U.S. and Yemen Considering Yemen Rehab Program For Gitmo Detainees

With the announcement today of the return of a Uzbek Guantanamo Bay detainee to Switzerland, the population at Gitmo is now down to 192. Of them, almost half are from Yemen, more than 40 have been cleared for release.

One of the topics expected to be addressed tomorrow at the London conference on Yemen, is the creation of a Yemeni rehab program, similar to the Saudi program, so that the Yemeni detainees can leave Guantnamo. The Telegraph reports:

A source close to the Obama administration said the Yemenis had agreed in principle to the establishment of a Reintegration and Risk Reduction Initiative, which would be internationally funded and monitored. Aimed at steering detainees back into society, it would be modeled on previous efforts in Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.


The project has support from within the US state department and is gaining ground among White House advisers, said the source, because it would help the president dig himself out of a large hole created by his pledge to close the prison while trying to avoid releasing terror suspects back into the militant fold.

As detainees from other countries continue to leave Gitmo, the percentage of remaining Guantanamo detainees from Yemen will rise, perhaps to 75%. If Gitmo becomes a place that primarily detainees Yemenis, it will become a greater recruiting tool for AQAP.

"If Guantanamo was a recruitment tool before, it will be a super-recruitment tool once Yemenis are the majority there," said Sarah Mendelson, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that has helped draft the proposal.

"Obviously we don't want a situation where former detainees could just leave or where they simply faced indefinite detention in Yemen rather than in a US facility," she added. "But programmes that include job skills, family support and carefully watched re-integration have been shown to work."

The Human Rights Watch briefing paper released for this week's London conference contains a similar warning:

Keeping Yemenis at Guantanamo gives al Qaeda a propaganda tool

Some Yemenis sent home may be open to recruitment by AQAP, especially if, like past returnees, they receive no support from the Yemeni government to rebuild their lives. But the US has already released thousands of detainees from its detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan with the same risk that some may join militant groups. By contrast, if the Yemenis remain in Guantanamo - and especially if Guantanamo becomes essentially a camp for Yemenis only- AQAP will be handed a glorious propaganda opportunity for recruitment.

A stronger overall US strategy towards Yemen should allow the Obama administration over the next several months to work with the Yemeni government on a plan to safely repatriate or resettle any detainees it does not charge, starting with those already cleared for release. That plan should include international assistance to help detainees reintegrate into society and make them less vulnerable to recruitment by militant groups. If necessary, Yemen or a third country could place restrictions on detainees' movements to protect national security.

Yemen had a rehab program from 2002 to 2005. One reason it didn't work as well as the Saudi program is it didn't provide compensation to the detainees to assist with reintegration. Yemen doesn't have the money to do that. If the program is going to have any chance of success, it has to be more than a prison. It has to provide skills, family support, re-integration programs and funds for the re-adjustment period.

From the recommendations of the Center for American Progress' briefing report for the London Conference:

Create an internationally funded and monitored Reintegration and Risk Reduction Initiative:

... * The goal should be to stand up a well-run, well-resourced, internationally monitored initiative that works with individuals to reject violence.

* The funds for this initiative should be split between some combination of the United States, European states, Arab countries, private donors, and the Yemeni government. The Yemeni government has a location that could potentially be used for such an initiative.

* Programs should be tailor-made for each individual that enters into it and able to address a wide variety of needs—from those who are reintegrating into society after prolonged detention to those who embrace takfiri beliefs and violence. Screening protocols and individually designed programs will need to be developed involving psychological counseling, medical attention, job training, and financial assistance for participants and their relatives. The program also would include religious discussion with clerics and with Yemeni militants who have renounced violence, and engagement with participants’ families, local imams, and tribes—where possible—to facilitate the return to the community. Local civil society should be enlisted. Sustainable jobs that allow participants to reintegrate into society ought to be a cornerstone of this program.

* International experts should be consulted to develop an agreed-upon protocol on what constitutes success.

So can a Yemeni program work?

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  • Display: Sort:
    where is the model? (none / 0) (#1)
    by diogenes on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 09:05:18 PM EST
    "...it would be modeled on previous efforts in Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Jordan."

    Of course, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are not failed states.

    "Local civil society should be enlisted. Sustainable jobs that allow participants to reintegrate into society..."

    Where exactly is the local civil society or integrated society in Yemen?  Disintegration is more like it.

    In theory (none / 0) (#2)
    by cawaltz on Wed Jan 27, 2010 at 12:48:09 AM EST
    it's a great idea. My question would be who would be monitoring the monitors. There has been huge problems with corruption in Yemen. If the people placed in charge are corrupt it won't matter how much money we throw at it. Maybe we could get the UN or some third party to watch the program carefully, otherwise I don't think it will be terribly effective at reintegration and ensuring that the people we detained don't continue to harbor hard feelings for their detainment and actually become the terrorists we accused them of being.

    Neither is Yemen yet (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Jan 27, 2010 at 10:05:01 AM EST
    the idea is to prevent it from becoming one.

    the one hundred (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Wed Jan 27, 2010 at 07:46:09 PM EST
    The one hundred or so Yemenis at GITMO, all of whom were at least captured outside of Yemen in bad company, are so beloved of the people of Yemen that their return will save the country from becoming a failed state?