Retraining Terrorists: A Bold New Program in Iraq Uses Islam to Teach Insurgents the Error of Their Murderous Ways

August 20, 2007

Author: Babak Dehghanpisheh

Source: Newsweek International

Wiry and lean, Abdullah looks on with a glassy stare as the instructor explains the subject for the day: revenge. The case study is the first gulf war, and the instructor lists religious and moral reasons why it was wrong for Iraqi soldiers to loot and kill in Kuwait. Abdullah, 17, and the nine other teenagers sitting with him on wooden benches in the class nod impassively. This isn't an ordinary high school. The teens, decked out in prison uniforms, are detainees at Camp Cropper, the high-security facility in Iraq that once held Saddam Hussein.

Some of the kids may have tried to kill American or Iraqi soldiers; others have been picked up for smaller offenses like breaking curfew. But the group, all Sunnis, have one thing in common: they've been brainwashed for jihad. "If they let them out, they would all become suicide bombers," says Sheik Abdul Jabbar, 37, an Iraqi cleric working with the teens.

That's what the religious-education program at Cropper is trying to prevent. Started two months ago, the classes are taught by imams, psychiatrists and counselors—all Iraqis who are trying to bring hardened youth back into the fold. Due in large part to the surge, the number of detainees in U.S. custody has increased by 56 percent since January to a whopping 23,083. Roughly 85 percent are Sunni. Detainees are now being brought into Cropper at the rate of about 60 a day. As the prisoners come in, the insurgents already in custody fan out, looking for new recruits. Many detainees may leave the facility more radicalized than the day they came in. That's a real concern for Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the deputy commanding general for detainee ops: "I'm trying to kill the idea of Al Qaeda," he says.