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Introduction - Saudi Intelligence Agencies

IN the 20th Century the Saudi security forces were notoriously unreliable, incompetent, or, worse, both. Since the 1950's, not a decade hds gone by without arrests carried out within the ranks of the security forces. The ability of terrorists to escape once being surrounded by security forces, pointed to extreme incompetence, collaborators, or both.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law, which specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud. The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution.

The king and the Ministries of Defense and Interior, in addition to the Ministry of National Guard, are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The Ministry of Interior exercises primary control over internal security and police forces. The civil police and the internal security police have authority to arrest and detain individuals. Military and security courts investigated abuses of authority and security force killings. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

In theory, all persons, including the king and foreigners, were equal before the law and subject to both the sharia and law by decree. In practice, however, members of the royal family and other leaders have rarely been brought to public trial. Cases involving foreigners have often been handled outside the court system, frequently by deportation.

Saudi Arabia has been cited by international human rights monitoring groups for its failure to respect a number of basic rights. London-based Amnesty International reported receiving credible testimony from political prisoners who alleged they were arbitrarily arrested, held in prolonged detention without trial, and routinely tortured during interrogations. Torture methods in the Mubahathat (office of secret police) prisons included months in solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings to the soles of the feet, suspension by the wrists from ceilings or high windows, and the application of electric shocks to all parts of the body. Amnesty International cited reports that sixty-six persons had been detained without charge or trial for radical Shia activity, although forty-one of these, as well as other political opponents of the government, were released in 1990 on the occasion of a royal pardon for more than 7,000 common criminals.

The human rights organization Middle East Watch, the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee, and the International Committee for Human Rights in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula issued reports in 1991 and 1992 that detailed extensive use of torture in Saudi prisons as a means to extract confessions from detainees. Prisoners reportedly signed confessions to crimes they had not committed in order to escape physical and psychological torture. As of October 1992, human rights organizations had identified forty-three political prisoners who had been detained for more than one year without formal charges. Several prisoners are alleged to have died while in police custody.

The vast majority of police and security agencies are within the Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI). The Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of the National Guard (formerly SANG), and Saudi Customs also have law enforcement and security responsibilities.

As of 2006, Saudi Arabia’s paramilitary forces numbered more than 15,000 men, with 10,500 active troops in the Frontier Force and 4,500 in the Coast Guard, which is based at Azizam. Saudi Arabia also has a Special Security Force with 500 personnel.

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