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Week of 5.22.09

Transcript: Rehab for Terrorists?

BRANCACCIO: For weeks now we've been reading the details of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved by the Bush administration, and now labeled as torture by President Obama. Is there a better way to get inside the mind of a terrorist, perhaps even change his behavior? Stay with us to for a rare look at a so-called "rehabilitation camp" inside Saudi Arabia. Terrorists there are encouraged to renounce violence and then are set free - this includes some former members of Al Quaeda. Noted author Robert Lacey and producers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have our report.

LACEY: So you are looking for explosives...drugs...

PATROLLER: Alcohol—

LACEY: Alcohol...

PATROLLER: Guns—

LACEY: Guns...

PATROLLER: Yeah.

LACEY: Terrorists?

PATROLLER: Yeah, the terrorists—terrorists.

LACEY: You're looking for terrorists—is that what you're looking for first, terrorists?

PATROLLER: Yeah, this first. And other criminals.

LACEY: Across Saudi Arabia, there's a checkpoint outside every city on every highway. And it's proved ideal for catching terrorists. So you can't go far in The Kingdom without being stopped and your vehicle looked at.
9/11 was a very good thing for Saudi Arabia. 'Cause it showed the mistakes it was making. This country had to look hard, and they suddenly saw that um, they'd given too much power to religious extremists! And now the battle is deplore that power and influence back, and that's what they're trying to do.

NEWSWOMAN: Salaam ale-kum, (speaking in Arabic) I'm Lubna Hussain, and I'm delighted to have with me in the studio in Riyadh, Mr. Robert Lacey, a royal biographer and the author of numerous international bestsellers, including the very famous 'The Kingdom'. A lot of people whom I've met during the course of my time here actually saw the kingdom first through the eyes of Lacey.

LACEY: This was considered by your Ministry of Information to be unreliable.

NEWSWOMAN: It was banned, wasn't it?

LACEY: And it was banned. I think it's still banned—

NEWSWOMAN: Fabulous—

LACEY: Perhaps we shouldn't have it in the studio!

NEWSWOMAN: Well, you smuggled it in.

LACEY: Now I'm back here again, and times have changed even more, and I'm writing a sequel to this. After 9/11, several Saudi friends said 'Look. Why not come back? Things have changed...' And there's an incredibly important story to tell, I mean, there's lots of things that are wrong, and I'm going to write about them in my new book—

NEWSWOMAN: The new book is going to be banned also—

LACEY: Maybe it'll get banned, but...

NEWSWOMAN: What about the Western perception of The Kingdom? Has it changed?

LACEY: No! No, I mean something like 9/11 happens, and you know people here, 15 Saudis were involved. They don't think of the 15 million Saudis who would never dream of flying planes into buildings or suicide bombing. But that was an incredible dramatic event...it's gonna take a long time to get over, I think.

My story in a way is of this generation of young men who were raised on the heroics of Afghanistan, when Osama Bin Laden was the hero of the hour, and it's the story of how that went sour. There's something extraordinary happening in Saudi Arabia right now. The royal family's going head to head with the religious zealots who are attacking them for being too close to the West. The government's developed a new proactive policy to change the hearts and minds of their home-grown extremists. And they're not doing it with torture and water boarding. And it isn't simply to make the West feel safer; if those Jihadis had their way, they'd bring down the House of Saud itself.

'Minay Montaga'...which part of the country are you from. And then 'what's your name'. This is a video of terrorists, ex-terrorists, coming back from Guantanamo Bay. These guys have been in cells for solitary confinement for five or six years. What's interesting about it is that it's in a private jumbo jet, 747 of Saudi Airways. So far as I know, there's not another country in the world which is allowed to pick up its own Nationals. And it has this team on it, who really welcome these guys home. Watching the video, I thought it was something like a hero's welcome, and after all they were Jihadis, holy warriors. So Saudi Arabia's turning over a new leaf. And it's very creative in all sort of ways, is what they call 'soft policing'. It's trying to be nice to guys to persuade them and their families to follow the right path. They have this program of re-brainwashing them, or de-brainwashing them, I don't know what it is. They call it 'The Resort'. Can't get my head around that...terrorist camp. Boot camp, it's clearly not boot camp, it's a um...rehab. I think rehab's the best word for it.

TEACHER: He's trying to ask the question 'What's the definition of Jihad?'

LACEY: He was asking them—and what were the different things they said?

TEACHER: To defend our country.

LACEY: To defend our country.

TEACHER: Yeah, this is just in general. Our subject to deliver today's jihad and its conditions.

LACEY: Jihad and its...conditions, or its rules?

TEACHER: Rules, yes.

LACEY: The rules of Jihad.

TEACHER: Yes, according to Islam. The right Jihad.

LACEY: The rules of holy war.

TEACHER: Yes.

LACEY: Right.

MANSOUR: This guy went to Iraq—

LACEY: Right—

MANSOUR: He didn't get a permission from the King. He should have had the permission from the King.
They told him 'We want you to suicide.'

LACEY: They wanted him to suicide bomb?

MANSOUR: Yeah, he got a bomb and blow up himself.

LACEY: I see.
MANSOUR: And then the American planes came and blow...bomb this area he was it—

LACEY: I see. What's his name?

MANSOUR: Veed. Wolf.

LACEY: Wolf?

MANSOUR: Veed.

LACEY: Veed—

MANSOUR: In Arabic? Wolf. I told him 'Change your name.'

LACEY: He's a peaceful wolf. How long has he been now in the program?

MANSOUR: Two months and fifteen days.

LACEY: Right. And what is his story? You went to Iraq.

MANSOUR: He went.

LACEY: He saw Abu Graib pictures?

MANSOUR: How they're torturing them, their bodies, naked.

LACEY: And what did that make him feel in his heart?

MANSOUR: I couldn't stand it, I have to defend my Muslim brothers.

LACEY: Right.

MANSOUR: Yeah, like he couldn't take it.

LACEY: It's interesting when you go to the rehabs, the terrorists, extremists, are not told to renounce Jihad; they are just told to listen to the government and do what the government and the Shiek tells them. They know they can't eradicate Jihad from their spirit. Any more than most of us foreigners would say Americans can get rid of militarism.
You could say the Interior Ministry is the most powerful Ministry in Saudi Arabia. It controls security, it controls the borders, which are part of immigration...and of course at the moment, and for the last 20 years, it's been in charge of security against terrorism. But—a few weeks ago, it was announced that two of these gentlemen, having been through the program, went off to Yemen and joined Al Qaeda. So that raises a big question: is it working?
Saudi Arabia's a bit like the United States in it's area. Down to the South it's got a very, very poor region. The US has got Mexico, Saudi Arabia's got Yemen; very, very poor. And that creates tensions. Because illegal immigrants are forever trying to get into the country, and it creates a sort of badlands down in the South where, at the moment, Al Qaeda can go and get refuge. So in the long term, it's an unstable situation. Border patrol.

DRIVER: Border patrol?

LACEY: Yeah.

DRIVER: One of Ministry of Interior's departments.

LACEY: Right. So this is really like a military road; just for patrol purposes.

DRIVER: There is seven checkpoints.

LACEY: Seven checkpoints?

DRIVER: Seven checkpoints.

LACEY: Right. Roughly how many people will go through here every day?

TRANSLATOR: 1,000 to 800—800.

LACEY: What does 'Rasami' mean?

TRANSLATOR: Uh that's, uh...'legal'.

LACEY: Legal. And any... we know that some Al Qaeda are in Yemen, do any come through here ever?

TRANSLATOR: There is fear. And that fear is empowering them to be ready at all times.

LACEY: I see. Well we're a few miles along the border, and this is one of the watch towers, which is every few miles. You can look out and you can actually see people across in those trees waiting for us all to go when they can come running across. There are drug smugglers who try this route, and then there are also just maybe the odd member of Al Qaeda trying to get back into Saudi. This is a bus of guys that have been caught crossing the border.

TRANSLATOR: Along this line, there is a lot of villages that the border—

LACEY: Goes through it—

TRANSLATOR: Goes through! So there is families on both sides.

LACEY: Who have the right to cross?

TRANSLATOR: Who have the right to cross.

LACEY: Other people slip in with them and try and get in.

TRANSLATOR: Take advantage of that, and try to slip in.

LACEY: They're picking up guys all day long. And then they question them, and some prove to have terrorists connections...a lot of them just prove to be illegal immigrants looking desperately for work. After all, Bin Laden himself is the son of a Yemeni who came to Saudi Arabia and made himself into a great businessman. The Interior Ministry has an almost impossible challenge to keep out every potential terrorist through this porous border to its South. They're aware that they have a responsibility to the rest of the world, but their first priority, like any country, is to make things safe here.

I'm writing about the age of terror, of how the age of terror began for us, with 9/11. But for the Saudis, their age of terror didn't start until two years later, in May 2003, when Al Qaeda attacked inside Saudi towns for the first time. And suicide bombers began blowing themselves up in The Kingdom. They issued orders for the royal family to be overthrown, and this was when people's view of the Interior Ministry started to change.

When I came to live here 30 years ago, people were scared of the Interior Minister. And his secret police. You whispered about them. Now, strangely, they've become the heroes of society. Because they've chased the bad guys away, they've protected the King and the Royal Family, they keep the streets of Saudi Arabia safe, and of course when they die fighting the terrorists, now they become the martyrs.

This is Saway I Di. It's notorious, it was notorious, as one of the really extremist neighborhoods of Riyadh, it's where all the Jihadis came, they lived here. This is the sort of area where Al Qaeda, if they are recruiting in Riyadh at the moment, would come. Because they are very simple, tribal folk, there's not as much education here as there is elsewhere in Riyadh, and there is this enduring mistrust of the West and what it's done, and...the recent war in Gaza would have been watched here on every Al Jazeera screen, and the young men would say 'Let's go off and fight. Why isn't our government allowing us to go and fight holy war? We went and fought holy war against the Russians in Afghanistan, why can't we go and do the same thing against the Israelis in Gaza and save our Arab brothers?'

You sold your car to go in Jihad?

KHALID: Yeah. Sold everything.

LACEY: It says here in this document that you attended a basic course in the Kalashnikoff, the Seminoff, all these guns?

KHALID: Yeah.

LACEY: is that true?

KHALID: Yeah that's true.

LACEY: Did you meet Osama Bin Laden?

KHALID: Yeah, I met him. He tried to recruit me like the others, you know, and a...

LACEY: When you say he tried to recruit you, you were there? In Afghanistan?

KHALID: Yeah. First he give you training, then he try to recruit you to be with him, to follow his orders. And I spent almost two weeks in Tora Bora, then Bin Laden camp.

LACEY: What's it like seeing a B-52 come over?

KHALID: We get used in that by the time—

LACEY: You get used to it.

KHALID: Yeah, yeah. Because this what's happened: the first day Bin Laden came, they start focusing on us, you know? People, they were bombing around, you know? I mean in, uh...all places, you know? But when he came, I think they get information that he is there. So they start bombing, and uh...we stay, he stay under that bombing for 25 day.

LACEY: 25 days?

KHALID: 25, 26 days yeah. Finally, he is the one that give order for everybody, get out, he get out first...

LACEY: He got out first.

KHALID: Yeah, yeah. But when he left Tora Bora, he left walking.

LACEY: He left walking?

KHALID: Yeah, like us.

LACEY: Has the attitude in this country changed? I mean when you were a kid, you went to be a Jihadi, and that was a good thing? Everybody said 'You go to Afghanistan, good idea'?

KHALID: Yeah.

LACEY: But now...it's not a good idea.

KHALID: Of course; it's changed a lot.

LACEY: Do you feel that you got used? Brain washed?

KHALID: Kind, kind of.

LACEY: Kind of.

KHALID: Yeah.

LACEY: Would you ever have been willing to suicide bomb? Did people try and make you suicide bomb?

KHALID: Uh...they were not straight about it, but they make—

LACEY: What do you mean, not straight...

KHALID: I mean they did not work directly, they make some lecture about this is okay, you know, but they don't force people. Then they make who like to be...

LACEY: Wait there was a list for people who wanted to suicide?

KHALID: Yeah.

LACEY: There was a list?

KHALID: Yeah.

LACEY: 'Sign up here to suicide'?

KAHLID: Yeah, you go and you say that you would like to join with Al Qaeda, and you say 'Put me on this list. On this list.'

LACEY: This country is a creation of Jihad. Three hundred years ago, there was a Saudi state built on an alliance between the House of Saud and a ferocious puritanical interpretation of Islam based here in Riyadh. So Jihad is in the blood of this country. And they're still working out where it went wrong and why Jihad is a dirty word.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Jihad grew into a world-wide phenomenon when Saudi Arabia became the oil power they are today. That gave them the resources to fund holy war. Lots of people here, when you talk to them, will say 'Well 1428 years ago is when Mohammed received his revelation, and for 1350 of those years, nothing changed here.' It was desert and the little oases, and that's what the House of Saud took over at the beginning of the 20th century. Oil doesn't start pumping here till the 40s, 50s. And even then, the price of oil is so low it doesn't make much difference. And then suddenly, 1973, 74, the oil price explosion, money comes rushing in, and everything starts changing. Saudi Arabia has the most Islam in the world, the most oil in the world, and until recently, it was the biggest exporter of Jihadis. If the oil ran out, obviously Saudi Arabia's role in the economy of the world would diminish to next to nothing. And let's not underrate the role of their money in the difficult years ahead; they are one of the few countries, due to their innate conservatism, that didn't get wrapped up in this latest madness. They're now third in the world for foreign reserves, they've got very little debt. But when it comes to social issues and terrorism and extremism, then that makes them important from now into the foreseeable future.

BRANCACCIO: In Saudi Arabia, Robert Lacey had the kind of access most journalists only dream of. Learn more about what he saw and experienced by reading his personal essay. It's on our website. And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

WEB FEATURES
Rehab for Terrorists?

Slideshow: Robert Lacey in Saudi Arabia

Personal Essay: Robert Lacey on Soft Policing


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