January 23, 2009— -- In what is being touted as 'jihadi rehab,' al Qaeda terrorists newly released from Guantanamo prison or caught on the streets of Iraq before their suicide bombs could explode are putting finger paints and crayons to paper in order to secure their freedom.
The Saudi government, which is running the rehabilitation program on a former royal family retreat outside Riyadh, claims that some 700 former al Qaeda terrorists have been reprogrammed.
The coloring, said program founder Dr. Awad Alyami to his terrorists-turned-art-students, gets "negative energy out on paper." "It's safe here," Alyami said. "It's on the paper, it's not outside." The men also get religious re-education and are promised a new home and car if they behave.
But 'jihadi rehab' is drawing great skepticism from U.S. critics, who caution that actions speak louder than words.
Former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said that while the men may claim to disavow radical Islam, "they basically schmooze or con their way out of the system, and then they get out."
After Said Ali- al-Shihri completed the art therapy program after being released from Guantanamo, he turned up in Yemen as a top al Qaeda leader and was responsible for an attack on the U.S. embassy there last year that left 17 people dead, including one American, U.S. officials said.
This case shows that "you never know when somebody is a true believer," said former CIA officer and ABC News consultant John Kiriakou. "Now they may go through the motions like any other prisoner might, only to pretend to be rehabilitated" and rejoin the fight, said Kiriakou.
Others warn that as the U.S. prepares to empty the Guantanamo Bay prison after President Barack Obama reversed one of President George W. Bush's most controversial policies Thursday, the decision must be made whether to prosecute detainees in the U.S. or send them to their home countries.
The U.S. military has a tentative list of four potential bases for housing Guantanamo detainees who will remain in U.S. custody, with Marine Camp Pendleton near San Diego at the top of the list.
"I think the U.S. has to be very careful in releasing people," said Richard Clarke, former national security advisor and ABC News consultant. He said surveillance and monitoring systems need to be implemented in countries where any Guantanamo detainees are released so "we know where they are and what they're doing."