For the past two weeks fascinating stories have leaked out in the wake of an international terrorism conference for senior government officials held in Jakarta, Indonesia in early March 2006. The occasion was the opening of the Transnational Crime Centre in Jakarta – an intelligence fusion operation funded in part by Australia providing at least A$4 million over the next four years. The center will link 30 facilities across Indonesia to counter terrorism, drug and human trafficking, cyber crime, and money laundering. A March 8, 2006 WAR Report article discussed public revelations of establishing strong financial links between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya (JI) . This past week Australian Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, who attended the Jakarta meeting, openly discussed insights he had gained from his Indonesian counterparts that extolled the virtues of utilizing a former Jemaah Islamiah leader – Malaysian-born Muslim cleric Nasir bin Abbas – for counseling and rehabilitation of jailed militant jihadists.
The concept, of course, is not new. Numerous efforts at “deprogramming,” “brainwashing,” “reeducation,” and even “denazification” of militants, cultists, criminals and drug addicts, and political operatives respectively have been pursued in light of the advances of the field of psychology over the past century with varying results. Keelty noted that other countries such as the Indonesia, Pakistan , Singapore , Sri Lanka , Thailand and the United Kingdom had recently instituted policies to de-radicalize jailed terrorists. Intuitively it makes sense that younger combatants would be more easily persuaded by gentle or even stern reeducation practices of sympathetic authority figures. Both Sri Lanka and Uganda have drawn on UNICEF support for programs aimed at rehabilitating child soldiers and child victims of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) respectively with some notable successes. On a grander scale, Indonesia commissioned Detachment 88 as their premier anti-terrorist squad for reeducation while Thailand specifically created a military unit within their 4th Army to deprogram penitent militants.
Nonetheless, de- and re-programming plans are not yet the panaceas that supporters hope. First, in many democratic countries such efforts face resistance by civil libertarians reluctant to give the state increasing authority and diminish long cherished individual rights. Second, even if such societal opposition could be overcome, Australia would need to revisit its control orders – a legal framework which constrains militants who cannot be prosecuted under other traditional or military laws. Finally the effectiveness of such efforts remains in question. Although the United States has not officially adopted deprogramming procedures, it must be assumed that some sort of rehabilitation practices must have been implemented prior to the release or transfer of some 267 detainees from the Global War on Terrorism prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Most notoriously, Abdullah Mehsud is one of 10 known to have returned to “active duty” in the jihadist cause after being released from captivity. Mehsud, a one-legged Pakistani from the Pushtun tribes along the Afghanistan border, has subsequently been linked to the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers working on a dam project, one of whom was later killed . Thus, although the concept of deprogramming appears valid and worthy of further exploration and testing, democracies are well-served by civil libertarians seeking to ensure that domestic and international human rights are preserved while governments incarcerate untried prisoners holding beliefs different and perhaps even antithetical to our own.