“Turki said that about 20 percent of those who have gone through the rehabilitation program have returned to terrorism-related activities. Many rights activists think the failure rate is higher than Saudi officials admit. Critics often argue that Saudi Arabia, or at least many rich Saudis, supports violent Islamist radicals, and that the government’s emphasis on rehabilitation reflects a certain sympathy with terrorists.” Undoubtedly.
“A rare look inside a Saudi prison that showers terrorists with perks,” by Kevin Sullivan, Washington Post, March 1, 2015:
Except for the machine guns and guard towers, the al-Hair high-security prison looks remarkably like a hotel — especially the conjugal-visit wing.
Beyond a heavy iron gate, its bars painted a cheerful lavender, a red carpet stretches the length of a long hallway, where each of the 38 private cells has a queen-size bed, a fridge, a television and a shower.
Here, just around the corner from the prison ATM, married inmates are allowed to spend three to five private hours with their wives at least once a month, with fresh linens and tea and sweets on the nightstand.
Nearly 1,100 high-security prisoners, all of them jailed on terrorism-related charges, are serving time in this prison a few miles south of Riyadh. Al-Hair is the largest of five high-security Saudi prisons established in the past decade to deal with a growing terrorism threat, first from al-Qaeda and more recently from the Islamic State.
Saudi prisons long have been largely off-limits to journalists and human rights monitors. But officials said Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy crown prince, has ordered that journalists be allowed to visit, hoping to refute allegations from human rights groups that Saudi Arabia tortures prisoners.
So on a recent Sunday afternoon, Warden Mohammed al-Ahmed led me on a rare visit inside the al-Hair prison.
“We have nothing to hide,” he told me. “Point at any building, point at any cell. You can see anything you want to see.”
For the next six hours, I was able to direct my own tour, and the warden gladly took me wherever I wanted to go. We saw cell blocks, the hospital, solitary-confinement cells, classrooms and recreation areas. He never declared anything off-limits, though I wasn’t allowed to take photos.
We started with tea, in typical Saudi style, and a PowerPoint presentation that detailed the government’s strategy of showering inmates with perks rather than locking them down in harsh, Guantanamo Bay-style conditions.
The Saudi government essentially puts each inmate’s family on welfare. The government gives them money for food, rent and school fees, and it pays for airfare and hotel expenses for families to come visit — even for foreign prisoners whose families live overseas. Escorted by guards, many prisoners (except those convicted of murder) are allowed to attend funerals and weddings of close family members, and they are given as much as $2,600 in cash to present as a wedding gift.
After the presentation, we visited the Family Home, a hotel within the prison that is used to reward prisoners for good behavior. The hotel has 18 large suites, which can sleep as many as nine family members and have lots of fresh flowers, a well-stocked buffet and a playground for children.
Officials said the government spent $35 million last year on those perks.
“Just because someone is a criminal, we do not punish his family, too,” Ahmed said. “Our strategy is to take care of these people to make the community better. This is what Islam tells us to do.”
The majority of the 3,500 inmates in the five high-security prisons have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses, including al-Qaeda attacks inside the Saudi kingdom, that happened before the rise of the Islamic State last year.
Gen. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the powerful Ministry of Interior, whose Mabahith secret police run the five high-security prisons, said taking care of inmates’ families is part of the Saudi strategy of trying to rehabilitate radicals.
The Saudis have a long-standing program of placing those convicted of terrorism-related offenses in an intensive program of education and religious study designed to try to alter their thinking and behavior.
Inmates in the five high-security prisons start with months-long in-depth courses inside the prisons. When they finish their sentence, they are transferred to one of two large rehabilitation centers, in Riyadh and in Jiddah, for further studies.
“If you lose these inmates when they are in prison, they will come out of prison more radical,” Turki said, adding that supporting their families also helps make sure they, too, don’t “fall into the hands of the terrorists.”
Turki said that about 20 percent of those who have gone through the rehabilitation program have returned to terrorism-related activities. Many rights activists think the failure rate is higher than Saudi officials admit.
Critics often argue that Saudi Arabia, or at least many rich Saudis, supports violent Islamist radicals, and that the government’s emphasis on rehabilitation reflects a certain sympathy with terrorists.…
According to the U.S. State Department and human rights groups, the Saudis practice arbitrary detention, and torture allegations are rampant. Saudi Arabia executed 79 people by beheading in 2013, and its extreme interpretation of sharia law still calls for medieval punishments, including amputations and the stoning of adulterers….
None of that is an “extreme interpretation of sharia law.” Amputations are called for in Qur’an 5:33 and 5:38, and stoning of adulterers in many hadiths considered authentic by Islamic scholars. There is actually no version of sharia that doesn’t call for such punishments.