How effective are terrorist rehabilitation programs?

Recent attacks in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have left some wondering whether attempts to turn militants away from terrorism have failed.

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Police in Indonesia were once lauded for their track record of rehabilitating hardened terrorists, turning them into informants and aides. But then a graduate of one of those programs turned back to terrorism and died in a spectacular shoot-out with police in August.

Saudi Arabia was also considered a good model of rehabilitating terrorists. But in January the kingdom disclosed that 11 graduates of the program had been rearrested for joining militant groups. [Editor’s note: The original version of this story contained a reference to an attacker who detonated a suicide bomb near a Saudi prince, and said the man graduated from Saudi Arabia’s terrorism rehabilitation program. He was not a graduate of the program.]

Many countries around the world – including Pakistan, Yemen, and the United States – are struggling with the issue of what to do with terrorism suspects in their custody. With Indonesia and Saudi Arabia's models seemingly compromised, rehabilitation has become both a pressing and confounding issue.

Recent attacks in Indonesia have generated much criticism of that country's rehabilitation efforts. But it doesn't mean the entire system needs to be thrown out, International Crisis Group's senior advisor for Asia Sidney Jones recently told The Jakarta Post.

But Saudi Arabia's system is also in need of a major overhaul, argues Tawfik Hamid, in a blog for conservative US news outlet Newsmax.

The Christian Science Monitor reported last month that Human Rights Watch criticized Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation program for violating international law by detaining people indefinitely without bringing charges against them or convicting them of a crime. The program also doesn't have a perfect track record. Two former Guantánamo Bay detainees and graduates of Saudi Arabia's program have joined Yemen's Al Qaeda branch, the Monitor reported earlier this year.

It's not just an issue the Saudis and Indonesians will have to grapple with, as this report in Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper reveals:

Yemen has also created its own rehabilitation program, similar to Saudi Arabia's, in an attempt to convince the US to repatriate Yemeni Guantánamo detainees. Human rights groups are skeptical of Yemen's program, warning that "the programs ... don't always translate into practical transformation," the Monitor reported in June.

It is also an important issue for the US, since many of the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay could be released into countries where rehabilitation will be difficult, argued a recent opinion piece in the Monitor:

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