What to do with “former” terrorists?

When our security and law enforcement agencies do their jobs when it comes to terrorism, violent extremists are detected, investigated, neutralised, arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated.  And this marks the end of our problem, right?

Unfortunately, not.

Incarcerated terrorists remain a potential threat because, if given the chance, they can radicalise others in the prison system.  As I have noted before (see blog post Stir Crazy of July 9), Canadian prisons are well-equipped to deal with this danger through education and good practices.  So, at least that dangers seems contained for the time being.

But what do we do with radicalised inmates?  They presumably deserve the same access to education and counselling that other inmates get, although since terrorist prisoners do not tend to follow the same profiles and vulnerabilities as “typical” criminals (low levels of education, histories of abuse, mental health issues, etc.) it is unclear what their needs while on the inside are and whether traditional methods will help rehabilitate them.  But they do have rights and can ask for privileges.

Which brings me again to Omar Khadr, a convicted terrorist whose family has received more attention over the years than any other family linked to Al Qaeda that I know of.  I blogged earlier on whether Mr. Khadr was truly de-radicalised (see my blog Welcome Back Khadr of May 19), and now find myself discussing his case again.  Mr. Khadr is seeking a relaxing of some of his bail conditions in order to seek a better life.  These include the removal of his electronic ankle bracelet, an easing of his curfew so he can attend morning prayers and evening classes, and permission to visit his family in Ontario (see story here).

I am not a corrections or parole expert, so I cannot comment on the need to keep the ankle bracelet.  The request to allow him more time for prayer and school strikes me as reasonable.  But his desire to go see his family should be rejected outright.

Mr. Khadr says that his family is not engaged in any illegal activity and that if they were to try to influence him he could handle it.  I admire his courage but still believe that any hope of his return to normality, whether or not given his experiences this is even possible, would be seriously undermined by reconnecting with his family.

There is no doubt that regardless of the current status of the Khadr brood, it was within the family confines that Mr.Khadr was radicalised and encouraged to become a terrorist.  Re-exposure to this milieu runs the very serious and real risk of re-igniting this ideology within Mr. Khadr (remember, we have no idea what he really thinks of all this now, other than his word and the naive assurances of do-gooders in his camp).  If memory serves me correctly, one of the conditions for Mr. Khadr’s release in the first place was that he NOT have contact with his family.  I understand the need for time with loved ones, but public safety, as well as Mr. Khadr’s own good, dictate that this request be denied.

In the interests of rehabilitation, we would not encourage gang members, drug users or sexual predators, upon release from custody, to hook up again with their former friends, pushers or young children.  That’s why we put limits on freedom of movement and association.

And we should do the same with Mr. Khadr.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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