Early this week Human Rights Watch released a new report on internal security in Saudi Arabia. The report is very fair and makes many good points, especially about the numbers of individuals held in continued detention and regarding the judicial process for security suspects. Despite recent research, there remains much that we do not know about what goes on inside Saudi prisons, rehabilitation centers, and courtrooms. 

As of March 2009 - according to the Ministry of Interior - there were approximately 4,200 people detained in Saudi Arabia on charges connected to security and terrorism. This is reportedly down from a high of somewhere around 12,000 people held at the height of the security clampdown several years ago. Saudi officials have stated that over 11,400 people have been interrogated and released. Before September 11th, 2001, there were just under 200 people held in Saudi prisons on allegations of terrorism. 

Prolonged detention will continue to be a major issue in counter-terrorism, not just in Saudi Arabia but everywhere terrorists are detained. There are currently no good methods to determine when to let a security detainee out of custody. There is an urgent need to develop comprehensive risk assessment tools to evaluate security detainees prior to release. Until we have such risk assessment tools, the issue of continued detention will persist. 

For the past several years, Saudi officials have discussed plans to try accused terrorists under Islamic law in open court. A total of 991 individuals were to go on trial in connection with a number of domestic terrorist attacks. In July it was announced that a special court had convicted 330 people; several suspects were also acquitted. This was the first official confirmation that the trials had commenced. Very little information has been forthcoming about the trials, procedures, or the evidence used. Since the verdicts were announced, the names, charges, and sentences of the convicted have not been released. Despite earlier assertions to the contrary, it seems that foreign observers were not permitted to attend the trials. 

The report also observes that many of those that have been released through Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation program were not engaged in violence, but were sympathizers or logistics and support personnel. However, this is not necessarily a deficiency in the Saudi approach. Individuals that have participated in violence within the kingdom are not released through the Counseling Program. All of the senior experienced operational leaders in the country have either been killed or captured. Focusing on lower-level operatives has worked to prevent supporters and sympathizers from moving closer to violence and filling those gaps.