On Nov. 9, 2007, after years of incarceration at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mohammed al-Awfi and more than a dozen other suspected militants boarded a plane bound for their home country, Saudi Arabia. Awfi had been caught shortly after the 9/11 attacks by Pakistani authorities with more than $10,000 in cash on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, according to the U.S. Defense Department. He was suspected of supporting terrorist activity.
When the men finally arrived home in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, they were
likely greeted by members of the Saudi royal family, as is customary for
ex-Gitmo detainees. "Welcome back to the fold" is the implicit
message. But after reuniting with their own families, they were transferred to
Because there was no evidence Awfi had engaged in violence, the Saudis did not consider him a security risk at home. They transferred him to the Care Center, a rehabilitation program for Islamist extremists in a desert resort town just outside Riyadh.
had so much hate for the Americans," says psychologist Turki al-Otayan, who was
one of the first to evaluate the former Guantánamo detainee. "'They destroyed
me,' he would say. 'They tortured me. They killed my friends.'"
The Care Center was established by the Saudi Ministry of Interior in early 2007 as a way to re-educate extremists in nonviolent Islamic principles and reconnect them with their social networks; the aim was to deter them and their relatives from joining militant groups in the future. The center is run by an advisory committee of academics who earned advanced degrees in the West and Islamic scholars who studied in Saudi Arabia.
The center has been touted in the West as a model program that could inspire other nations grappling with a rise in militant extremism. A recent Foreign Affairs article, for instance, touted the program as "a pioneer in rehabilitation efforts," explaining that it has inspired "governments elsewhere in the Middle East and throughout Europe and Southeast Asia [to launch] similar programs for neo-Nazis, far-right militants, narcoterrorists, and Islamist terrorists." But some analysts wonder if it's the kind of program that could only work in Saudi Arabia.