations in Yemen.
However, the U.S. had more success with a program it ran at the Iraqi prison in Abu Ghraib.
In Iraq, Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, who led detainee operations until last year, created a deradicalization program aimed at separating the truly hardened extremists from those who had the potential to abandon violence. Gen. Stone told reporters at the Pentagon last June that he relied on seven deradicalization plans now employed in the Islamic world.
“These efforts include education, vocational training, civics, Islamic discussion, family visitation, pay-for-work programs that actually empower the more moderate detainees and ultimately marginalize the violent extremists,” he said.
Cmdr. Gordon said about 70 of the 245 prisoners currently at Guantanamo are eligible to attend art and English classes. Those detainees also are allowed 12 hours or more of recreation daily, during which they can play soccer and engage in other activities, including gardening.
“It’s not a program to rehabilitate the detainees, though detainees who follow camp rules are authorized more privileges than those who don’t,” the spokesman said. “Rehabilitation wasn’t part of the policy from the outset, but rather detention at Guantanamo was designed to keep the detainees from the battlefield.”
Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a prison spokeswoman, said, “The focus here is intellectual stimulation.” She said the prison began art classes last year and also teaches English, Pashtu and Arabic. The prison library holds more than 12,000 books, magazines, DVDs and newspapers.