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Is Rehabilitation of Terrorist Detainees Effective?

Aired January 12, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, can counselors and clerics deprogram jihadists? We'll examine the controversial efforts by Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other countries to try to change the terrorist mindset.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

Since the botched Christmas Day bomb plot, U.S. President Barack Obama is no longer sending home Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. About 90 of those remaining in Guantanamo are from Yemen, but the U.S. worries about releasing them. They say the number of prisoners returning to terrorism has risen from 14 percent to 20 percent since last April.

The spotlight is also now on Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation center near the capital, Riyadh, since Ali Al-Shihri went from Guantanamo Bay to that rehab center and then to Yemen, where he cropped as number two in command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. First, despite all of this, Yemen is now saying that it still wants its nationals back from Guantanamo. Why is that?

CNN's Paula Newton joins us live from the capital, Sana'a -- Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, this country is saying, look, we can still take those Guantanamo detainees, we want them back home. Christiane, the foreign minister of this country telling me again today that, look, if they are not repatriated here, we will be playing into the hands of the terrorists, and that's a quote from him.

He's saying, look, Guantanamo Bay has been seen as a saga here in most of the Muslim world because these detainees are there without trial. He says that still needs to be rectified.

This is what they're offering. They're offering security here, saying they will step it up, they will make sure those in detention will not escape their prisons, as they did in 2006. More than that, Christiane, they're looking at those programs that you're about to really investigate right now and saying, "We will have our own rehabilitation program, and we can promise you that it will work."

AMANPOUR: Paula, thank you. We're going to be pursuing that in this half-hour. Thanks for joining us from Sana'a.

And so, as you heard, they promised that it'll work. Can education programs rehabilitate terrorists? CNN's Nic Robertson talked to a former al Qaeda operative, a failed suicide bomber, from Iraq. Nic spoke to him in Saudi Arabia in 2007, shortly after the program started.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ahmad, and hundreds of other Saudis are being re-educated in prisons and rehab centers, told al Qaeda's teachings of violent Islam are wrong.

DR. MANSOUR AL TURKI, PSYCHOLOGIST: And the reality behind it is the religious misunderstanding of Islam, so we have to correct the ideas.

ROBERTSON: The program offers early release from prison, but it's available only to captured jihadis who demonstrate a willingness to change.

Ahmad says he was questioned by security forces, then clerics, psychologists. "They looked at my mood and listened to me," he says. He adds, "They were nice."

Ahmad insists he has changed. His appearance disfigured during the attack, he knows killing is wrong and claimed al Qaeda tricked him, intending him to be a suicide bomber. He survived by jumping out of the truck as it exploded.

Captured, he was paraded on Iraqi TV, burned and bandaged. He was blamed for the death of 12 bystanders. He confessed.

"I think God took me out of death to show others what can happen," he says. "If you join al Qaeda, they will use you, and maybe you will die."

Now, backed by the Saudi government, he gets his message out on flyers, before-and-after pictures. He has become the anti-al Qaeda example. He says he still feels guilty for the killings, impossible to tell if he's fooled the re-educators.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now to assess these programs and whether they can be effective, from Riyadh, Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, who has met Osama bin Laden, and Mark Fallon, a former U.S. Navy counterintelligence agent who served in Guantanamo Bay. He was also the top investigator into the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

So welcome, both of you gentlemen, to this program.


Let me ask you first, Jamal, from Riyadh there, given the huge amount of spotlight, for instance, on Al-Shihri, who's number two in AQAP, given that some of the people who've gone through the rehab have cropped up as militants and terrorists still, is this program working?

JAMAL KHASHOGGI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, AL-WATAN: Yes, it is working very much. There is not such a thing as 100 percent success. And right after the release of Al-Shihri (inaudible) who took advantage of this program and made an escape to Yemen, the program has become stricter. And now everybody who is released is being under surveillance, even electronic surveillance.

But the aim of the program, it is not to reform every individual. It is the aim of the program to the interest of the whole country is to contain al Qaeda, is to contain al Qaeda from becoming popular among radical Saudis. I'm not saying ordinary (inaudible) people. Radical Saudis, we have our radicals who are just like what you have in Europe and America, whom you call extreme rights, but they did not turn to violence.

And it is very important for us to keep those extreme right not turning to violence by containing al Qaeda. And that's why it is (ph) an issue for sympathy among them when they see their fellow brothers being victimized and imprisoned and tortured, et cetera...

AMANPOUR: All right, Jamal.

KHASHOGGI: ... and they see their fellow brothers as being -- OK, go ahead.

AMANPOUR: No, that's the aim. And we're going -- we're obviously going to continue with you. But, Mark Fallon, what do you think? Do these programs work? Or are we making too much of one or two failures?

MARK FALLON, FORMER U.S. NAVY INVESTIGATOR: Well, I think that some of these programs do have merit. I think there is some merit in the Saudi program. However, I think we need to recognize that there's no 100 percent fail-safe system. So if we look at it as a risk reduction program where we're trying to mitigate some of the risk of violence, I think there's merit.

I think Singapore has had some great success there with Jemaah Islamiyah, and I think that they have a better community-based approach in a smaller country like that, a little different with the tribal influences. But I do believe the program in Saudi does have some merit, and I think we will have isolated instances where someone will slip through the cracks.

AMANPOUR: Jamal, we're going to show -- and also, Mark, we're going to show some still photos, some quite rare photos of inside the program. You see some of these people who are going the program who are sitting around. There's some classrooms and all the rest of it.

How does it work, Jamal? I mean, there are people who are skeptical that classrooms and art therapy can rehabilitate a dedicated militant.

KHASHOGGI: Oh, of course. Even in my paper, there are people who are cynical of the program, and we are debating this issue. But I've been close to the jihadists in Afghanistan in the '80s, and I saw many of them grow out of it when they reached their 40s, when they reached their -- when they get married.

So there is a possibility many of those activists, many of those convicted or committed al Qaeda members who could grow out of it. But I think we should always keep a watch on them, because they can make the switch back any moment for any particular reason or another. We should keep an eye on them. But in the same time, we should try to reform them and get them involved in the society.

AMANPOUR: You know, one of the complaints about the program was that there isn't enough surveillance after the people graduate and go out into - - into society again. And I think you just said that the Saudi government is going to be much stronger on the surveillance, is that correct?

KHASHOGGI: Yes. This is happening right now.

AMANPOUR: OK. Mark, you were in charge of the investigations in Guantanamo Bay. You also led the investigations after the USS Cole in Yemen. Tell me what you were looking at when you tried to assess who could -- who should go to trial and who should be repatriated?

FALLON: Certainly, with the current (ph) investigation task force there when I was the deputy commander, we had a dual role. We were looking at prosecution for a military commission and gathering evidence, but we also participated in risk assessments, and we have a transfer or review board to assess and try to determine and pass judgment on a detainee and give advice to an interagency group.

So we would look at certain things about the degree of radicalization that the detainee may have had. Might a detainee have entered Afghanistan after Operation Enduring Freedom, after the invasion...

AMANPOUR: That's the war in Iraq.

FALLON: ... exactly, it may tend to indicate that someone was more prone to fight, rather than someone who was just there when the war started.

AMANPOUR: Let me play this sound bite that we have from Rudy Giuliani, who was a former U.S. presidential candidate and a former prosecutor here in New York, and has some very sharp views on whether anybody should be released from Guantanamo.



RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: I think the Bush administration made mistakes by returning people to Yemen. The Obama administration would be well advised not to follow that precedent. I mean, returning people to Yemen, I believe it's something like 1 out of 5 people that we've sent from Guantanamo has returned to terrorist acts.

Whatever your position was on Guantanamo before, facts, history now tells us that's a terribly irresponsible thing to do. But the Obama administration seems to want to send these people -- instead of to Yemen -- to Illinois. Now, that doesn't make sense, either.


AMANPOUR: Well, first, let's go back to the heart of the matter, the nobody should be released, that 1 in 5 are now being said to be going back to terrorism. Does he have a point?

FALLON: To a degree. However, I don't totally agree with Mr. Giuliani. Many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay we found really committed no crimes, and some of them did not really enter the fight. So I think it's important to release those that are not guilty of crimes of terrorism or war crimes and repatriate them back to their country.

There is a bit of concern, however, now with the government's ability in Yemen to actually control their population.

AMANPOUR: Well, I wanted to ask you, because you heard what Paula Newton told us, that they're desperate to get their Yemenis back from Guantanamo and are pledging to step up their effort. Is it possible?

FALLON: Well, up to 2006, they had a pretty good control of al Qaeda. But after the escape and release -- and we still have cell members who attacked the USS Cole who are now free on the streets and have the blood of service members on their hands.

AMANPOUR: And that was in -- in 2000.

FALLON: So it deeply concerns me, correct.

AMANPOUR: Jamal, just before we go to a break, what will happen -- as you heard President Obama, who does want to still close down Guantanamo Bay, is saying no more Yemenis will be repatriated -- what do you think will happen if they stop repatriating people in Guantanamo Bay?

KHASHOGGI: Guantanamo Bay is a serious problem to American P.R. and Obama's program to reach out to the Muslim world. He needs to resolve this problem, and this issue should not be contested or criticized in the Congress. It should -- we should all work for a resolution to this issue, a resolution which guarantee also our safety and security.

We, in Saudi Arabia, are in the middle of a fight against al Qaeda, and we will be very much willing to take those prisoners, to interrogate them, to rehabilitate them...


KHASHOGGI: ... but it is a serious problem to the administration, and they need to fix it.

AMANPOUR: All right. We're going to continue this after a break.

And, earlier, you saw some photos from a Saudi rehabilitation camp for jihadists. To see a photo gallery of all those images, go to, or visit the photographer's Web site. That's

And next, jihadis and justice. What should be done with accused terrorists? We'll have that when we return.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Laden in 1987 entered Saudi Arabia.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Bin Laden invited journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Afghanistan. It was a bit of P.R. in his new campaign to become Osama the General, the beginning of his media strategy to draw attention to himself and his message, a skill he would come to perfect.

Khashoggi took this picture, he says the first one ever published of bin Laden.


AMANPOUR: So that was a clip from our documentary from several years ago, "In the Footsteps of bin Laden," and Jamal Khashoggi, who you saw there a few years ago, joins me again from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and so does Mark Fallon, a former naval counterintelligence agent.

Let me go straight back to you, Jamal. Has the bin Laden ideology yet been cracked, for instance, in those people who go through the Saudi rehabilitation program? Do you think the ideology has been turned off?

KHASHOGGI: No, not yet, not yet, as long as there is a new produced al Qaeda members, it's a failure of our program. This Umar al-Farouk (ph), the Nigerian terrorist, is an example of our failure, because he's a new recruit, and as long as we see new recruits, it means we are failing, we haven't cracked that ideology.

AMANPOUR: So how do you turn failure into a better rate of success?

KHASHOGGI: We need -- we need a serious program. Number one, we should work on dismantling the concept of suicidal bombing and declaring that tactic as a prohibitation by Islam. And it is a true prohibitation. The mufti of Saudi Arabia, even before al Qaeda was created, made a fatwa declaring suicide bombing as haram, as prohibited. And al Qaeda found that gap and -- and -- and entered from it to use that tactic.

If we take that essential weapon of al Qaeda, we can deal then with al Qaeda. It will just be in a position violent movement (ph). The power of al Qaeda lays in suicidal bombing. We need to take that away from them, we, the Muslims, not the West, we, the Muslims, we, the clergies, the intellectuals. If we succeed on that, that would be like an 80 percent success in our fight against al Qaeda.

AMANPOUR: Mark, that's a pretty direct statement, that the success and power of al Qaeda lies in suicide bombings. Is there anything that the West can do to help the Muslims dent that?

FALLON: Well, I think with support -- as I said, I think there is a merit in some type of rehabilitation program, such as Saudi Arabia, and the ones in Singapore.

AMANPOUR: So is the U.S. supporting these rehabilitation programs?

FALLON: Well, right now, we've just doubled the aid to Yemen, so hopefully -- this is more than a military problem. A military solution is not going to solve this network problem.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's -- let's focus on that, because General McChrystal, in his now very famous, previously leaked report not only talked about troops going to Afghanistan, but talked about the radicalization of people in prison. And we've got that -- hopefully, we'll have it on our wall.

Look. Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents represents more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in the increasingly overcrowded Afghan corrections system, and these detainees are currently radicalizing the non-militant, non-insurgent inmates. He's saying the hardened, committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixing with the petty criminals and sex offenders, and they're using this opportunity to radicalize and indoctrinate them. In effect, these Afghan correctional systems act as a sanctuary and a base to conduct lethal operations.

He could say that about Guantanamo. He could say that about Abu Ghraib, any number of prisons. So, again, the dilemma: How do you deal with it?

FALLON: I think we probably missed in the United States a critical timeframe when we had detainees down at Guantanamo Bay. There has been no effect to rehabilitate. And the concern always, if someone arrived there and they were not radicalized, how much would they be radicalized during their time at Guantanamo? And might we be creating the very adversary that we're afraid of?

AMANPOUR: Is it too late to try to do something about that?

FALLON: I don't think it's ever too late. I don't think you could do nothing, so I think any program to start to -- to minimize the risk is an effective one.

AMANPOUR: And, Jamal, given those facts, that in prison people are obviously being increasingly radicalized and given the fact that Saudi Arabia is sort of pioneering this rehabilitation program, how do you measure success?

KHASHOGGI: I will measure success by the number of new recruits. If I have that statistics that there are less new al Qaeda (ph) recruits in Saudi Arabia, then there is a success. The rehabilitation program isolate al Qaeda members from ordinary prisoners.

And the ability (ph) of good treatment they receive, it doesn't create a sympathy to their cousin, to their tribal members, to join them or to support them.


In fact, they are well off. Their families enjoy a certain profits from the government and care from the government, so the family turn against al Qaeda. They see the government as being good to them and while their sons are being against this good government.

So this is working to isolate al Qaeda and make it look as a breakaway from a decent society.

AMANPOUR: Yeah, Jamal -- Jamal...

KHASHOGGI: I like that -- yes?

AMANPOUR: Just -- just in terms of what's happening to those people, I mean, we have a map here, and we can see that Yemen is right against Saudi Arabia. Just very quickly, does Saudi Arabia think that the threat internally to itself is greater or as great as the threat externally, in other words, of al Qaeda going across the borders?

KHASHOGGI: Yeah, al Qaeda has no camps, no training territories in Saudi Arabia. Even their simple infrastructure (ph) that they enjoyed in the past is totally dismantled, so now they are in Yemen. But in Yemen, they have a free range, a free area to operate, to -- and that is dangerous, because of the border situation.

AMANPOUR: Jamal Khashoggi, thank you for joining us from Saudi Arabia.

KHASHOGGI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Mark Fallon, thank you so much for joining us here in the studio.

FALLON: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And next, we have our "Post-Script," as we continue to explore the possibility of reconciliation after years of war. We look back at another conflict in the heart of the Middle East.


AMANPOUR: Now our "Post-Script." As we've been showing and as we know, more than eight years after 9/11, the war against al Qaeda continues, and the ideology has not yet been defeated. The civil war in Lebanon that started back in 1975 lasted much longer, though, 15 years, and it cost tens of thousands of lives. It was a different time and a different kind of conflict. But as this short film by Eric Trometer shows, reconciliation is possible, even among former fighters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was just a young man or a young boy, even, I heard strange things about the Muslims. They were dirty. They had a strange way to pray. They were aiming for a pan-Arab or a Muslim greater nation, and Lebanon was nothing for them.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 1975, I felt myself ready to do anything needed just to defend myself and my community. I became just a killing machine.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had to protect my street, my community. This was -- I think that fear was the thing that triggered me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how to tell you this now. Somewhere deep, deep, deep in my heart, you know, it's an injury that can never -- that will never cease beating. Maybe he died once, but I die every time I think -- I think of those I have killed. And there's a lot of them, believe me. There's a lot of them.


AMANPOUR: It's a powerful message. It's a powerful reality. And to see a longer version of that film, to submit your videos as part of our "Global Dispatches" series, go to our Web site,, and send us a view of your world.

That's it for now. We will be back tomorrow with a story about a young doctor who stood up for his medical principles during the unrest in Iran and was later found dead. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.