CBS ‘60 Minutes’ Touts Saudi Terrorist Rehabilitation Program

David Martin, CBS On Sunday’s 60 Minutes on CBS, correspondent David Martin reported on the "soft approach" to terrorism in Saudi Arabia: "Each time the United States releases Saudis from the prison at Guantanamo, the kingdom dispatches a 747 to Cuba to pick them up...the Saudi government is paying for cars, homes, even marriages for these reformed jihadists."

After explaining that "...more than half the so-called 'detainees' will probably never go before a jury because the U.S. government does not have a case that will stand up in court," Martin went on to describe a Saudi Arabian program for released detainees: "What we found is a rehabilitation program that attempts to make solid citizens out of holy warriors by convincing them Bin Laden has it all wrong."

Not only did Martin highlight the Saudi efforts to "rehabilitate" terror suspects, but he explained: "Some Saudis have been in Guantanamo for seven years, and Dr. Abdul Rahman Al Hadlaq believes the longer a man is there, the harder he is to treat." Martin then asked Hadlaq, a Saudi psychologist who runs the program: "They come out of Guantanamo hating Americans?...Is there evidence that Guantanamo has made them more radical?" Hadlaq replied: "I think so, yes. Because, in their journey, you know, from Afghanistan to Guantanamo, they have faced a lot of torturing. It's so important to deal with this, you know, issue of torture."

In response, Martin added: "‘Torture’ is, of course, a loaded word, but at the very least, the treatment en route to Guantanamo was rough, and provided the raw material for Al Qaeda propaganda videos to drum up new recruits."

Later, Martin explained the jihadist rehab in more detail:

...the Saudis took us inside this compound on the outskirts of Riyadh and allowed us to get a first-hand look at the soft approach. Here we met Dr. Turki Oetayan, a western-educated psychologist, greeting men fresh out of Saudi jails. These men will spend months listening to lectures until Oetayan and his colleagues declare them free of the impulses which incited them to holy war...This is what we would call in the West, anger management...And then there's art therapy, a surprisingly modern concept introduced by Dr. Awad Al Yami into a very conservative society. He says art gives his students a chance to express feelings they're not ready to talk about.

Dr. Al Yami then pointed to one of the prisoner’s paintings and declared to Martin: "This is about Guantanamo Bay, probably."

Martin described one "reformed" terrorist: "No one is more central to the rehabilitation of these ex-offenders than Sheik Ahmad Gelan...Gelan, that's him batting a volleyball with those same angry men, confounds all your preconceptions about Muslim clerics as stern, remote gray-beards. But he memorized the Koran when he was still a teenager, and is the center's unquestioned religious authority."

Martin did acknowledge failures of the Saudi program:

But here's the most important part, 11 of 117 men returned from Guantanamo have shown up again on Saudi Arabia's list of most wanted terrorists. You can call that a 10% failure rate or you can call that a 90% success rate...Mohammed Al Awfi became a colossal embarrassment to the soft approach. Awfi came back from six years in Guantanamo in a back brace, went through rehabilitation, but then traded the back brace for a bandoleer, and along with another graduate of the program, showed up in Yemen on an Al Qaeda video denouncing the Saudi government.

However, Martin then explained: "But according to the Saudis, Awfi's family convinced him to turn himself in, and his next video was a full confession on Saudi TV. His cooperation earned him some soft prison time, confined to an apartment where his family can visit...He has to be the only ex-terrorist in the world who's living in an apartment with the permission of his government."

Martin went on to cite concerns of U.S. officials: "America's top intelligence officer, Admiral Dennis Blair, has said the sight of former Guantanamo inmates showing up in Al Qaeda videos quote, ‘does not inspire confidence in the Saudi program.’" However, Martin once again turned the blame back to Guantanamo:

But there is another more disturbing case which raises the question of whether Guantanamo itself is turning out suicidal terrorists. Abdallah Al Ajmi was a Kuwaiti and did not go through the Saudi program. Two years after he was released from Guantanamo, he showed up in a martyr video with the explosives-laden truck he was about to drive into an Iraqi army base in Mosul. 13 Iraqi soldiers were killed. It's impossible to know whether a rehabilitation program like the Saudis' could have turned Ajmi around.

Martin did ask Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment, who has studied the rehabilitation program: "Now, there is a suicide bomber who killed people. Doesn't that tell you that you just can't take the chance of releasing people from Guantanamo?" Boucek argued: "I think what that tells you is that, when you release somebody, you need to have a very, very thorough program to reintegrate back into society, right? I mean, the Saudis who have been repatriated thus far, to the best of my knowledge, right now, nobody has been involved in violence yet."

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC