More often than not, Guantanamo detainees’ claims are repeated verbatim, and uncritically, by the press. This is true both here in the U.S. and abroad. And it leads to some curious stories. For instance, earlier this week the Yemen Post reported:
Meanwhile, Abdul Salam Al-Hila, another Yemeni detainee, has told his family that he faced a new assassination attempt at the U.S. Bay which the U.S. President Obama ordered to be closed as soon as possible. His brother said that they received a letter from Abdul Salam telling them he had faced a new assassination plot arranged by the jail officials. Last year Al-Hila revealed an assassination plot he had faced at the jail.
This is sheer nonsense, of course. Officials at Gitmo are not trying to assassinate any detainees. This story is quite obviously propaganda.
And who is telling this tall tale to the Yemeni press? We’ve profiled Abdul al Salam al Hilal (spelled Abdul Salam Al-Hila in the excerpt above) more than once. (See here and here.) Both U.S. and Italian authorities have concluded that al Hilal is an al Qaeda facilitator. While working for Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), al Hilal shuttled al Qaeda terrorists around the globe and arranged for others to be freed from prison.
In the summer of 2000, while al Hilal was visiting the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italian authorities caught him talking to another al Qaeda terrorist in a wiretapped phone conversation. The Italians recorded al Hilal saying:
Well, I am studying airplanes! If it is God's will, I hope to bring you a window or a piece of a plane next time I see you. . . . We are focusing on the air alone. . . . It is something terrifying, something that moves from south to north and from east to west: the man who devised the program is a lunatic, but he is a genius. It will leave them stunned. . . . We can fight any force using candles and planes. They will not be able to halt us, not even with their heaviest weapons. We just have to strike at them, and hold our heads high. Remember, the danger at the airports. If it comes off, it will be reported in all the world's papers. The Americans have come into Europe to weaken us, but our target is now the sky.
It is no wonder that the Italian press and authorities have taken al Hilal’s words to mean that he had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks, which were just over one year away at the time.
But that part of al Hilal’s story wasn’t reported by the Yemen Post. Instead, al Hilal’s assassination conspiracy was dutifully repeated.
Such is the type of propaganda the world reads regularly when it comes to Gitmo.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.