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What to do with Guantánamo's detainees

Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation plan works. Imitate it.

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Another major concern about closing Guantánamo is the large number of Yemeni prisoners held there. According to recent figures, there are about 101 Yemenis currently detained in Guantánamo, making them the largest group of prisoners from a single country.

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Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, so providing adequate social programs to rehabilitate freed detainees would be difficult. But its government is committed to repatriating its nationals. The US and other governments can help offset the costs associated with doing so – a far more attractive option than indefinite detention.

Plenty of research has been done about how individuals become radicalized, but much less is understood about how people transition out of such behavior – and they do, to a remarkable extent. My own research, and that of my coauthors in "Leaving Terrorism Behind," finds that participation in violence is not a permanent aspect of a militant's life.

Of course, some hard core extremists can never be rehabilitated, and as Lawrence Wright wrote in a recent New Yorker article, you can only hope for so much, moving people a bit at a time.

To be sure, some detainees considered an extreme danger to the United States can never be repatriated. Among them are at least two "high value" detainees, including alleged 9/11 conspirators Ramzi bin al Shibh and Walid bin Attash.

And of course there was the case that occurred this past May when Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, who was repatriated to Kuwait in 2005 after three years in Gitmo and subsequently acquitted of terrorism charges by a Kuwaiti court, killed seven people in a suicide bombing targeting Iraqi security forces in Mosul.

These individuals should be tried as war criminals, or – better yet – as regular criminals, not in secret courts or military commissions. It remains for Obama to decide what will happen to them, but transparency, due process, and legality are some of the strongest weapons in the struggle against violent extremism. These perpetrators must be brought to justice for their actions, and as long as they are hidden away at Gitmo, that cannot happen.

Of course, these men are a minority within a minority, and the Obama administration will have to show that terrorism emanating from the Muslim world cannot be defeated through traditional security measures alone.

Christopher Boucek is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).