Guantanamo and al Qaeda Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

This weekend the mainstream media reported that Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen and former Secretary of State Colin Powell had come to the defense of the Obama administration’s plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  They were reacting to recent statements by Republican political leaders opposing Obama’s plans.

I want to comment on one element of this:  Whether the existence of the prison has served as a strategic communication tool for al Qaeda, especially in support of recruiting. This weekend Mullen and Powell said that it had. Mullen said Gitmo “has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us,” and continued “It’s my judgment that (Guantanamo) has had an impact (on recruiting). And it’s time to move on.” For his part, Powell said “Guantanamo has become a major, major problem … in the way the world perceives America.”

They were reacting to recent statements by Republican leaders who oppose Obama’s plans.  One is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on May 21 said:

Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a “recruitment tool” for the enemy. … This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It’s another version of that same old refrain from the Left, “We brought it on ourselves.”

Arizona Senator John Kyl, appearing on a Sunday talk show, concurred with Cheney, saying he doesn’t believe people sit around in coffee shops saying that because of Guantanamo they will become terrorists, and that Obama had failed to provide any evidence of this.  He asserted:

I mean, it’s palpably false to suggest that the existence of Gitmo created terrorism, and yet the president gets away with that.

Perhaps there is no evidence about coffee shop conversations (in open source, anyway).   Perhaps, as some sources claim, Cheney and Kyl are saying these things not because they think they’re true but because they see Guantanamo as am effective political wedge issue.

But palpably false?  It’s hard to understand how Cheney and Kyl could make statements like this with a straight face given that Gitmo is such a repeated and strong theme in al Qaeda’s strategic communication.   And as we know their communication efforts are all about creating converts and sympathizers to their cause.

Since there has been a call for evidence, I present here, for their and your reading enjoyment, a handy compendium of quotes from al Qaeda’s chief ideologues on the subject of Guantanamo (through January 2008).  Note that in many cases Guantanamo is mentioned in the same breath with Abu Ghraib, which as far as I know nobody is defending:

  • “The entire world testifies to the Guantanamo farce and the unlawful detention of hundreds in the United States without trials.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, October 2002)
  • “God both privately and publicly, and to implore Allah and beseech him to accept our repentance and relieve us of our distress. O Lord, give us your blessing in this world and in the next, and protect us from the fires of Hell. We beseech Allah to free our captives from the hands of the Americans and their accomplices – foremost among them Sheikh ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman and Sheikh Sa’id ibn Zu’eyr and our brethren in Guantanamo – and to strengthen the Mujahideen in Palestine and other Muslim lands.” (Osama bin Laden, February 2003)
  • “The tape also tells those ‘working or cooperating’ with the United States that America is too weak to protect either itself or its allies. If the United States should prosecute those being held at Guantanamo, the speaker says, ‘it is sentencing its own people.  We don’t expect any justice from America,’ the voice says. (report on statement by Ayman al Zawahiri, August 2003)
  • “O God, help release our brother prisoners in the prisons of tyrants in America, Guantanamo, occupied Palestine, Al-Riyadh, and everywhere.” (Osama bin Laden, October 2003)
  • “It is consistent with tormenting prisoners in the cages of Guantanamo and torturing Muslims in the prisons of our leaders, the friends of the United States.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, commenting on the French hijab ban in February 2004)
  • “The fathers and mothers of the US soldiers should remember the crimes of America in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Guantanamo, and in the prisons of the US friends each time they receive a coffin returning to the homeland.”  (Ayman al Zawahiri, February 2004)
  • “When the crusader US campaign was launched, the traitor Musharraf surrendered to the FBI and evicted hundreds of them to Guantanamo and US prisons to be imprisoned, tortured, or killed.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, March 2004).
  • “Did not Bush say that Iraq is one of the states of the axis of evil? To the Christians, this description means that we are infidels and useless. This explains their occupation of our land and their killing of us. This also explains the atrocities that their soldiers committed in Abu-Ghurayb prison, Guantanamo, and elsewhere against our brother prisoners; atrocities which moved the whole of mankind.” (Osama bin Laden, December 2004).
  • “Three years have passed since the first batch of Muslim prisoners was sent to the Guantanamo detention center after thousands were betrayed in Mazar Sharif after an agreement was reached with them. They were later bombed by planes in Qala-e Janghi after they refused to surrender. One might ask: Why all this interest in Guantanamo while there are thousands of Guantanamos in our countries under US supervision and control? In my opinion, and God knows best, the answer is that it [Guantanamo] reveals the reality of reform and democracy which America claims that it seeks to spread in our countries. This reform will be based on US detention centers — like Bagram, Kandahar, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghuryab — bombing with cluster bombs and missiles, and installing people like Karzai and Allawi.”  (Ayman al Zawahiri, February 2005)
  • “It [the U.N.]  also remains silent about its full collusion on what is happening in Abu-Ghrayb, Guantanamo and Bagram and the treatment of Al-Qa’ida and Taliban prisoners, where they disappear from the face of the earth and no one knows anything about them.” (ayman al Zawahiri, September 2005)
  • “The torturing of men has reached the point of using chemical acids and electric drills [to pierce] their joints. If they [those who torture them] become desperate with them, they drill their heads to death. If you like, read the humanitarian reports on the atrocities and crimes in the prisons of Abu Ghurayb, Guantanamo, and Bagram.” (Osama bin Laden, January 2006).
  • “The video entitled: ‘Interviews with the Escapees from Bagram Prison,’ began by announcing that the interview in this video was with the ‘mujahid Faruq al-Iraqi.’ This was followed by an excerpt from an old video message by Ayman al-Zawahiri talking about ‘the hypocrisy of the Crusaders,’ and the conditions in their prisons. While footage of Guantanamo Bay prison appeared on the screen, a voiceover spoke off-camera about the conditions of the mujahidin in such prisons.”  (report on an as Sahab video released in February 2006)
  • “Bush called on us to respect human rights while he is establishing secret prisons everywhere, exercising dirty torture in Bagram, Abu Ghurayb, and Guantanamo, and sending Muslims to be tortured in the prisons of his friends.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, March 2006)
  • “And then I call to memory my brothers the prisoners in Guantanamo — may Allah free them all — and I state the fact, about which I also am certain, that all the prisoners of Guantanamo, who were captured in 2001 and the first half of 2002 and who number in the hundreds, have no connection whatsoever to the events of September 11th, and even stranger is that many of them have no connection with al-Qaida in the first place, and even more amazing is that some of them oppose al­Qaida’s methodology of calling for war with America.” (Osama bin Laden, May 2006)
  • “I call on every Muslim in Palestine to stand by the causes of his nation in Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Guantanamo even if it be with words, calls, or encouragement.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, June 2006)
  • “My Muslim brothers in Kabul, the latest US aggression against you was preceded by a long series of the killing of innocent people in Kabul, Khost, Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar, and Konar. This aggression was also preceded by torturing Muslims in Kandahar and Bagram and at the prison of darkness in Kabul. This was also preceded by insulting the holy Koran in Bagram and Guantanamo and by the Danish, French, and Italian mocking of the noblest prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, June 2006)
  • “The invasion of Iraq and the Guantanamo prison provide a clear example here. They terrorized people, humiliated them by the power of fire and iron, and treated presidents the way slaves are treated.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, June 2006)
  • “This ignorance, which causes the people of the West to rapturously applaud when Israel perpetrates wholesale slaughter of Muslims in Lebanon and Palestine and leads them to give their assent to the atrocities their governments commit in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, and makes them voice their approval when their armies desecrate copies of the Koran in Guantanamo, and their yellow press and televangelists insult our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him.” (Azzam al Amriki, September 2006)
  • “I also congratulate my captive brothers everywhere: in Guantanamo and the secret and open prisons of America; in Bagram, Abu Ghrayb, al-Ha’ir, and al-Ruways; in Tura, Abu Za’bal, and the desert prisons of Algeria; and in Shatanuf, bin Aknun, and all the prisons of the Crusaders, Jews and their agents, the traitorous rulers of the lands of Islam.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, December 2006)
  • “And we reaffirm to the families of the Guantanamo captives, who are demonstrating these days in Cuba, that we – with Allah’s permission – have not and will not forget our captives, and that their liberation is a debt on our necks, and that the Americans must expect to pay the price for everything they have done to them.” (ayman al Zawahiri, January 2007)
  • “I also greet my brothers in shackles everywhere, chief among them our perseverant reward-seeking Shaykh Umar Abd-al-Rahman and all our patient brothers in Guantanamo, America’s secret prisons and the dungeons of its agents in our countries.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, February 2007)
  • “It is the Jihad of the confined captive who has swallowed lump after lump of humiliation, insult, suppression and severity at the hands of the worshipers of the Cross and their hirelings, in Abu Ghrayb [Abu-Ghurayb], Guantanamo, Bagram, Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere, all the while patient, seeking his reward, and awaiting the day of your victory and hour of your success to receive the reward of his sacrifice in safety and jubilation, not in worry and fear.” (Abu-Yahya al-Libi, March 2007)
  • “And the entire world has seen those disgraceful acts which make the brow sweat and which are perpetrated inside their jails and in the middle of their prisons against the pure and good, and the pictures of our captives in Abu Ghurayb, Guantanamo and Bagram continue to be present in the mind of every Muslim in whose limbs the spirit of faith creeps, and what was hidden was even bitterer.” (Abu-al-Layth al-Libi, May 2007)
  • “They are the ones who test the latest achievement of the American diabolic mind in weapons of mass destruction against us, and they are the ones who continue to incite their allied regimes to pursue and eliminate our Muslim youth, and they are the ones who fight Muslims in their daily struggle to survive, and they are the ones who plunder Muslims’ resources and show creativity in their humiliation of Muslims even on their television screens as they did in the Nazi-Zionist detention in Guantanamo and as they are doing today in Iraq.” (Ayman al Zawahiri, July 2007)
  • “The diplomatic immunity and freedom from arrest and prosecution behind which you hide and which international law theoretically sanctifies apparently did not apply to Mullah Abdul-Salam, ambassador of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, in Islamabad, whom you forced out of Pakistan so you could arrest him and send him off for torture and humiliation in the dungeons of Guantanamo Bay.”  (Azzam al Amriki, August 2007)
  • “And today, more than ever before, America’s military and intelligence services are guilty of the most atrocious forms of torture and arbitrary and unlawful detention of innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, including on American soil.” (Azzam al Amriki, January 2008)

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  1. [...] Steven R Corman, at ASU’s Hugh Downs School of Communication, commenting on the former vice president and the senator from Arizona’s dismissal of Guantanamo prison being a strategic communication tool for Al Qaeda [...]