Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to Deradicalize Islamist Extremists?

I'm having a hard time taking seriously this article by Harvard's Jessica Stern. Her essay is titled, "Mind Over Martyr: How to Deradicalize Islamist Extremists." Considering all that's happened in the last week -- and not counting Fort Hood and earlier incidents -- I'm convinced that the Ivory Tower is a bit removed from what's happening on the ground in counterterrorism. And it's too bad, actually, since Stern's considered a top expert on international terrorism (and the author of The Ultimate Terrorists).

The idea is that with proper care and intellectual feeding, the most hardline Islamist militants can be rehabilitated. Stern's extremely sympathetic to the leftist criticism of the American experience at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. And because she's an academic, I'm giving her a little slack on this. But when she gives examples of how terrorist rehab and social reintegration works, it all just falls apart, baby. Take a look at the introduction, for example (and I'll just go ahead and highlight in bold the most preposterous section):

Is it possible to deradicalize terrorists and their potential recruits? Saudi Arabia, a pioneer in rehabilitation efforts, claims that it is. Since 2004, more than 4,000 militants have gone through Saudi Arabia's programs, and the graduates have been reintegrated into mainstream society much more successfully than ordinary criminals. Governments elsewhere in the Middle East and throughout Europe and Southeast Asia have launched similar programs for neo-Nazis, far-right militants, narcoterrorists, and Islamist terrorists, encouraging them to abandon their radical ideology or renounce their violent means or both.

The U.S. government would do well to better understand the successes and failures of such efforts, especially those that target Islamist terrorists. This is important, first, because, as General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, has noted, the United States "cannot kill [its] way to victory" in the struggle against al Qaeda and related groups. Although military action, especially covert military action, is an essential part of the strategy against the Islamist terrorist movement, the United States' main goal should be to stop the movement from growing. Terrorists do not fight on traditional battlefields; they fight among civilians, which increases the risks of collateral damage. Indeed, Islamist terrorists provoke the governments they oppose into responding in ways that seem to prove that these governments want to humiliate or harm Muslims. Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and "extraordinary rendition" have become for Muslim youth symbols of the United States' belligerence and hypocrisy.

Second, the effectiveness of deradicalization programs aimed at detained terrorists have direct and immediate effects on U.S. national security. This is especially true regarding the detainees at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Because it is difficult to gather evidence that is usable in court, some truly bad actors, along with some not so bad ones who have been held unfairly, will inevitably be released. Effective deradicalization programs could help make such individuals less dangerous. Abdallah al-Ajmi, who was repatriated to Kuwait in 2005 on the order of a U.S. judge and was acquitted of terrorism charges by a Kuwaiti court, subsequently carried out a suicide bombing on Iraqi security forces in Mosul that killed 13 Iraqis. Had he received the kind of reintegration assistance and follow-up (including surveillance) now available in Saudi Arabia after his release, he might not have traveled to Iraq.

Third, the success, or failure, of terrorism-prevention programs outside the United States is important to Americans. For one thing, people who carry European passports can enter the United States relatively easily, and so the presence of terrorists in Europe can threaten U.S. national security. For another, terrorism-prevention programs presently under way in, for example, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, could be models for at-risk groups in the United States, such as the Somali community in Minnesota, from which some young men have been recruited to fight alongside al Shabab, the radical Islamist organization that controls southern Somalia and claims to be aligned with al Qaeda. These men do not seem to be plotting attacks in the West, but it is important to think now about how to integrate Somalis into American society more fully in order to reduce the chances that they will carry out attacks in the United States.

The fight against al Qaeda and related groups is not over: Saudi Arabia's deputy interior minister was nearly killed by a terrorist posing as a repentant militant in August 2009; in September, U.S. government officials interrupted a plot in New York and Denver that they believed was the most significant since 9/11; and in October, the French police arrested a nuclear physicist employed at the CERN accelerator, near Geneva, who reportedly had suggested French targets to members of the Algerian terrorist group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But in the long term, the most important factor in limiting terrorism will be success at curtailing recruitment to and retention in extremist movements.

Now is the moment to try. Counterterrorism efforts have significantly eroded al Qaeda's strength in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia since the "war on terror" began in 2001. U.S. Predator strikes in Pakistan have killed top al Qaeda leaders, disrupting essential communications between the group's core and its affiliates and new recruits. Testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last September, Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that such activities were "potentially disrupting plots that are under way" and "leaving leadership vacuums that are increasingly difficult to fill."
Look at that section I've highlighted. Abdallah al-Ajmi? I've written about him before. See, "Abdullah Saleh Al-Ajmi: From Guantanamo to Martyrdom." Below is the complex he blew up, Combat Outpost Inman:

According to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, al-Ajmi's attack "remains the single most heinous act of violence committed by a former Guantanamo detainee." Chandrasekaran's essay basically blames the United States for al-Ajmi's terrorism: "Was his descent into unrepentant radicalism an unintended consequence of his incarceration?" Chandrasekaran also quotes Washington attorney Thomas Wilner, "Guantanamo took a kid -- a kid who wasn't all that bad -- and it turned him into a hostile, hardened individual ..."

Wasn't all that bad? Just like Jessica Stern's deradicalized extremists? The article just barely mentions that al-Ajmi was never subjected to severe forms of enhanced interrogation. Actually, it sounds like the kid got a little homesick. Maybe the American grunts hurt his feelings. Sure, no doubt he just hitched up with violent jihad after bawling his eyes on the shoulders of some of Camp Gitmo's most hardened terrorist inmates. But we've got to go easy on these folks! No personal responsibility here, you know? Americans have got to shoulder responsibillity for the Mosul bombing from 2008? Thirteen dead? Blame President Bush!

And how about these reports, from ABC News, "
Two al Qaeda Leaders Behind Northwest Flight 253 Terror Plot Were Released by U.S. - Former Guantanamo Prisoners Believed Behind Northwest Airlines Bomb Plot; Sent to Saudi Arabia in 2007," and CNN, "Former Gitmo Detainees Investigated in Airline Bombing Plot."

According to ABC's report:

Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Northwest bombing in a Monday statement that vowed more attacks on Americans.

American officials agreed to send the two terrorists from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia, where they entered into an "art therapy rehabilitation program" and were set free, according to U.S. and Saudi officials. ABC News described their enrollment in the art therapy program in a January report.
It turns out PBS did a rave puff program on the jihadi rehab initiative. See Pat in Shreveport, "Jihad Art Rehab." Amazingly, she cites an article from Psychology Today, "Jihad Rehab: Can Art Therapy Cure Terrorism?"

Pamela Geller also comments, "This is why releasing enemy combatants is a mentally deranged leftist policy."

Perhaps Professor Stern will respond to this post. Maybe she'll want to revisit her "deradicalization" thesis, no?


Dana said...

Well, let’s see, the September 11th attacks took place in 2001, before the war in Iraq and before the war in Afghanistan. So, what had we done before that?

Well, President Clinton had labored long and hard to fashion a Middle East peace agreement, only to have Yassir Arafat throw it back in his face, after Ehud Barak had agreed to it. President Bush, having seen the failures of President Clinton in working at the top levels, was trying a more incremental approach, but, other than having sent General Zinni on a research mission to the region, hadn’t really done anything in Middle East foreign policy at the time. In Afghanistan, we supplied weapons to the mujahadin, to help them fight off the Soviets; in Bosnia, we had defended Muslims against supposedly Orthodox Christians.

Does our host need to repost the YouTube of the Palestinians celebrating in the streets on news of the September 11th attacks?

All of the things our friends on the left decry came after September 11th, came after the bombing of the USS Cole, came after the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. If post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy, then pro hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical impossibility.

Dana said...

Our scholarly host wrote:

According to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, al-Ajmi's attack "remains the single most heinous act of violence committed by a former Guantanamo detainee." Chandrasekaran's essay basically blames the United States for al-Ajmi's terrorism: "Was his descent into unrepentant radicalism an unintended consequence of his incarceration?" Chandrasekaran also quotes Washington attorney Thomas Wilner, "Guantanamo took a kid -- a kid who wasn't all that bad -- and it turned him into a hostile, hardened individual ..."

It was the United States' fault that Mr al-Ajmi committed a terrorist attack after his release from Guantanamo: we enabled him to be free to launch the attack by releasing him in the first place.

Let me put it bluntly: you should never take anyone prisoner whom you are unwilling to ever see set free again.

Old Rebel said...

We can deradicalize Islamist extremists by de-Neoconizing American foreign policy.

That means: Stop intervening in other people's affairs. Stop propping up dictators. And at home, we must reclaim control of our borders.

They're coming over here because we're over there bombing their people and occupying their countries.

Rick Derris said...

To quote comedian David Cross: "I don't think Osama bin Laden sent those planes to attack us because he hated our freedom. I think he did it because of our support for Israel, our ties with the Saudi family and our military bases in Saudi Arabia. You know why I think that? Because that's what he fucking said! Are we a nation of 6-year-olds? Answer: yes."

Tom the Redhunter said...

The key is not to try and rehabilitate existing jihadists, but to keep young Muslims from buying into their ideology. This from Walid Phares, Future Jihad. I think he's right.

Old Rebel - your leftist party line is getting old. I'd think by now you'd have figured out that the jihadists agenda is not tied to U.S. intervention. Sure, they dredge it up for their propaganda, but only the gullible believe it's their core reason.

Jihadists see our current conflicts as the continuation of a centuries old war that began when the successors of Muhammed broke out of the Arabian peninsula and took on the Byzantines. Their stated objective is to reestablish the caliphate and impose Sharia law. See Muslim Brotherhood and the writings of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.

Old Rebel said...

Tom the Redhunter,

If the US had been sitting here, minding its own business, you'd have an argument. But the facts are otherwise: DC has been sticking its nose into other people's business too long.

DC will lose its insane war in Afghanistan because people don't like to be occupied by foreign troops.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Dave said...

Old Rebel,

I hate to break this to you, but the 7th Century barbarians declared war on the civilized world 11 centuries before America was even thought of, much less founded.

It was, in fact, Islamic piracy that sparked the birth of the U.S. Navy. They pretty much left us alone until Jihad Jimmy came along and showed weakness, which is the no-no of no-nos when dealing with Islam.

You see, the Islamists respect strength and resolve. As for weakness and timidity, they merely exploit those. After all, they have been doing it for 1400 years.

As for "deradicalizing" Islamists, I think the KGB showed the way back in the 1980s.


Old Rebel said...


Actually Jimmah was on the receiving end of the anger Iranians felt toward DC's overthrow of their government back in 1953.

And you know what happened to the Soviets when they tried to conquer Afghanistan. Looks like that tough nation will be the graveyard of the DC empire, too.