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Gitmo Is Not Al Qaeda's 'Number One Recruitment Tool'

2:24 PM, Dec 27, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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A closer look at the 3 out of 34 messages in which “Al Qaeda Central” actually referred to Guantanamo reveals just how weak the president’s argument is. Even in these messages al Qaeda is far more interested in other themes.

In a February 17, 2010 message entitled, “The Way to Save the Earth,” Osama bin Laden made an offhand reference to Guantanamo. But it is hardly a prominent feature of the terror master’s message. As bin Laden makes clear in the opening lines, his main concern is climate change.

“This is a message to the whole world about those who cause climate change and its dangers – intentionally or unintentionally – and what we must do,” bin Laden said. Bin Laden blames the “greedy heads of major corporations” and “senior capitalists” who are “characterized by wickedness and hardheartedness” for the supposed deleterious effects of global warming.

Bin Laden does refer to Guantanamo, but it is brief and in the context of a rambling passage. In the surrounding sentences, bin Laden criticizes America for waging war in Iraq for oil, incorrectly claims that America and her allies have “killed, wounded, orphaned, widowed and displaced more than 10 million Iraqis,” and calls President Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize “an extreme example of the deception and humiliation of humanity.”

If bin Laden’s February 17th message is evidence that al Qaeda is using Guantanamo as a recruiting tool, then it is also evidence that al Qaeda is using climate change and President Obama’s Nobel to earn new recruits.

The other two messages in our sample that refer to Guantanamo do not fare much better when any amount of scrutiny is applied.    

In a message dated September 15, 2010, Ayman al Zawahiri focuses most of his critique on Muslim governments and especially the Pakistani government. There is a single reference to Guantanamo and it is a throwaway line in which Ayman al Zawahiri repeats the myth that America has desecrated the Koran at Gitmo. Referring to NATO, Zawahiri asks rhetorically, “And aren’t they the forces which humiliated the noble Qur’an in Guantanamo, Iraq and elsewhere?” There is no other mention of Guantanamo in the 12-page translation provided by NEFA.

In an August 5, 2009 tape entitled, “The Facts of Jihad and the Lies of the Hypocrites,” Ayman al Zawahiri mentioned Guantanamo five times. The August 5th tape comes closest to validating the president’s theory of jihadist recruitment and yet it still falls way short. Words related to “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” appear more than 70 times each. The words “Israel” and “Israelis” appear 39 times. And the word “Zionist” appears another four times—in the context of the aforementioned imagined American-Zionist conspiracy against the Muslim world. (According to Ayman al-Zawahiri, by the way, Obama is himself a participant in this conspiracy.) And the words “Jew,” “Jewish,” and “Jewishness” appear another 12 times.

Last week, President Obama cited jihadist propaganda as his chief reason for closing Guantanamo. But as the analysis above makes clear, it is not true that Guantanamo is the terror network’s “number one recruitment tool.” Even if it were, al Qaeda would just move on to another pretext for its terror once Gitmo is closed.

There is no good reason for an American president to cite jihadist propaganda in defense of his policy decision. By that standard, if President Obama must close Guantanamo, then he must also withdraw all American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as move to end the “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy against Muslims elsewhere around the world.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  

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