Thursday, June 24, 2004

Saudis Offer Limited Amnesty to Terrorists

I can't quite figure out if this is a good thing.

Saudi Arabia promised Wednesday that terrorists in the kingdom will be safe if they surrender within a month -- but after that they will face forceful consequences.

"We are announcing for the last time that we are opening the door to repentance and for those to return to righteousness," said Crown Prince Abdullah in a televised address.

The idea seems to be aimed at getting low-level operatives to turn themselves in without a fight and, presumably, to provide information on the higher-ups. If those goals succeed, it seems worth it to me. But several people (mostly on the radio, but curiously not many in the blogosphere at this point) have noted that this transgresses the Bush doctrine that nations who "harbor" terrorists are themselves inimical to the interests of the United States. The terms of the Saudi amnesty are not clear enough, at least to my reading, to decide whether it constitutes harboring. But given the poor track record of the Saudi government, the grounds for optimism look very dim.

One final point: the religious language in Abdullah's statement is evidently designed to resonate with the fanatical Islam of the terrorists. This may be an attempt to win the battle for the hearts of al Qaeda's potential sympathizers by speaking their language, but my guess is it will be perceived as a sort of capitulation. The dynamic here is that al Qaeda is now setting the tone of the discourse, which is not a positive sign.

UPDATE: The New York Post has similar thoughts.

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