Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- As we lined up to perform Maghreb prayer [sunset prayer] with a group of former Guantanamo detainees, Sheikh Ahmed Jailan, the coordinator of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s care program, who led the prayer, was keen to recite Verse 7 of the House of Imran from the Quran that reads, “He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.’” This verse tackles those who follow controversial interpretations of the Holy Quran and abandon the basics [of religion] and are referred to as those whose hearts are full of “perversity”. The care program aims to rehabilitate former Guantanamo detainees and those implicated in security-related incidents into Saudi society.
According to Sheikh Ahmed, “That particular Quranic verse was the starting point to changing the understanding of the returning detainees of Guantanamo. There was an eagerness to clarify those verses that call for turning to the Ulema who are well-acquainted with matters of Shariaa.”
Dr Abdul Rahman Al Muharraj, an Islamic specialist chosen by the Saudi Ministry of Interior to rehabilitate the former detainees, took his place in the lecture hall and began discussing the subject of change, given that one of the most important issues that the ministry is determined to achieve throughout the care program is reforming the characters of the returnees.
The lecture progressed into a rewarding discussion with the former inmates who were responsive to the arguments put forward by Al Muharraj.
Al Muharraj told Asharq Al Awsat, “These young men have cooperated fully. They were enthusiastic and reacted positively to everything I told them.” He explained to the former detainees that the Saudi government was not unhappy with them as individuals, but was unhappy with their actions.
Dr Al Muharraj expressed his belief that the Guantanamo returnees would not repeat the mistakes of their pasts saying, “They have undoubtedly realized that they were wrong and they are willing to make it up to their country for the years they spent in the US detention camp.”
The Saudi Ministry of Interior is keen to enlist the returnees onto training programs that will help them become moderate in their beliefs.
Al Muharraj pointed out that this has already started to materialize. He said, “I felt that they have the will to reform themselves.”
Three new Guantanamo returnees expressed to Asharq Al Awsat their desire to return to university and resume their education.
Former detainee Muhammad Al Harbi, who went to Afghanistan after 9/11, expressed his determination not to repeat such an experience. He told Asharq Al Awsat. “Yes, we were wrong to go to such areas of conflict. However, the experience will not be repeated in the future. I am certain of that.”
Whilst a number of Saudis were detained in Guantanamo, several ideas have crystallized in Saudi Arabia with regard to developing their sense of national identity, and the concept of allegiance to the homeland. In this context, Al Harbi said, “We have to turn to our rulers in every way from now on. This is the only safe way.”
Muhammad Al Harbi, who did not complete his education after obtaining his certificate of secondary education, is serious about entering higher education after his release. He also revealed his desire to complete his education at the Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University on a full-time basis.
Rashid Al Ghamdi was also among the Saudis who went to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks with the aim of providing humanitarian aid there. He acknowledged that he was wrong to travel to a conflict area without the approval of his country first. Al Ghamdi told Asharq Al Awsat, “Undoubtedly, it was a mistake to embark on providing humanitarian aid in another country without your own country’s approval.” He attributed this mistake to his lack of experience that would have prevented him from embarking on this venture.
Al Ghamdi had dropped out of his course at the Imam Muhammad Bin-Saud Islamic University to take part in relief work abroad. Al Ghamdi now has a strong desire to continue his university education after receiving permission from the government. He said, “So far, I have not set myself any goals, but I am keen to continue my university education.” He indicated that the Ministry of Interior officials promised there would be a good outcome in this respect.
As for Majid Al Harbi, who was planning to go to Chechnya via Afghanistan, he stated that he and his other colleagues benefited from the Guantanamo experience. He said, “Guantanamo camp brought us closer together and we came to appreciate being there as a group.” Al Harbi said that their detention for the past six years was a valuable lesson for them. He now has a strong desire to continue his education at any university after ending his studies at the technical college where he was specializing in electronics.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior is working on helping the Guantanamo returnees who wish to get married, particularly in view of the fact that most of them have not been married before. In this context, the ministry helped more than 107 people, including those arrested on the grounds of involvement in security cases or those returning from Guantanamo to get married, to the extent that some of them were married while still in prison.
The number of former Guantanamo detainees that Ministry of Interior has helped to get married is 30 out of 61. Meanwhile, the officials promised to help the remaining returnees to marry if they wish to do so as long as they have not been married before. With a smile on his face, Al Harbi said, “I wish I could get married today!”
According to Sheikh Ahmed Jailan, the coordinator of the care program, one of the objectives of this program is to ensure that the Guantanamo returnees or those detained for involvement in security incidents will not end up in prison. It aims to strengthen their sense of national belonging, to safeguard the soundness of ideology and to expand their awareness by introducing them to national characteristics and the enemy’s plans against them.
Jailan explained that the program pushes prisoners to work on reforming their personality, paying attention to their own characteristics, being cautious of their words and gossip, respecting society and its reputation, and being obedient in times of crises, in addition to seeking knowledge from reliable sources.
The care program consists of 10 sub-programs, including Shariaa, social, cultural, psychological, sport, medical, security, creative, training, and humanitarian programs. The people in charge of the Shariaa program initiate dialogue with the Guantanamo returnees aimed at “issues that could cause a storm,” as Sheikh Ahmed Jailan put it.
The Shariaa specialists try to deal with deviant ideology by looking at its history and origins and highlighting its causes and evils. The issues of the Takfiri ideology [the denouncing of others as non-believers] and jihad, as well as the rules governing these issues are significant topics of discussions between the specialists and the detainees before they are released.
The cultural program adopted by the care program officials allows former detainees to benefit from science and knowledge. In Sheikh Jailan’s words, they give the young Guantanamo returnees and those who have been misled the chance to watch satellite channels and read the local press to strengthen their sense of belonging to society. The program administrators also make available various documentaries that detail the bloody history of terrorism that has afflicted the country since the attacks of May 12 2003.
Jailan said, “We are keen to make these documentaries widely available to the Guantanamo returnees and to those who were not present during the internal terrorist incidents.”
The social program, according to Jailan, aims to reinforce the detainees’ understanding of himself and his relations with others through lectures and seminars directed by specialist social workers. The detainees will also be able to contact their families everyday for over an hour. Everyone in the care program will be given the opportunity to do some shopping after receiving 10,000 Saudi Riyals [US $2700]. In addition, they will be able to visit their families for a period ranging between three and five days for those who are detained in security-related cases, and for a period of no more than two weeks in the case of the former Guantanamo inmates.
The care program officials subject the former detainees of Guantanamo and those held over security-related incidents to a psychological program conducted by a number of experts and specialists to find out more about their personalities and to assess their psychological health, as well as monitoring their problems by listening to them and talking to them to ease their suffering and raise their spirits.
The security program which is conducted by security specialists aims at increasing awareness amongst the young men by clarifying the security regulations, and providing them with the security advice that they require after their release, such as that which is related to bail procedures and other related matters.
The care program deals with members of the Saudi society who have been arrested in security cases and those who have returned from the US Guantanamo camp, but not those who are still imprisoned or those who are considered a threat to themselves or to others.
Before the detainees who are involved in the care program can be released, the program officials aim to assess their psychological stability by “probing” them. These officials further seek to analyze the extent to which the program has been successful with regards to clarifying the erroneous understanding of the Takfiri ideology, jihad, the concepts of Walaa and Baraa [loyalty to Islam and aversion of its opponents], leadership, and so on and so forth.