Sessions Presses Holder to Stop Sending Gitmo Detainees to Saudi Arabia
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that he stop sending Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia.
Some Gitmo prisoners, particularly Yemenis with ties to Saudi Arabia, have been sent there to participate in the terrorist rehabilitation program run by the Saudi government. The effectiveness of that program has been the subject of controversy.
Although Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have defended the program, Sessions today wrote that 11 of Saudi Arabia’s 85 most wanted terrorists are “graduates” of the country’s rehabilitation program.
“The list of failed participants in the Saudi program reads like a ‘who’s who’ of Al Qaeda terrorists on the Arabian Peninsula,” Sessions wrote. Sessions said participants in the program have included Said Ali al Shiri, the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen; Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, al-Qaeda’s mufti, or theological leader, in the Arabian Peninsula; Abu Hareth Muhammad al-Awfi, who appeared in an al-Qaeda video in January 2009; Yousef Mohammed al Shihri, who was shot by Saudi security forces in October 2009 while trying to pass through a security checkpoint wearing women’s clothing and an explosives belt.
Sessions cited a May 2009 New York Times report which said that “the Pentagon believes that 74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have returned to terrorism or militant activity.” If true, that would mean about 1 in 7 of the 534 detainees that had been released by last May had subsequently engaged in terrorist activity.
“If the administration continues to rely on the Saudi program, I fear this number will only increase,” wrote Sessions.
The Saudi rehabilitation program reportedly includes a mix of religious, psychological and social programs that ultimately aim to give participants a stable social network and financial opportunities so that they won’t have to rely on terrorists. Family and tribal leaders then take responsibility for their their future behavior.
The Obama administration has sent some Yemenis to Saudi Arabia rather than return them to Yemen because the U.S. government has less confidence in Yemeni officials’ ability to prevent the men from joining local terrorist organizations. Because nearly 100 Yemenis remain in detention at Guantanamo, however, the administration is under serious pressure to find someplace to send them in order to fulfill its promise of closing the prison camp next year.
President Obama has already acknowledged that Guantanamo will not be closed by his original January 2010 deadline.