Incarcerating Terrorists Research Paper

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An estimated 100,000 suspected terrorists are currently locked up in prisons throughout the world (Kruglanski et al. 2010). Some of the most influential terrorists are incarcerated in Western prisons, representing a significant security challenge: These prisoners have been known to conduct extensive outreach to other inmates and free-world extremists as well, instigating fear by claiming that anti-Western terrorists, including the 9/11 hijackers, should be remembered as martyrs and heroes.

A notable example is the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, who has been in US custody since 1993 for his role in the New York City Landmarks plot – a plan to bomb the United Nations Building, along with the New York office of the FBI and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Years ago the Sheikh issued a fatwa, calling on al-Qaeda to attack the United States should he die in an American prison, which is most likely inevitable. Not only has the Sheikh’s fatwa reached worldwide audiences via the Internet, but from federal custody he has sent similar communiques to the Egyptian terrorist organization al-Gama al-Islamiyya.

Yet when it comes to the mythopoeia of modern terrorism – an essential element in understanding how extremists from different cultures create violence in similar ways – no one is more important than Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal. The first terrorist to achieve universal media fame for organizing a series of outstanding European and Middle Eastern terrorist attacks during the 1970s, Carlos played a definitive role in turning the terrorist into an incandescent celebrity, paving the way for Osama bin Laden’s enlargement as a living myth at the turn of the millennium. And today, Carlos the Jackal is serving a life sentence in France’s Le Sante prison where he periodically issues press releases praising al-Qaeda.

Key Issues

The imprisonment of influential terrorists therefore raises an important question for Western nations: What is the best practice for incarcerating terrorists? There are three models to consider: the total segregation model used by the United States, the partial segregation model used by Israel, and the dispersal model employed by the British. The challenges of comparative criminology are well known. Cross-cultural comparisons are subject to the vagaries of language and custom, politics, law, public policy, and criminal subcultures. Yet at the end of the day, the United States, Israel, and Great Britain share a common dilemma. Each country is struggling in its own way to work out the institutional methods and conceptual frameworks for controlling the threat of radicalization brought on by the long-term incarceration of Islamic terrorists.

United States: The Total Segregation Model

A total of 362 federal prisoners were serving sentences on terrorism-related charges in the United States at the close of 2011 (out of a combined state and federal prison population of 2.3 million). Over half of these prisoners were non-US citizens (LaFree 2009). Most were involved in international terrorism (269 inmates) with an additional 93 inmates locked up on charges of domestic terrorism (Shane 2011). Another 171 suspected terrorists were being indefinitely detained without trial by the US military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including five al-Qaeda operatives charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks.

Al-Qaeda has a solid presence in American prisons. Among the 362 terrorist inmates incarcerated by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) were about two dozen al-Qaeda operatives, most of whom were trained in bin Laden’s camps. They included terrorists involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 East African embassy bombings, the 1999 millennial plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport, and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. New York’s BOP detention centers in Manhattan and Brooklyn held another dozen al-Qaeda members awaiting trial, including one high-ranking jihadist who was once bin Laden’s bodyguard. These figures may be preliminary, however, given that federal prisons are experiencing what an official 2006 report called “a constant population of new inmates arrested on terrorism-related charges” (U.S. Department of Justice 2006, p. 49).

Moreover, these inmates are considered capable of radicalizing other prisoners into the cause of violent extremism. The danger to US security, then, is not the sheer number of Muslims in prison as some experts warn (Cilluffo and Saathoff 2006); rather, it is the potential for small networks of radical Muslim inmates to instigate terrorist attacks, either by other radicalized prisoners once released or by existing support structures in the community.

The threat of prisoner radicalization first surfaced several years after 9/11 when MSNBC news correspondent Lisa Myers reported that three federal prisoners – Mohammed Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Nidal Ayyad – incarcerated at the BOP’s Administrative Maximum security facility (ADMAX or Supermax) in Florence, Colorado, for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, wrote over 90 letters to Islamic militants outside the prison between 2002 and 2004. Fourteen of these letters were sent to prisoners in Spain who had connections to the terrorist cell responsible for the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Mohammed Salameh had also managed to smuggle several letters to Arabic newspapers praising bin Laden as a hero. The government’s after-action report condemned the BOP in the strongest of terms, charging that it had failed to monitor terrorists’ communications, including mail, phone calls, visits with family and friends, and cellblock conversations, resulting in “little or no proactive” intelligence on the activities of terrorist inmates in custody. “Consequently,” the report concluded, “the threat remains that terrorist.. .inmates can use mail and verbal communications to conduct terrorist activities while incarcerated” (U.S. Department of Justice 2006, p. ii). Thus was born the total segregation model.

As a result of the Supermax affair, between 2006 and 2008 the Justice Department transferred all but the most highly secured terrorist inmates (e.g., Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, shoe bomber Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker of 9/11) to two newly established maximum-security Communication Management Units (CMUs) within the federal prison system – one in the former death row at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the other at the US Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. (Both units were secretly opened in violation of federal law requiring public notice and comment). The little that is known of these prisoners and their conditions of confinement is due to the investigative reporting of journalists from National Public Radio and the New York Times (Johnson and Williams 2011; Shane 2011). According to these sources, prisoners are under 24-h surveillance in the CMUs. Guards and cameras record their every move and hidden microphones pick up every word they speak – a snooping operation that costs US taxpayers more than $14 million a year. Such information – along with data gleaned from the monitoring of phone calls, mail, and visits – is routinely gathered by prison intelligence officers who share their findings with counterterrorism experts at the Justice Department (Shane 2011).

Rules within the CMUs are strict and they are strictly enforced. The CMUs prohibit group prayer beyond the authorized hour-long Jumna services on Fridays and restrict inmate visitation to lawyers and immediate family members. Visits from journalists, human rights advocates, and volunteers are strictly off limits, as are researchers, who are routinely denied access to the CMUs; hence there is no primary criminological research on the incarceration of terrorists in the United States. Inmates are required to hold all conversations in English. Most of the CMU prisoners are Arab Muslims, yet the units also hold some African-American Muslims charged with radicalizing other inmates. Several environmental and animal rights activists are in the CMUs, along with a neo-Nazi, a tax resister, and a member of the Japanese Red Army. Also locked up in the CMUs are a few inmates who have threatened officials while in custody or ordered murders using smuggled cellphones.

In addition to virtually banning the prisoners’ contact with the outside world, the objective of the CMUs is to fully segregate terrorist inmates from the general prison populations to prevent them from both converting other convicts to radical Islam and plotting terrorist acts behind bars. By fully segregating terrorists, the BOP argues that it can better concentrate its resources on language translation, content analysis of letters and phone calls, and intelligence distribution. Despite repeated media requests, authorities have refused to release a full list of the CMU inmates, although reporters have compiled a partial list based on open sources. Among them are three convicts who have previously waged terrorist attacks while confined to maximum-security prisons.

Nothing is known of the prisoners’ psychological status in the CMUs, the criteria by which they have been chosen for incarceration in the CMUs, their conflicts with guards and other inmates, or their current threat to public safety. Nor is anything known about their rehabilitation, their preparation for community reentry, or their rates of recidivism. Yet many of the CMU prisoners will one day finish their sentences and return to society (some 300 terrorist-related prisoners have completed their sentences and been set free since 2001). Civil rights attorneys have filed lawsuits contending that CMU inmates are denied the right to review the evidence that sent them there or to challenge that evidence. Civil liberties groups claim that prisoners’ rights are being violated by the policies that monitor phone calls and severely restrict visitation privileges, sometimes including access to lawyers which leaves prisoners unprotected against mistreatment. Other evidence shows that by creating Muslimdominated control units, the BOP has inadvertently fostered solidarity and defiance among the CMU inmates, thereby increasing the potential for radicalization. Adding to these problems, the BOP has not instituted de-radicalization programs which are common in other countries. Because of the legal complaints, combined with the atmosphere of secrecy surrounding the disproportionate placement of Muslim prisoners in the CMUs, Terre Haute and Marion have become internationally known as “Guantanamo North.”

Israel: The Partial Segregation Model

The most recently available figures indicate that Israel has approximately 10,000 terrorists in custody (out of a total prison population of 25,000), representing a 1,200 % increase over the 802 terrorists held in 2000. These prisoners are divided into two categories: those in administrative detention without formal charges and those with “blood on their hands” – including convicted terrorists who have killed Israeli citizens, terrorists who were en route to a suicide bombing mission but changed their minds, suicide dispatchers, masterminds of the attacks, those responsible for making the explosives, and senior members of terrorist groups. Roughly 700 terrorist inmates are serving life sentences (like most of the world, Israel does not have the death penalty) that are often “stacked” upon one another. It is not uncommon to find prisoners serving multiple life sentences. The majority are Islamic militants from the Palestinian territories. A reported 44 % are members of Fatah (which governs the West Bank), 26 % are members of Hamas (which rules in Gaza), and 14 % belong to Islamic Jihad which operates out of Egypt. They are spread out among 32 prison facilities and three detention centers in Israel proper. About 140 of the terrorist inmates are juveniles (some as young as 14 years old) who are held at two separate facilities.

Terrorists are physically segregated from the general prison populations, yet their confinement is not secret nor are they totally segregated from other prisoners or the outside world. Journalists, documentary filmmakers, legal aid groups, the International Red Cross, politicians, and human rights activists are permitted access to the inmates, as are researchers. Between 2002 and 2009, for instance, Ariel Merari (2010) conducted a series of important psychological studies on Palestinian would-be suicide bombers and their commanders inside Israeli prisons. Another research team led by Edna Erez conducted interviews with Arab/Palestinian women locked up in Israeli prisons on terrorism offenses, exploring their motivations for attempted suicide bombings (Berko et al. 2010). Terrorist inmates have been able to cooperate with criminal inmates inside Israel’s prisons, pursuing various goals, both illegal and mundane. They are also allowed to receive food from family and militant groups during Muslim holidays.

Terrorists are confined to large dormitory-style units, holding as many as 40 inmates, where they manage a common money pool and keep decorations, books, magazines, and other personal items. (There is no documented evidence of electronic surveillance on these prisoners, though one can assume such measures are taken.) The inmates wear street clothes; women wear hijabs, or headscarves, as part of their traditional Muslim dress. The inmates are allowed to pray together in special areas. They are housed by militant faction; a good number of them were senior leaders of these factions prior to their incarceration. Their declared purpose is to continue the Israeli/Palestinian conflict within the prison system.

According to prison rules, each political faction appoints an inmate leadership council to negotiate with the guards for prisoners’ rights. Each faction is organized hierarchically in accordance with the structure of the organizations on the Palestinian street. The prisoners present themselves in a clean and orderly fashion, yet there are distinct differences between the factions. Hamas is organized like an army while the more moderate Fatah reflects the looseness of a Middle Eastern bizarre. The outstanding feature of the Israeli experiment with locking up terrorists is its emphasis on rehabilitation.

Terrorist inmates are offered a 14-point rehabilitation program, beginning with point 1: religious de-radicalization, where mainstream Muslim clerics offer Koranic lessons on reversing Islamic fundamentalism. Point 2 involves educational, vocational, and occupational training and point 3 emphasizes psychological treatment designed to “heal the anger” from years of living under Israeli occupation. Point 4 involves social and family intervention, including flexible mail and visitation rights for Palestinian families. Families from Gaza are currently forbidden from making these visits, however, due to military restrictions on border crossings into Israel. In those cases, photographs of prisoners are sent to family members twice a year in an effort to show that they are being humanely treated. Other modes of rehabilitation include the creative arts, prison coping skills, and a mandated practice of holding congenial interactions between prisoners and guards.

These rehabilitative interventions are impeded, however, by a labeling process wherein imprisonment bestows a hero status on terrorists; some have been elected to the Palestinian legislature as prisoners. Reinforcing this status is a formidable ideology of resistance. Terrorists blatantly refuse to take part in the programs afforded to them by the Prison Service. Instead they spend time educating themselves in political science, international politics, and Israeli politics – often under the auspices of the Open University. They also study terrorism tactics, demolition, and other subjects relevant to their struggle. In so doing, they have turned Israeli prisons into de facto universities of Palestinian nationalism.

Contraband smuggling is a significant problem in Israel. Though forbidden by Fatah and Hamas leadership, heroin and alcohol are problematic among the rank and file, as is the smuggling of cellphones which can sell on the prison black market for as much as $10,000 (US) per phone. Yet their primary mode of communication is the ashgarim – crimped notes written on thin transparent paper tightly rolled into bindles (“kites” in the USA). Weapons – in the form of metal shanks, blow darts, and all manners of improvised explosive devices – present a major problem in the hands of terrorist inmates, as does intelligence on the security arrangements of the prisons, which is occasionally furnished to inmates by visiting family members and Palestinian lawyers acting as “mailmen” for Hamas and Fatah. Inmate leaders use this intelligence to both advance militant goals and ensure internal security by interrogating fellow prisoners and punishing those who deviate from the party line.

The security situation inside Israeli prisons began to take a turn for the worse in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks and the renewal of terrorist strikes by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The trend reached a tipping point in 2006 – a year marked by Hamas’ landslide victory in the Palestinian legislative election followed by Hamas’ decision to call off its truce with Israel and begin attacking the South with rockets, eventuating in the June 25 kidnapping of the 25-year-old Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (released in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners), prompting severe military reprisals by Israel. Amidst these tumultuous events, a United Nations study declared the humanitarian situation in Gaza “intolerable,” with 75 % of its 1.6 million residents dependent on food and aid.

Since then a new generation of terrorists have flooded the prisons of Israel. They are younger than those who came before, more daring, belligerent, and proficient in the use of explosives. They reject all dialogues with the Prison Service. This generational shift has led to an increase in hunger strikes, disturbances, and security breaches involving violence. Since 2006, terrorist inmates have directed terrorist activities in the streets using ashgarims and cellphones. They have been involved in a range of attacks on staff, including stabbings, beatings, attempted murders and kidnappings, and throwing boiling oil into the faces of guards. Suicide bombing plots have been uncovered inside prisons, some carrying the mark of extraordinary criminal ingenuity. In one case, pigeons trained by Hamas flew from the Gaza Strip to the yard of an Israeli prison carrying explosives and cellphones strapped to their talons. On balance, prisons have become the center for terrorist planning and coordination with one goal in mind: destroying the State of Israel and replacing it with an independent Palestinian state. As a result, prison guards are primarily recruited from combat units within the Israeli military.

Great Britain: The Dispersal Model

A total of 150 terrorists are currently locked up in British prisons (out of a total prison population of 95,000). Eighty-nine of them are al-Qaeda inspired extremists who justify violence through distorted interpretations of Islamic texts. These terrorists are unknown to most Americans but their deeds are not. They include Abu Doha, once al-Qaeda’s main European recruiter and a central figure in the millennium plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport, along with Saajid Badat and Nizar ben Trabelsi, accomplices to Richard Reid in a second bombing attempt on a US-bound aircraft in 2001. Other terrorists in custody include Irish Republicans, animal rights extremists, anarchists, and a growing number of far-right activists whose crimes were motivated by neo-Nazism.

There are 140 prisons in England and Wales, designated by security classification. Category A is the top classification (with three designations: standard, high, and exceptional risk). The escape of exceptional risk inmates, according to the Prison Service, “would be highly dangerous to national security.” There are eight high-security prisons deemed suitable to hold Category A prisoners. Al-Qaeda terrorists are housed in these prisons, usually in single occupancy cells. For the most part, they are model prisoners: quiet, polite, clean, and often university educated. Most are ethnic minorities. In instructive contrast to the USA and Israel, in Britain terrorists are not segregated from the general prison populations. Rather, they are “dispersed” within those populations. As a result, al-Qaeda terrorists walk the cellblocks alongside murderers, rapists, drug dealers, skinheads, and old-school IRA members.

Al-Qaeda terrorists are subject to strict security precautions which are strictly upheld. They include restricted movements, pat down searches, daily strip searches, cell searches (called “spins”), and round-the-clock camera coverage. Guards, or “personal officers,” are assigned individual terrorists and are required to monitor them for intelligence which is shared with Scotland Yard detectives apportioned to the facilities. To prevent them from building power bases, terrorists are required to change cells every 28 days. They are offered a full complement of rehabilitative services, including education, current affairs, history, and politics; library, inmate tutoring, and recreation; multi-faith worship allowing for group prayer and counseling by Muslim chaplains; psychological treatment; and creative workshops as well as visitation privileges, including the opportunity to meet with selected researchers from the Home Office.

The British dispersal model has two objectives. The first is to promote a sense of inclusiveness common to civil society. One facet of this mission is finding ways to enhance mutual accommodation between Western values and respect for the peaceful traditions of Islam. The second objective is more pragmatic. As a security matter, the dispersal model is intended to prevent the clustering of terrorists in cellblocks, thereby stopping them from forming paramilitary gangs.

The model has its roots in the Irish “Troubles” which began in 1969 as Irish Republican Army prisoners became the central focus of the decades-long conflict. IRA prisoners embarked on a campaign to challenge their status as ordinary criminals, seeking instead to be classified as political prisoners, through organized resistance against British prison authorities. This prison resistance movement eventually erupted in rioting, arson, hostage taking of prison staff and volunteers, and several high-profile escapes. By 1972, IRA prisoners at Belfast’s Maze Prison were running their own paramilitary training and indoctrination programs. The campaign reached a tipping point with the 1981 Maze hunger strikes. When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to give in to IRA demands concerning the hunger strikers, she became the person most responsible for the painful deaths of Bobby Sands and nine other strikers. As a result, the IRA decided to kill Margaret Thatcher, leading to the spectacular 1984 assassination attempt against her at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England, killing five and injuring over 30 others. Meanwhile, violence between different dissident groups also spilled over beyond the prison walls, with 29 prison officers being killed on the streets of Belfast and London during the Troubles (Pantucci 2008). The goal of the dispersal model is to prevent this violence from reoccurring with al-Qaeda.

Usually, the British dispersal model is successful. Prisoners charged with al-Qaeda-related offenses have been spread out over a number of institutions, thereby undermining their concentration of power. The dispersal model has also yielded increased intelligence, low rates of recidivism, and thus far no repeat of the violence against prison officers witnessed during the Troubles. But officials are nevertheless concerned about the long-term influence Islamic terrorists are having on other inmates. Al-Qaeda inmates have been found in possession of information relating to the bombing of passenger aircraft; some have been found with smuggled laptops and cellphones used to download al-Qaeda materials on how to manufacture explosives. Al-Qaeda inmates have also found ways of recruiting followers beyond the walls.

And despite the best of intentions, al-Qaeda inmates have been able to skirt security regulations and establish themselves as de facto gang leaders who use forced conversions and other forms of coercion (theft and intimidation) to recruit vulnerable inmates into the mix. This has occurred against the backdrop of a rise in minority religious groups in British prisons and fears of Islamic radicalization in the wake of the 2005 terrorist attacks on London’s transportation system (the 7/7 bombings and the 7/21 follow-on attempt). System-wide, prisoners identifying themselves as Muslim rose 141 % between 1997 and 2007 (Liebling 2012). This growth was due mainly to the appearance of a younger, more ethnically diverse generation of convicts who have formed a new gang culture in British prisons which has not only imported the values and behaviors of street life into prisons (including drug and cellphone trafficking) but also glorifies Islamic terrorists and their extremist ideologies. Accordingly, in 2009 the security minister of the Prison Service proclaimed that Britain’s highsecurity prisons had become “incubators of extremism” (Leppard 2009).

The confinement of al-Qaeda terrorists alongside Muslim gang members has therefore presented important challenges to high-security prison administrators in Great Britain. Most dauntingly, the dispersal model has led to increased levels of radicalization and in-prison violence that, some say, now rivals the challenges once posed by the IRA. As with most wardens in the United States today, the prison governors of Britain belong to a generation trained in what Feeley and Simon (1992) termed the “new penology.” Whereas traditional penology stemmed from criminal law and criminology with an emphasis on punishing and rehabilitating individual prisoners, the new penology is based on a management style in which “specialists” think about criminal subpopulations as “aggregates” that need to be “herded” through “actuarial” risk assessments of danger. For Feeley and Simon, the new penologists provide an important “waste management” function for the state.

As a result, the primary focus of the British dispersal model is intelligence gathering and risk assessment of Islamic radicals. Officials rely on a set of radicalization risk factors which manifest themselves in prison behavior and communication.

Of particular concern are overt “feelings of anger, grievance and injustice.” In this regard, intelligence is gathered on dialogue and actions of prisoners which reflect a preoccupation with the injustices or the corruptness of the Prison Service and/or the British Government – particularly with the British-supported wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although some Muslim inmates “use prison to politicize everything,” efforts are made to distinguish normal prison behavior from a larger grievance against Islam. For instance, a Muslim inmate who bangs on his cell house door because he is upset about a broken toilet is one thing; complaining that the broken toilet is evidence of Western imperialism and hatred of Islam is quite another.

A host of risk factors involving dominance and control are also used in intelligence collecting (e.g., appointing oneself as a leader or group spokesman; manipulating and controlling other inmates). Risk factors associated with correspondence and telephone calls include such things as giving commands and counsel to other prisoners, especially if the prisoner is ill-qualified to do so, and receiving requests for instructions from other prisoners. Intelligence is also assembled on susceptibility to indoctrination and groupthink. Here officials are on the lookout for sudden behavioral changes among inmates after coming into contact with charismatic leaders. The primary concern is with young minority prisoners who appear to be lost in the mix or are seeking a transformative experience.

An innovative feature of this control strategy is the identification of jail craft or an inmate’s show of personal skills necessary to survive in high-security custody. Those with immature jail craft – inmates who have not yet learned how to “play the game” – are deemed susceptible to radicalization. The concept is also used as an anchor for counseling sessions intended to emphasize incongruities between an imagined jihad and actual life in a Western prison. Al-Qaeda’s training manual offers several incongruities. For example, the Qaeda document stipulates: “Inside the prison, the brother should not accept any work that may belittle or demean him or his brothers, such as the cleaning of the prison bathrooms or hallways.” However, as anyone who has ever worked in prison knows, one of the most coveted jobs among prisoners is that of a janitor or custodian – it is the one assignment that affords inmates the freedom to move around the cellblocks and often to enter security offices.

Finally, for a host of applied reasons, the dispersal model has become the subject of controversy. Prison officers required to be on “red alert” for signs of Islamic radicalization run the risk of alienating ordinary Muslims. The rise in Muslim extremism has created a power imbalance leaving other inmate groups in a state of anxiety. Increased tensions between staff and prisoners, combined with growing competition for state resources and official charges that high-security prisons have become “incubators of extremism,” have led some officials and private prison companies to push for a specialized high-security unit for al-Qaeda terrorists and other extremists. Essentially, there is a mounting concern in Great Britain that it may be time to cast aside the dispersal model in favor of the total segregation model employed by the Americans.

Future Directions

The read-across from America to the United Kingdom may not be as obvious as some think. America’s secret prisons of the post-9/11 era are hardly a model for forward-looking counterterrorism policy. By associating with the stain of Guantanamo and by insinuating the shame of Abu Ghraib, the British could attract recruits into radical Islamic networks by making the terrorist’s cause appear a just response to an unjust enemy. It could also wreak havoc closer to home. Across Europe, Guantanamo has become a symbol of what many see as America’s dangerous drift away from the ideals that made it a moral beacon in the post-World War II era. The British may want to reconsider the new penology first.

An often overlooked aspect of Feeley and Simon’s argument is that it is not the new penology that has failed, but administrators who have failed to go beyond the new penology “to a new way of narrating the power to punish that can help shape the public and political discourse” (Simon and Feeley 2011, p. 78). Understanding the possibilities of de-radicalization as a “soft” weapon in the fight against Islamic extremism in prison may be such a narrative. It is a way to scale responses to a level appropriate to the real threat of radicalization without doing more harm militarily. This is not easy. Even in countries like Indonesia where de-radicalization programs are routinely offered to terrorist inmates, along with a strong community support structure, recidivism is a genuine concern as is the radicalization of criminal offenders and even Muslim prison officers who watch over them. As one Indonesian terrorist told a researcher after completing his deradicalization program, if he was released from prison today, he would bomb the US embassy tomorrow (Ungerer 2011).

Decades of criminology shows that rehabilitation lowers recidivism rates when cognitive behavioral treatments target known predictors of crime (Cullen and Gendreau 2001). Although much remains to be done, research indicates that the predictors of prisoner radicalization are gang affiliations around Salafi-inspired Islam and one-on-one proselytizing by charismatic leaders with a violent agenda (Hamm 2008; Liebling 2012). Britain already employs treatment strategies targeting these predictors. Its counseling policy aimed at minority inmates with underdeveloped jail craft is one way of targeting the predictors of radicalization. Inverting al-Qaeda’s training manual by using it as a teaching tool to dramatize incongruities between the jihadist dream and the reality of everyday prison life is certainly another. In fact, it is a brilliant example of undermining a-lQaeda’s appeal among young prisoners without tackling ideology head on. De-radicalizing older jihadists is more difficult. One reason for this is that Islam’s sacred law, the shariah, is essentially silent on the subject of incarceration as a rehabilitative venue. The crucial step in de-radicalization, then, is getting to young offenders near the time of their conversions to Islam when they are not yet settled into a commitment to jihad.

Israel’s elaborate rehabilitation program for Palestinian terrorists will not work until the peace process is settled. But that does not mean that Israel’s strategies will not work with at-risk inmates in other countries. Employing Muslim clerics to challenge the tenants of Islamic fundamentalism has the potential to broaden transcendent horizons among the vulnerable to the point where serious discussions can be held about the meaning of such loaded concepts as jihad (struggle), takfir (blasphemy), shahada (martyrdom), and the establishment of the Islamic State or caliphate. But perhaps most importantly, discussions can be held about al-Qaeda’s long-term future in the post-bin Laden era, thereby addressing al-Qaeda’s failure to offer any positive vision for building a modern society as imagined by activists of the Arab Spring. Psychological interventions intended to “heal the anger” of prior victimization have the potential to reverse rigid anti-authoritarian views held by convicts at risk for radicalization, especially when tied to meaningful educational and occupational training. Indeed, changing ideological beliefs alone is unlikely to work unless combined with rehabilitative interventions aimed at desistance. And the mandated practice of forming congenial relationships between prisoners and guards can potentially take the air out of moral panics about the transgressive other.

If these are international standards by which a new de-radicalization movement is to be judged, the United States of America has little to offer. Its practice of incarcerating terrorists is secret. Not only secret but it is apparently void of any operating penal philosophy concerning the rehabilitation of anti-Western jihadists. Consequently, most of these inmates see their imprisonment not as justice but as US revenge against all Muslims for the attacks of 9/11. This will not change until the emblems of American injustice and abuse – Guantanamo and now “Guantanamo North” – are abolished and replaced with prisons that uphold America’s core values.


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