Rights group criticizes Saudi Arabia's Al Qaeda reeducation program
The vaunted program is supposed to convince militants that Al Qaeda's ideology is un-Islamic. But Human Rights Watch says it violates international law.
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The program – a key part of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism campaign – relies on preventive efforts to teach detained men that terrorism is un-Islamic. But since most of the detainees haven't been convicted of any crime, it violates international law, the group argues in a report released Monday.
"Except as part of a sentence imposed after conviction for a crime, international human rights law does not permit the detention of persons to undergo a reeducation program," the report says. Such programs "cannot be forced upon persons whose guilt has not been established."
Rehab program praised by US
The program has drawn praise from US and Saudi officials who argue that conventional policing alone is insufficient to control Islamist militants.
While the program "may deserve credit for its intentions, innovations, and apparently low rate of acts of violence pursued by those released," Human Rights Watch says, those extolling it overlook that its enrollees "were not convicted criminals but rather men held in long-term detention without charge."
The report also says that the convictions of 330 Al Qaeda terror suspects announced by Saudi Arabia in July were "flawed" because the trials were held in secret. It criticizes the Saudi Interior Ministry for detaining thousands of suspects for years without charges, and in some cases, refusing to comply with court orders to release prisoners.
Gen. Mansour Turki, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said in an e-mail that he was unable to comment on the report until he had discussed it with ministry officials. An e-mail seeking comment to the Ministry of Justice spokesman went unanswered.
Indefinite detention is 'wrong'
Saudi human rights activist Mohammad Al Qahtani praised the report because "it documented the process of arresting people in indefinite detention." He disagreed with the protestation of a Saudi official quoted in the report, who said that public trials for terrorism suspects are unsuited to Saudi Arabia's tribal society.
"This is very wrong," said Mr. Qahtani. "A modern society should apply the law. This is an excuse to get away with illegal things. It doesn't make sense to hold secret tribunals."