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What to do with Guantánamo's detainees

Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation plan works. Imitate it.

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One of President-elect Barack Obama's top priorities will be to rethink the "war on terror" from the ground up. That means following through on his campaign promises to close the US military prison at Guantánamo, which would be a major symbolic achievement.

Mr. Obama's administration-in-waiting is now crafting plans to bring several dozen detainees to the United States to stand trial, according to Associated Press reports, but it should prepare to encounter hurdles. The current US government is wary of closing Guantánamo. Among its biggest concerns is that prisoners will return to the battlefield upon their release. However, available data indicate otherwise.

The Obama administration could learn quite a bit from the Saudi example of detainee rehabilitation. Since May 2003, approximately 117 Saudi nationals have been repatriated from Guantánamo, bringing the total number of Saudis detained there to under 20. To date, none of the former Saudi detainees has returned to the battlefield.

Following a series of deadly domestic terrorist attacks in 2003, the Saudi government began an ambitious and wide-ranging counterterrorism effort. In addition to traditional security and law enforcement efforts to kill or capture terrorists, the Saudis launched a parallel strategy to combat the ideological justifications for violent extremism within the kingdom.


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